WDAM Investigates: Unclaimed cash in Pine Belt

Updated: Nov. 28, 2018 at 9:34 PM CST
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PINE BELT (WDAM) - It’s just a website or phone call away, money, waiting to be claimed by agencies in charge of spending your money. It all falls under the state’s unclaimed property division, through the State Treasurer’s office. The problem is, all that cash just sits there because no one from city and county governments seems to be checking, so we did.

“Some of it can be real serious money,” said Michelle Williams with the Treasurer’s office.

We wanted to know how much of that money Pine Pelt counties, cities and school districts aren’t cashing in on, but should be. Searching through numbers from the State Treasurer’s office, as of Nov. 15, every county has money waiting to be claimed. When it comes to finding all this out, all we had to do was ask.

"You know, for the same reasons a lot of people don’t realize the money is out there, a lot of times the companies or the municipalities or school boards don’t realize it’s out there either,” said Williams when asked if she was surprised about agencies not knowing they have money sitting around.

According to the numbers, between Walthall, Marion, Lamar, Forrest, Perry, Covington, Jones, Wayne, Jasper and Jefferson Davis counties there is almost $50,000 dollars on the table. Forrest county, including the cities of Hattiesburg and Petal, tops the list with $15,186.91 just sitting around.

In Forrest County, $1,161.34 has not been claimed by the chancery clerk and $1,477.45 has not been claimed by justice court. The largest amount in Forrest County, and the second highest in the Pine Belt, is for the tax collector’s office in Petal, with $3,829.50 waiting to be claimed.

"I'm just curious as to what it's for and how long it's been there,” said Petal Mayor Hal Marx when asked about seeing there was money available.

Marx said he made a call after WDAM brought it to his attention. He said that money is apparently a check from Chevron, which no one was aware of.

“Every bit helps when you’re on a tight budget,” Marx said. “Even a thousand dollars is money that you can spend on other things the city needs."

It’s the same story in Marion County, including the city of Columbia, with $14,008.42 looking for bank accounts. The county tax assessor’s office has $6,435.72 alone, waiting to be claimed. That’s the highest single amount across the board in the Pine Belt.

“What goes through your mind seeing the county has this money just sitting there,” WDAM’s Mike McDaniel asked Marion County Board of Supervisors President Randy Dyess.

“It looks good. Every little be helps,”said Dyess. “We had an air conditioning unit go out so this money would replace a unit."

While some claims are small, when you add them up, tight budgets can benefit, but WDAM found that no one in city or county governments is tasked with checking.

“It is their money to do with, you know, however or whatever their rules say," said Williams when asked about whether that money can be put in general funds.

When it comes down to it, Williams said city and county governments just need to do their due diligence.

“They can just check with us, just like what you did," Williams said. “If somebody checks with us and says ‘Hey, do we have any money?’ we go in there and we look."

Williams said because of staffing, the Treasurer’s office can’t individually notify everyone who has money sitting around, but it does try to publicize it. City and county leaders we spoke with say they’ll be keeping a closer eye on what’s out there.

"I'll try to make sure that we periodically check that website just to make sure we're not on there again," said Marx.

Since WDAM started looking into this, the Treasurer’s office contacted every county, city and school board on our list so the claims process can begin. That’s usually a four-to-six week turnaround before that money is handed over.

You can take a look at the list of Pine Belt counties, cities and school districts here. You can see if you have any money waiting to be claimed from the state treasurer here.

“I just appreciate y’all following up on this and bringing our attention to it,” said Dyess

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