UPDATE: Wisconsin unclaimed property list multiplies sixfold - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

UPDATE: Wisconsin unclaimed property list multiplies sixfold

Posted: Updated: Jul 15, 2014 12:26 PM

MADISON (WKOW) – The state treasurer believes Wisconsin lawmakers made a mistake transferring oversight of the state's unclaimed property program from his office to the department of revenue.

The property program aims to connect people with unclaimed property, like abandoned safe deposit boxes or estates, whose heirs haven't been found.

State legislatures voted to give the department of revenue oversight of the unclaimed property operation during the most recent state budget negotiations.

When State Treasurer Kurt Schuller's office handed the program over to the DOR last July, he said the backlog of people waiting to make claims was roughly 1,200.

As of June 3, the backlog had grown to 7,300 people.

“We have this special situation where we can immediately see the results of the difference between an elected official handling (unclaimed property requests) and the results after the bureaucracy has it,” Schuller said.

Schuller added the program provides a boost to the Wisconsin economy when run effectively.

“It puts money back into the pockets of people who don't even know they lost it, and they in turn will turn around in some cases, when you have money that's a surprise to you, you go out and remodel your kitchen,” Schuller said. “Or you go out for dinner.”

Jennifer Western, the Department of Revenue's Assistant Deputy Secretary, said she believes the current list of claimants will be dealt with efficiently.

“DOR processes over 3-million individual income tax returns and issues billions in refunds,” Western said. “We believe the current claim inventory is certainly manageable.”

Western added there are several reasons for the increase in claims.

“When the administration of the UCP was transferred, there were many operational issues (beyond standard processing of claims) that presented challenges. In some cases, DOR needed to rebuild basic operations,” Western said.

The department of revenue is working to update the technology and procedures of claiming unclaimed property. Although Schuller said he does not believe that's the issue.

“We were using that same technology,” he said. “It's just a bureaucratic excuse for their inability to have the same sort of success we had.”

Schuller said the unclaimed property program returned $33.9-million and $35.9-million in property to its rightful owners in 2011 and 2012, respectively. He said in the first six months of 2013, before oversight was handed over to the DOR, the program had returned $20-million in unclaimed property. But Schuller said the DOR had returned roughly $23-million in property in the year since.

Western said claims also tend to be higher during the summer, which contributed to the current backlog.

“The number of claims is bigger in the summer due to our annual publication of unclaimed property claimants in all 72 counties in the spring, which ended with Milwaukee County at the end of June” Western said. “In that respect, this is the time for claims to come in because our publication notices have resulted in more claims.”

“The next step will be catching up on those claims,” Western said.

Schuller, who is not running for re-election this fall, said he would like to see oversight of unclaimed property returned to the treasurer's office.

Schuller acknowledged he's come “180 degrees” on the subject. He ran on the platform in 2010 of elimination the office of the state treasurer all together.

But Schuller said he believes the constitutional hurdles required to eliminate the state treasurer are too high. Thus he said he would like to see the office remain relevant and be given important responsibilities.

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The list of people who have unclaimed property in Wisconsin has multiplied sixfold in less than a year.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports (http://bit.ly/UaQjzR) the backlog stands at about 7,300 claims as of the beginning of June, compared to 1,200 last July.

The news follows last year's decision by lawmakers to transfer the program to the state Department of Revenue as part of the state budget, taking it away from state Treasurer Kurt Schuller over that elected official's objections.

Jennifer Western, the No. 3 official at the revenue department, says her agency has identified challenges, including antiquated software and outdated vendor contracts and procedures for handling claims.   The property program aims to connect people with unclaimed property such as abandoned safe deposit boxes and estates whose heirs haven't been found.

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