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Wisconsin official tries to connect people with lost money

Teresa Montpetit stops by to ask Wisconsin treasurer representatives about the "unclaimed property" program and to see if her name, or her relatives' names, were on the list.

State Treasurer Kurt Schuller stopped in New Richmond last Thursday as part of his statewide money tour.

Schuller camped out at the Friday Memorial Library for more than an hour to help local residents search the state's data base for money that might be sitting in an account with their name on it.

As Wisconsin elected treasurer, Schuller has the duty of returning "unclaimed property" to people.

The property often includes cash left in savings accounts or uncashed tax refund checks, but can also be such things as stocks or bonds. Recently an individual found they owned 52 shares of stock at $22 per share, Schuller noted.

During his stop in New Richmond, several people discovered they are due a check from the state. Some found out about relatives who are on the "unclaimed property" list.

"We very rarely leave a community without finding money for someone," Schuller said.

At a recent stop in Onalaska, Schuller said that a woman was told she had $15,000 coming to her.

"It was from the estate of her great aunt, and she was the only living heir," he said. "People will often check our list with their name and give up. But you should always check any relatives' names, especially if they are deceased. You never know. On one day we returned more than a half a million dollars to people."

The state's unclaimed property list currently includes about 1.2 million names. A total of $400 million is waiting in the state's coffers to be returned to its rightful owners.

Unclaimed dollar amounts ranges from $2 to $165,000, Schuller noted.

The Wisconsin treasurer's office has handled the unclaimed property program since 1968.

"It's nice to come out and meet the folks," he said of his regular visits to communities. "It's nice to find them money and see smiles on their faces."

Often people think the data search is a scam, Schuller said, but he assures people it isn't.

"It just takes five second to put your name into the system," he said.

Apart from the unclaimed property program, Schuller's office administers the EdVest college savings plan (rated last week as the tops in the nation); and the Local Government Investment Pool (which allows municipalities to make short-term investments with their idle cash). He also is a commissioner with the Board of Public Lands.

And while he enjoys his job, Schuller admits that he hopes he loses it soon.

When he ran for election in 2010, Schuller ran his campaign on the promise that he would work to eliminate the office of Wisconsin's treasurer.

He said the duties assigned to his office can easily be assigned to other departments, and he backs a bill that would lead to a state constitutional referendum that would give voters the chance to decide if the offices of treasurer and secretary of state should be eliminated.

If the bill progresses, that vote could be before voters in 2013.

"But they're dealing with much bigger fish right now," Schuller said of the legislature's work load. He noted that the measure may not gain the necessary approval this session.

Schuller said he's not sure how the public will respond to the questions, but he'd like voters to decide the matter.

"I believe the voters will vote to end both of these offices," he said. "But you never really know what the voters will do."

Regardless if the measure is approved, Schuller said he will deliver on his other campaign promise. He told voters he would only hold the treasurer position for one term, meaning he won't run for re-election in 2014.

"I do take my job very seriously," he said. "I try to use my position to educate people on financial matters. And we do all we can to inform the public about what's going on with the treasury."

Besides his New Richmond stop, Schuller also visited libraries in River Falls and Hudson last Thursday.