Joel Felrice was outraged by the note from the D.C. Office of Recorder of Deeds.
As treasurer for Sensormatic Security Corp., a franchise operation that markets antishoplifting devices, Felrice had filed his company's annual report along with a $25 fee in April 1981.
This January--nine months later--Felrice received a memo from the office of the recorder of deeds informing him that, because of "unavoidable delays" in processing annual reports, Sensormatic's check had become "outdated." The agency apologized for the "inconvenience" and instructed Felrice to mail a new check "in order to finalize the processing of your report."
The cost of the delay to Sensormatic is "minimal," Felrice concedes. He says what concerns him is the cost to the city--not from the delay in processing his firm's annual report, but from hundreds that "fell through the crack."
"It seems ludicrous that, on one hand, the city has serious cash-flow problems and must borrow substantial dollars at a high interest rate, and, on the other hand, they are sitting with countless numbers of checks on peoples' desks not only not earning interest but, in fact, becoming outdated," said Felrice.
Indeed, as many as 200 to 300 of the 5,000 or so corporate reports filed a year ago "fell through the crack," acknowledges Margurite C. Stokes, the District's recorder of deeds.
Felrice "has a right to be frustrated," Stokes volunteered. "I don't get impatient with the public. I understand."
Could the recorder of deeds office have made a photo copy of his check, deposited the original and done the bookkeeping later, as Felrice suggested, if it had a manpower shortage?
No, insists Stokes. "The statute says if it is not admitted to record, it must be rejected."
Thus, until an annual report is certified as being correct, the accompanying check stays with the document. Doing it any other way could result in erroneous claims, said Stokes.
Annual report forms that were mailed by the recorder of deeds office last month are due on or before April 15. Given the present system of processing those reports, Felrice's experience could be shared by hundreds more months from now.
Annual report fees range from $15 for small corporations (nonprofit as well as for profit) to as much as $250 or more for larger ones. True, fees for reports that "fell through the crack" could have been earning interest, Stokes concedes.
She agrees it is an inconvenience to corporations to have to resubmit annual reports with updated checks, but denies that delays in her office result in any revenue loss to the District.
The problem, as Stokes explains it, is the archaic manner in which the recorder of deeds office has had to examine, file and keep track of millions of documents. It is understaffed and can't possibily expedite the processing of thousands of reports without the aid of technology, Stokes maintains.
Thousands of documents are processed at the office each year virtually the same way they were 50 years ago--by hand. In neighboring jurisdictions, similar functions are performed with the aid of computers and related automated equipment.
Last year, the corporations division in the recorder of deeds office handled more than 92,000 filings of various types from new corporations. This year, it has added close to 6,000 documents to its corporate files, which date back to 1901.
Because of the volume of corporate filings and the small staff assigned to process the paperwork, "there is no effective way, no efficient way" to do the job any faster without the aid of technology, Stokes said.
Although it has one of the more demanding workloads among District government agencies, the office of recorder of deeds has a staff of only 55. Fewer than a half dozen are assigned to process corporate annual reports.
The manpower problem was exacerbated by the loss of 22 positions in recent mandated cutbacks, 13 of them CETA-trained employes.
Stokes' predecessor initiated steps in 1978 to transfer much of the work done by hand to computers, but because of a budget crunch, funding had to be delayed until fiscal 1982 budget requests were submitted.
Stokes is planning to transfer millions of records to microfilm and hopes to establish a computer data base by summer. Whether that timetable is realistic is anybody's guess.