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Mailing 435,000 property tax bills is a big enough task with a staff of eight. But two years ago when Phyllis Roberts noticed nearly 14,000 returned bills, the Franklin County (Ohio) Treasurer's Office customer service supervisor knew the department could be more diligent.

"Ultimately it's our job to get that bill to the taxpayer," said Roberts, who blamed most of the returned mail on clerical errors and an aging real-estate computer system. "We could type in 'Timbuktu' and it didn't care. If it was a new ZIP code, it wouldn't recognize it."

While the 14,000 outstanding bills represented only about 3 percent of the county's total number of tax mailings, at an average of $2,000 each those unpaid bills add up to $28 million for the county of more than 1 million residents, many living in Columbus.

Some bills belonged in the "dead pile" -- constituted of residents who've moved -- while others just simply didn't reach their destinations.

"There are people who don't get a bill and think they don't owe anything," Roberts said. "Then they get a penalty and are very upset about it."

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Karen Wilkinson  | 

Karen is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.