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Port St. Lucie, Florida returns money to rightful owners

This is different, the city recognized a mistake and is now correcting the error. This is happy news for about 5,000 property owners in Port St. Lucie.

Two million dollars sits inside a bank vault in Fort Pierce, waiting for its rightful owners to make their claim.

Three years ago a judge ordered Port St. Lucie to repay owners of 45,000 vacant lots $14.4 million in storm-water utility fees. To date $2 million remains unclaimed, either because the recipients cannot be found, they lost their checks or simply forgot to cash them.

Fort Pierce attorney Harold Melville, who was awarded $4.2 million for his six-year legal fight on behalf of class members, is using $6,700 in interest that accrues monthly to pay accounting expenses and hopes to update addresses a third time before mailing a new round of checks in a few months.

Checks worth $7 million were cashed during the first six months of the October 2003 mailing, leaving only $3 million in unclaimed rebates by spring 2004. After the first round of checks expired in April 2004, Melville hired a postal database service to update class members’ names and addresses and mailed another 6,000 checks in October 2004, resulting in another $1 million of the money being claimed.

Even after three years, 10 to 15 class members still trickle into Melville’s office each month, each with a different story about why he’s late. Most simply moved from the area while others found the court notices in their loved ones’ belongings after a death and called the hot lines listed to ask about a refund. Word of mouth also helped match other rebates with their rightful owners when former landowners return to Port St. Lucie to visit.

The rebates came after judges ruled that the city improperly billed tens of thousands of property owners for drainage fees in the mid-1990s.

The lawsuit was filed in 1997 after complaints that the city was overcharging owners of vacant lots for storm-water runoff because, at that time, they paid more than homeowners in annual drainage fees.

Judges agreed it was unfair and went one step further, ordering the city to refund all storm-water utility fees paid by owners of vacant lots between 1993 and 1998 because the city gave improper notice of rising fees each year.

Withdrawing $14.4 million from the city’s storm-water account proved troublesome. The city had to postpone several capital drainage repairs, including an overhaul of ditches and canals.

There area so many stories about lost money and found money. For those who would like to know if there could be unclaimed money for them, do a a free money search to find out. It is quick and easy.

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