A bit of a moral dilema ...

Discussion in 'The Watercooler' started by donna723, Sep 27, 2011.

  1. donna723

    donna723 Well-Known Member

    In the great scheme of things, this is a very minor problem but I just wanted to see what some of you would do if you were me.

    As some of you know, I live in a very tiny little town, so tiny that our 'downtown' is only two blocks long and everybody calls the mayor by his first name. I pay a city utility bill for water, sewer, and gas (that I only use in the winter for heat). My bill this month was only $31 which I went in and paid by check at city hall on the 15th. This is one of the only bills I pay by check because they are not set up to accept payments online. I noticed that my check hadn't cleared and when our little weekly paper came out there was a big story about how someone had broken in to city hall! They came in the back, ripped the night depository box right out of the wall and even stole the safe that had been bolted to the floor! Now why they left all that money (cash and checks) from the whole town's utility bills in their safe for several days instead of depositing it in the bank is anybody's guess. They said they did find 30-40 checks on the side of the road going out of town but apparently mine wasn't one of them because it still hasn't cleared and the $31 is still in my checking account.

    So ... what would you do? Do towns have insurance that covers them for things like this? I have my receipt that is stamped "PAID" so legally they probably couldn't make me pay it again. But I almost feel like I am morally obligated to give them another check - I still have the $31. But if they're getting reimbursed from insurance I wouldn't feel quite so obligated. And what if the people who stole my original check figure out some way to cash it? Is there anything they can do with the check if it's made out to the city? I cut it pretty close in my checking account and I don't want anything to bounce if I write them another one and then the original check clears too.
  2. Shari

    Shari IsItFridayYet?

    To put a stop payment on the check would cost you $20, maybe more. Not hardly worth that.

    Since your bill is marked paid, I'm guessing they don't know who's money they have and who's they lost. So it probably just comes down to how you feel about it...

    I'd maybe just ask in general how that gets handled.

    Cause quite frankly, I'd like to know, too!
  3. Hound dog

    Hound dog Nana's are Beautiful


    Let's try this another way.

    Let's say you paid them 31.00 in cash. You got your receipt. They get robbed. That 31.00 in cash is taken with everything else.

    Now, do you still feel obligated to pay them? Because if you did, you'd be paying 62.00, instead of the 31.00, for their negligence in have the brains enough to deposit their funds in the bank each day.

    It's the same thing, even though your check has yet to be cashed.

    There is a reason you get a paid stamp on your bill.

    That money/checks were stolen because it was available for someone to steal, responsible establishments don't leave money locked even in a safe overnight. Once you handed that check over to them it became their responsibility, in effect at that point it became their money. Know what I mean??

    If the same scene happened with a store, would you feel the same way?

    Stinks that such a thing happened. I hope they change how they do things. That was just asking someone to do what they did.
  4. donna723

    donna723 Well-Known Member

    I don't mind paying it again as long as I know that the original check is not going to end up coming through too. But if insurance is going to reimburse them for their loss, that's a little different. Still, I really shouldn't be profiting from their loss either. Of course, it's ALL their fault! Everybody's bills are due on the 15th and whoever did that probably knew that. That's a heck of a lot of money to leave in their office for several days, even if it was in a safe.
  5. donna723

    donna723 Well-Known Member

    Lisa, that's pretty much what I thought. And it really seems like it had to be someone very familiar with their procedures, someone who knew when all the bills were due and someone who knew they didn't make very timely bank deposits. And the reason I'm asking all of this is that I'm going to Walmart tomorrow and I just might spend their $31!
  6. InsaneCdn

    InsaneCdn Well-Known Member

    If it were me...

    1) Leave the $ in the account for a year - after that, for most banks its a "stale-dated" cheque and would not be honored - but check with your bank about what their stale-dated policy is.

    2) Don't put a formal stop-payment on, but let the bank know what is going on... if the cheque does come in at a later date, they need to make sure its being deposited by the town, not by someone else - if its someone else, they need to alert the police. Its not a stop-payment, because you're prepared to honor the original cheque to the town. You just want to make sure the $ gets to where it belongs.

    This way, you have not refused to pay the town... they just haven't presented the cheque for deposit. If someone else tries to alter the cheque, someone is watching the account, and you might even end up helping to solve the case.

    p.s. - sorry, Donna - you were posting while I was composing... so I didn't see yours until after I posted.
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2011
  7. muttmeister

    muttmeister Well-Known Member

    If your bank is also in your tiny town I would tell them what happened. As somebody else said, it probably wouldn't pay to put a stop payment on it for so small an amount but if the check turns up they would at least know what is going on.

    As far as your payment, you do have a receipt that says you paid. I would not have thought of the insurance angle. So maybe your receipt is all you need. I would probably just be quiet about it and let it go, unless I was contacted by the city office. If they wanted me to pay again because the check was lost, I probably would because it seems like the right thing to do (you would not be paying twice, it would only come out of your account once), although I doubt if you could be held legally responsible as you do have a receipt that says you paid.
  8. donna723

    donna723 Well-Known Member

    Oh, I'm sure the bank was one of the first to know and are watching for any checks that come through. The bank is only a block from city hall and all the bank employees pay their utility bills by check too! So far, unless there is something in the paper tomorrow, they haven't asked for people to pay their bills again. I guess I'll just wait and see what happens.
  9. Andy

    Andy Active Member

    I may be the odd man out, but I would go in and talk to the city clerk about it. You still have the $31.00. Your check was a written note stating that the city could take the money from your account. Since the town is so small, they must have a person who makes deposits once or twice a week or even once or twice a month instead of a nightly drop. I would venture to guess that what went missing was not posted to individual accounts - the $ and statements were stored together in the safe until "posting day". They will need to use their receipt book to see who has paid and by what method. Hopefully that was stored elsewhere.

    No one can legally cash that check if it is made out to the city. If the city cashes it and puts it to your account at a later date, they will show a credit balance that you can apply to the following month. If someone else cashes the check, you can work with the bank to prove the bank it was cashed at did not follow procedures to make sure the check was not stolen. That is the bank's responsibility. Any clerk cashing a city check must have their eyes checked. The city will not sign it over to a private person to cash.

    If I was the city, I would be auditing the receipt book to determine how much cash and checks were known to be stolen. Then, a letter to go out to all customers explaining the policy and procedures that are followed in a theft explaining how the theft will effect the accounts. They may say, insurance will cover all theft. What about those received via drop box or mail? They wouldn't have a receipt - how can those be proven stolen or received?

    However, I would feel so guilty if after several months the check did not clear. Personally, I would pay again and if the original money showed up and was deposited, I would deduct it from the next month's bill.
  10. KTMom91

    KTMom91 Well-Known Member

    If you have a receipt, tough tofu for the city. It wasn't your negligence that lost your payment...someone needs to come up with a more secure banking system. I would feel no obligation to pay the bill again.
  11. flutterby

    flutterby Fly away!

    I'd write another check. The thieves were looking for cash - can't buy drugs with a check made out to the city. They probably dumped all of those checks, as evidenced by the checks found on the road.

    If you had given them cash, it would be a different story. But a check is a promisory note so they didn't actually have your money yet.

    If you explain the situation to the bank, they will often do a stop payment for no charge one time. Get a letter from the city explaining what happened to give to the bank. If they insist on charging for a stop-payment, have the city pay for it (get that all settled with the city before talking to your bank). Actually, if you report the check stolen, there shouldn't be an issue with a stop-payment fee. So, ask the bank how it should be handled.

    That's what I would do, anyway.

    I also wouldn't spend that money before talking to the city. They may still have your check, but haven't deposited yet because of the theft - handling accounting issues on their end.
  12. susiestar

    susiestar Roll With It

    Banking has changed a LOT from the days where it took 7 days to get a check through from the person/business you wrote it too. Now, while some businesses opt to use the old fashioned way, it is a banking regulation that checks are handled electronically and the $$ is removed from your account far far faster. That promissory note that they left sitting around actually is FAR closer to cash than it was in the past. There is no more "kiting" a check that you write and then have 2-3+ days to get the $$ into the account because one bank has to send it to a national clearinghouse and they send it to the other bank, often with several more steps in between.

    Now most checks are handled electronically. H ave you ever written a check to walmart or a gas station or another place and they run it through a little reader and give it back to you? That $$ is out of your bank acct by the next morning, and it is a federal regulation that makes is the way checks are handled now, as a general rule. The readers are not as expensive as you might think, and they keep this sort of thing from happening. It is probable that the reader and training to operate it are probably FAR less expensive than insurance on deposits would be.

    The fact that your check was not deposited by the city means the city has some explaining to do. They lose money for every day those checks are not deposited. It is NOT your fault that they were robbed, just as it wouldn't be if you gave them cash and that was robbed. This is simply NOT your responsibility. I realize the whole promissory note thing, and yes it is a small amount, but what incentive does the city have to be more responsible if they have no penalties? Why would they change how they handle funds and deposits so that this does not happen again if they don't suffer some loss?

    I applaud your wish to be fair, but that has to go all the way around. WHomever let it be okay to leave the deposits in the box for days needs to be fired or demoted at the very very least. In our town there are a lot of heads that would roll, and in the small town we lived in back in OH the mayor, treasurer and whomever was supposed to take those deposits to the bank would all be doing some fast talking and would either lose jobs or would not be re-elected.

    The fact that they gave you a reciept that says you paid that money to them means tehy KNEW how much they had in that box. WHile the thieves knew that everyone's $$ was due that day, so did the person in charge of all those checks and so did the person who runs the utilities. They made a CHOICE to leave those there instead of taking them ONE measly block to the bank.

    YOU paid your bill on time. If they lost it, well, that is NOT your problem. If you give htem a second check, and the first one goes through because they found it or someone else did, if that first check bounces there is NO ONE who will give you the bounced check fee back, is there? You could ask for it, but the bank isn't going to do it and the city would add their own penalty onto the bank's fee. So you could be out easily three or four times the amount of the first check if you gave them a second one.

    In this tight economy, there is NO room for stupidity and negligence, and that is what left the money in that box. It would be one thing if you didn't have a receipt that someone stamped as paid - then they could claim you didn't give them the $$ and they would have a good legal argument for you to pay it again iwth another check. But they DID have someone who gave you a receipt stamped PAID, meaning they got their $$.

    I would be asking who is going to be held accountable for not taking the few minutes to take the money to the bank - and why they thought that was okay to do. EVERY town has a drug problem nowadays, no matter how small it is. This was inevitable if they left money in the box overnight. What are they going to do to make sure it doesn't happen again? in my opinion that is a far more important issue for you to worry about.
  13. klmno

    klmno Active Member

    difficult child's psychiatrist's receptionist called me once to say checks had been stolen from their safe (they take them to deposit once a week) and they would reimburse me any fee for stopping payment if I'd do so then write them another check- otherwise, it is their loss. I called my bank to stop payment and once I'd explained the situation, the bank didn't charge any fee for stopping payment, so I'd recommend you try that first. Otherwise, it should be the city's cost for either stopping payment (and you write another check) or writing the bill off.
  14. Andy

    Andy Active Member

    As Flutterby indicated, do not assume that the city does not have the check. It could have been amongst those recovered and just taking time to sort out the entire mess before depositing.
  15. MuM_of_OCD_kiddo

    MuM_of_OCD_kiddo New Member

    I'd just sit tight and wait and see if you get rebilled for the amount, and then go from there.

    What would bother me more than trying to figure out their problem is the information on the check. In addition to your actual full name and address, is your SSN on the check as well? I haven't had a checking account in so long [I'm doing what's called non-banking, purely online and cash only] I don't know if that is still required by most places; used to be though...
  16. Fran

    Fran Former desparate mom

    Donna, I understand your dilemma. In your mind, you got a month of a utility for free. I would wait until city hall tells you what to do next. I doubt they will ask those with checks to pay again but not those who pay by cash. Small towns work differently and they know everyone so it's a different mentality. If the mayor asks for those with checks who haven't seen them cashed to resubmit, I probably would since the money is in your account. You never go wrong by doing the right thing but I'm sure the city leaders will come up with a plan and will take the decision out of your hands. I know I suffer over what is the right thing to do vs. the easiest too.
    You are a good person.
  17. AnnieO

    AnnieO Shooting from the Hip

    I have to agree with the majority here. Yes, a check is a promissory note; however, you wrote the check in good faith AND have a receipt.

    I'd wait a while for the $31 to clear. I'm betting insurance is going to cover it. I'm also betting they set up e-payments...
  18. muttmeister

    muttmeister Well-Known Member

    I've been pondering your problem and have been interested in the replies you have received. It just goes to show that those of us who live in small towns might as well be on a different planet. I, too, live in a small town, although I think mine is smaller than yours (we have less than 200 people -the business include a bar/cafe, the office of a trucking company, a farmers' coop (with filling station, grain elevator, fertilizer business, etc), a mechanic/irrigation pipe installer/earth mover, an ag business that sells seed, etc. and a post office that will be closing soon. We pay our utility bills to a guy who has a day job. We either send a check in the mail or else go to his house at night; there is no city office. Does he get in his car and drive to the town seven miles over every night to deposit the checks he received that day? Of course not. In fact, from how long it takes my check to clear I suspect he keeps them all and deposits them once a month. Does that mean he could be robbed? I suppose. Does that mean he's incompetent? No, it's just the way business is done here. He does the job as a service to the town. He isn't elected; he was asked because he is the only CPA in town. He gets paid a nominal fee but said fee would not even keep in in beer and pizza for the month. There has been a lot of criticism here of your town's way of doing business. I suspect most of it comes from people who live in larger places.

    The bottom line is this: you agreed to pay for utilities. So far, you have not paid. I would not beat a path to their door to give them money; I would wait to see what happens. Perhaps they have insurance to cover such an event (in a small place I highly doubt it). Perhaps they still have your check. Perhaps they will just write it off. I would set the money aside for at least 6 months and wait to see what happens. Then if they came and asked me to give them another check, I would do it as it is the right thing to do. If I didn't hear from them, I would consider it a gift.
  19. hearts and roses

    hearts and roses Mind Reader

    I agree with Andy. I'm more proactive and would likely go speak with Town Hall first to find out my personal status on account. I would also show them my "PAID" stamped receipt and ask them if they have made a claim with their insurance to cover any lost funds. If they have, then you're free to use that $31 left in your account by an uncashed check. If they are not making claim with their insurance and are instead waiting to see which monies clear, etc., and if they say I owed the $31, I would ask them to cover my stop payment fee at the bank and write them a new check. Then, I would march over to the bank and be VERY clear about YOUR personal situation in regards to this incident, stop payment on the check and ask what the Stale Check time frame is. Explain to them that you WILL fight them if they try to cover a check with a stop on it or is past the stale check date.

    On the one hand, I would feel dirty if I didn't pay my bill. on the other hand, these things happen. However, when these things happen, most businesses have insurance to cover them. So, Town Hall would be my first stop, followed by the bank. And I'm sure you're not the only person wondering.
  20. Shari

    Shari IsItFridayYet?

    Mutt's got a very valid point. If this were me, and I still paid utilities to the little town I live near, that would have an impact on what I did...If it were Ameren UE that lost my payment? Probably not so much... Maybe that's wrong, but Mutt's right. That small town aspect is just different. I could probably walk in the front doors of 80% of the houses around us... People will call me if they see a car they don't recognize at my house, a horse lying down too long, or the goat too close to the road... May as well be Mayberry, sometimes.