Revenue recovery program bags more than $1M for S.F. 

By

Staff Writer

The collection of small amounts owed to The City is adding up to big dollars for the Office of the City Attorney.

During the fiscal year that ended Friday, the revenue recovery program brought in $1.3 million, up from $1 million collected in the previous year, officials said.

Much of the money comes from insurance companies whose customers have damaged city-owned property. City departments are required to report all damages to the city attorney’s recovery unit, the first step toward possible payment.

"We’re starting from zero again" with the new fiscal year that began Saturday, said Matt Dorsey, a spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

More than half the money comes from Muni accidents, typically when a driver causes damage to a bus, train or other property, city attorney officials said.

Still, incidents involving police, fire and public works department property are also revenue sources, as are fire hydrant collisions.

"You would be surprised at the number of people who run into fire hydrants. The city has a lot of streets," said Matt Rothschild, who works in the City Attorney’s Office helping to collect unpaid monies. "Knock on wood, in the upcoming year, it will be more" than the $1.3 million from last year.

Additionally, hundreds of thousands of dollars came from the state.

California state Controller Steve Westly runs an unclaimed property program, which taps into $4.8 billion worth of unclaimed funds. More than 239,000 accounts were returned last year, with the average amount reaching nearly $1,000, the state office reported.

Mengo Darr, a receptionist with the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, spent weeks sleuthing away on the state Web site looking for forgotten money owed to The City.

"It was a bit of a treasure hunt," Darr said. "They were from every department."

For instance, the Health Department search yielded about $52,675, the largest amount from the state, according to the City Attorney’s Office.

By contrast, the Police Department received about $280, the data show.

Since Dennis Herrera took over as city attorney in 2002, the office has focused on collecting money owed it, no matter how small, Dorsey said.

The program has grown since its inception in 2002, when it generated about $200,000 for San Francisco, city attorney officials said.

The average check is for about $300, which means there is a great deal of paperwork involved.

A team of eight employees — including one attorney, two clerical workers and five adjusters — is going after the money, which ultimately belongs to the taxpayers, Dorsey said.

mcarroll@examiner.com

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