Government agency wants to give away cash

By Deanna Hohler Bottar Record-Courier staff write Published:

And the Ohio Department of Commerce is itching to unload the more than $170 million it has lying around to area people, businesses, municipalities and groups, including many from Portage County.

A simple trip through the department's "Unclaimed Funds" site on the World Wide Web shows just how many area residents, cities, businesses and groups have forgotten about a few extra dollars with their name on them.

Among them are the Aurora Baseball League, Aurora Jaycees, Hiram College, the city of Kent, Kent Jaycees, Kent State University, Portage County Child Support Enforcement Agency, Portage County Courthouse, Portage Ob-Gyn Assoc., Portage Paving Co., the Ravenna Band, Ravenna Hot Stove Baseball, Ravenna Township Trustees, Robinson Memorial Hospital, Sea World and the city of Streetsboro.

Unclaimed funds come from a variety of sources, including uncashed checks, contents of safe deposit boxes, dividends from securities, balances from dormant savings accounts, undelivered stock certificates, or forgotten utility or rent deposits.

Even money deposited in layaway programs with retailers must be turned over to the state if the merchandise is not retrieved.

"One time, we had somebody who had an uncashed check," said Bill Teets, commerce department spokesman. "It was a reimbursement check from a dry cleaner that had ruined an outfit that had never been cashed."

The amounts due a handful of Portage County groups, businesses and cities ranges from $11.80 for the Portage County Button Club from the Second National Bank of Ravenna to $1,100.09 due Robinson Memorial Hospital from Peoples Security Life Insurance Co.

Ravenna Township Trustee Pat Artz said she was aware of the commerce department's unclaimed funds division because her family has some money that was given to them and never claimed.

She was unaware the township had $45.19 waiting to be claimed but said she was eager to file the paperwork necessary to retrieve the funds, which came from General Electric Corp.

"I guess they keep it forever if you don't claim it," she said. "But every penny counts."

The web site went online May 12 and allows browsers to index the names of individuals, businesses, municipalities and even non-profit groups and school clubs, like the Ravenna Class of '77, Kent Sigma Chi Alumni, Kent Community Project and at least one Hiram College class fund.

"The unclaimed funds program has been around since 1968," Teets said, explaining how the Web site is the newest aspect of the nearly 30-year-old program. "Probably about a year ago, we started looking at how to make our Internet site more useful, something other than just a department brochure on the Internet. It's not every government agency that spends time giving away money.

"The Internet is sometimes a complete blessing," he added. "It's so easy to find things on it."

During the last fiscal year, the commerce department gave out more than $25 million to people claiming their funds, Teets said.

To lay claim on unclaimed funds the commerce department Web site, which can be accessed at http://www.state.oh.us/com/ucf, provides a coupon asking claimants to provide their names and addresses to start the claim process. Eventually they must show proof of entitlement to the unclaimed funds or prove they are rightful heirs to funds left to the deceased.

"It could be as simple as Xeroxing your driver's license," Teets said of the process.

People without Internet access can learn whether they have unclaimed funds available by writing to the Department of Commerce, Division of Unclaimed Funds, 77 S. High St., 20th Floor, Columbus, Ohio 43266-0545.

"We encourage people to write down their name, names of relatives, names of friends," Teets explained. "Anything they can think of. If you're putting a stamp on it, you might as well give us a nice big list. We'll look all of them up."

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