Several of you have contacted me after receiving a call or email from your newspaper regarding ACT 592 ‘TO AMEND THE LAW CONCERNING ABANDONED PROPERTY; AND TO ALTER THE METHOD BY WHICH NOTICE OF THE ABANDONMENT OF PROPERTY IS PUBLISHED’.
As Representative Bennett and Senator Hutchinson pointed out when they presented the bill, it is an effort to refocus the money spent on reaching people with unclaimed property. We wanted to be more effective with our ad dollars. At no time while this bill was making its way through the legislature was any concern voiced to me. My first contact with the Press Association was yesterday.
During the turnover from the previous administration, they stated that the one thing they would change if given the opportunity is revising this law. They were discovering more effective ways to spend their ad monies. This prompted me to examine the issue and to reach out to legislators to make this change.
People are very mobile and the original law did not take that into consideration. The law required ads to be run in the county of the owner’s residency at the time when the unclaimed property originated. This resulted in many full pages of lists of names and addresses. However, a great number of the names and addresses were obsolete – one of the reasons some of the owners couldn’t be found! The property owners would be in another state or another county and never see the ad. The old method of property listing cost the taxpayers almost $220,000 in 2014 – with only limited success. The new method puts a statewide listing in each courthouse and on our website, and is more accurate and complete.
The law still mandates that our office advertise in a newspaper in each county. The change was that we would not list all names and addresses. The only notice mandated by law is that of newspaper publication. No other media, including radio or TV, is included. And yes, radio stations have taken note of that and I have received requests from them.
As you know, the times they are a changing. Since 1997 we have seen many pieces of legislation changing how the state reports, notifies, posts announcements etc. All the changes have moved away from print.
We have continued with changing up our outreach methods to see what is most effective. We have used TV, radio, Facebook, public gatherings, senior centers and direct mail. We are definitely not hiding any information. The online filings have risen 8% just since we started in January. That tells us that people have access and use the Internet to file for their property. I have reached out to libraries about putting flyers by their public computers.
Finally, my mission is to return property to the rightful owners. I want to do that in the most effective and efficient way possible. Since taking this position I have devoted my time to analyzing how best to do this. We will continue to adjust to meet the mission.
Arkansas Auditor of State
State Capitol, Suite 230