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My Florida C F O
Weekly eNewsletter from Florida's Chief Financial Officer

Dear Fellow Floridian:

Floridians know all too well the disastrous impact a hurricane or tropical storm can have on their homes, business and families. Every season, we arm ourselves with tips on how to harden our homes and businesses. But too often, my Division of Consumer Services receives calls from consumers who are left without the necessary insurance coverage or financial protection after a storm has hit. That is too late to protect yourself financially, and many suffer from the financial aftermath of a storm. As we rapidly approach June 1, now is the time to start preparing financially.Protect Your Homebase

This year, my office hosted a series of free disaster preparedness webinars for small business owners. The webinars were part of my “Protect Your Homebase” initiative and were aimed at helping small businesses plan and prepare for a natural disaster. Business owners wear many hats and are focused on many different aspects of their business, but the impact of a storm can be devastating and preparing cannot be left to the last minute. The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates that 40 to 60 percent of small businesses never reopen their doors following a disaster. Just as you protect your home, small business owners must take steps to protect their business and the overall economy of their community. You may view the webinar on our small business page.

This week we all watched as a tornado devastated a small town in America’s Heartland. My prayers go out to the families who were affected by this unimaginable disaster. Although a hurricane is very different from a tornado and we often have warning ahead of time, I urge you to prepare your homes, businesses and families today.

Jeff Atwater
Jeff Atwater
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida

Celebrate Our Freedoms on Memorial Day

Memorial Day began nearly three years after the Civil War ended as a way to honor the fallen of both the Union Army and the Confederate Army, and has since turned into a national holiday meant for memorializing the American heroes who fought and died in any war. This Memorial Day weekend, many of us have plans for a relaxing time spent with loved ones - beach trips, picnics and the like. However, we must never forget that we are able to enjoy these freedoms because of those who selflessly gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to our great nation. Please join me in remembering those who gave everything so that we may live free.

Arrests Made in ‘Operation Christmas Tree’

Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jeff Atwater, Marion County Sheriff Chris Blair, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have announced multiple arrests in “Operation Christmas Tree,” an investigation into a series of residential structure fires in Marion County. The investigation resulted in the arrest of eight individuals charged with organized fraud, arson and burning to defraud the insurer.State Fire Marshal

“Last year alone, arson cost Floridians more than $69 million in property damage and endangered the lives of honest, hard-working individuals,” CFO Atwater said. “I am proud of the diligent, collaborative efforts across state and local law enforcement. Our efforts together led to the arrests of these criminals.”

"We are elated over the outcome of this investigation and proud of our agency partnerships in Operation Christmas Tree," said Sheriff Blair.

The investigation revealed that three fires in Marion County had been intentionally set and that fraudulent insurance claims associated with these fires had been filed. Further information revealed that the scheme to defraud was orchestrated by Rocky Edward Williams, Sr., who provided counsel and funding to the occupants for the scheme. Additional residential structure fires may be related to the scheme, and the investigation into these fires continues.

Anyone with information regarding any incidents of suspected arson is asked to call 877-No-Arson (877-662-7766) or visit http://www.facap.org/ReportArson.cfm. Citizens who provide tips can remain anonymous. A reward of up to $5,000 may be paid by the Florida Advisory Committee on Arson Prevention for a tip that leads directly to an arrest and conviction.

Find Out If You Have Hidden Treasure

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater is encouraging Floridians to check for unclaimed property that the state may be holding for them.Florida's Unclaimed Property. Search for yours. In his first 28 months in office, CFO Atwater’s Bureau of Unclaimed Property has paid more than 850,000 claims, totaling more than $500 million, including a record-high $24.7 million in June 2011 alone.

“I ask all Floridians to visit FLTreasureHunt.org to see what property they may have waiting,” said CFO Atwater. “I am proud of the employees who work hard to return millions in unclaimed property every year. It is my goal to raise awareness about the program so that every last dime is returned to its rightful owner.”

The CFO is encouraging Floridians to search before the Bureau of Unclaimed Property’s statewide auction, an annual sale of unclaimed safe deposit box contents turned over to the state. The auction, which is open to the public, will be held June 8 in Tampa at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

At the auction, more than 76,000 individual items, including jewelry, watches and rare coins, with a minimum reserve value in excess of $550,836, will be sold. Featured items include a 1776 Continental Note, silver ingots, an 11-carat sapphire and diamond ring, silver flatware, one 1876 gold pocket watch, South African Krugerrands, and an 18-carat gold and diamond cuff bracelet. After items are auctioned, the proceeds can be claimed from the state by owners at any time at no cost.

A free catalog and details about the auction, can be found at www.FLTreasureHunt.org. Participation in the auction is open to the public but requires registration and a refundable $100 deposit. A public preview of all items will be held Friday, June 7.

Unclaimed money, along with earnings from the auction, is deposited into the state school fund, where, until claimed, it is used for public education. There is no statute of limitations, and citizens have the right to claim their property at any time at no cost.

During the 2013 Legislative Session, SB 464, which will allow certain claims up to $1,000 to be submitted and processed electronically, was passed and was signed into law on May 1. This new automated system will eliminate the need to manually process approximately 27 percent of all claims, allowing unclaimed funds to be returned faster with no additional resources.

Since CFO Atwater took office the Bureau of Unclaimed Property has seen record returns by reuniting owners, heirs and businesses with more than $500 million due largely to persistent efforts to contact owners. To search for or claim unclaimed property, visit www.FLTreasureHunt.org, or call 1-88-VALUABLE or 850-413-5555.

News of Interest

WTXL Tallahassee: Unclaimed property could be yours

Crestview News Bulletin: State launching website to match businesses with graduates

Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Benderson rowing park to lure world championships

Orlando Business Journal: Gov. Scott signs manufacturing tax break bill

Florida Today: Brevard: A four-star destination for military retirees

Associated Press: Fla. Gov. oks sales tax holiday for August

Florida's Bottom Line Shows Transparency

Florida's Bottom LineTechnology has revolutionized government accountability by enabling the public to have unprecedented and easy access to government data.

Florida has taken advantage of this opportunity by publishing state spending data online. Whether taxpayers are looking for information about past budgets, proposals for this year’s budget, or the state’s payroll, it all can be accessed via the Internet. Additionally, since 72 percent of the state’s budget is spent in the form of a contract, it is critical that taxpayers can inspect public contracts.

The Department of Financial Services began publishing the details of contracts online last year through the Florida Accountability Contract Tracking System (FACTS), and you can use this tool to take a critical look. Because of this commitment over the past two years to increasing accountability and transparency in government for Florida taxpayers, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) gave Florida an A-minus this year for overall transparency based on the DFS Transparency Florida website, which houses FACTS.

In this edition of Florida’s Bottom Line, you will also find information about ongoing efforts to continue making government in Florida more open and ethical. This includes articles from Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford, who discuss their initiatives on page 8. Additionally, the Florida Foundation for Government Accountability and the First Amendment Foundation provide commentary on how Florida can continue improving in the future.