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Los Altos holds on to $50,000 in unclaimed money

The city of Los Altos has accumulated a stockpile of approximately $50,000 in unclaimed money, some of which it has been holding for more than 20 years, after public notices and letters to creditors went unanswered.

The money remains in various funds, with nearly one-third in the city’s General Fund, according to city officials.

“There’s not much to it, and it’s not that exciting. … We took the exact policy out of Government Code 50050,” said Sharif Etman, the city’s administrative services director. “Some agencies might do something different, but if the money is not claimed (in Los Altos), it goes back into the original fund.”

The city posted public notices in the Town Crier last spring in an effort to find the rightful owners of the unclaimed money, which includes checks that were never collected by individuals or companies dating back to 1998 that range from $1 to $20,000.

Most of the smallest checks were likely the by-product of business-license fees that were overpaid, Etman said, and the largest checks were repayments to residents who paid the North County Library Authority parcel tax, approved in 2010 for maintenance of the Los Altos main and Woodland Branch libraries and their programs.

“This amount is typical, but actually kind of high,” Etman said of the unclaimed money. “There was a total of $30,000 for the NCLA (parcel tax), and that won’t happen all the time. I would expect more like $20,000 or $30,000, and that will go up and down depending on what we are doing. We are not collecting any new taxes for now, so it’ll be pretty straightforward.”

The totals were posted in the Town Crier only after the city followed a due-diligence code, Etman added. The due-diligence protocol includes sending two or three letters and a couple of emails, especially if it’s a “larger volume” money item, he noted.

“Some people do call, and a lot of times it’s former employees or contractors,” Etman said. “It can be expense reimbursements or forgotten deposits.”

Under the radar

After the city conducted outreach and the 45- to 60-day public notification period expired, officials compiled a final list of those who still had not claimed their money. The list was presented to the Los Altos City Council for review at its June 25 meeting.

The staff report presented to the council shows $17,918 went to the General Fund, $30,000 to the North County Library Fund, $1,420 to the Sewer Fund, $357 to the Dental Fund and $396 to the Equipment Replacement Fund.

The council’s June 25 meeting agenda had 18 items on it, including discussions on finalizing the results of the storm drainage fee survey and relocating the Friends of the Los Altos Library in the wake of the community center overhaul. That may explain how the matter of the unclaimed money, which Etman described as routine, flew a bit under the radar. The city’s policy on unclaimed money was not discussed before Councilwoman Anita Enander proposed a motion to pass the entire consent calendar with the exception of a right-of-way-related item. With a unanimous vote, the council cemented the city of Los Altos’ new unclaimed monies plan, Etman added.

“This is the first time we’ve finalized our policy, and our goal is to do this once a year,” he said. “This way just gets us cleaner books.”

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