News commentary.  Gwinnett county, just outside Atlanta, found out they overpaid some county employees, so they asked for their money back.  Fair enough.

Except that they waited sixteen years to ask for the money back!

Here’s some of the numbers: 180 employees, and $39K, so a little over two hundred bucks per person.  Not chicken scratch, but not a terrible thing.  In fact, with 32% inflation since 1994, the $216.67 asked for now is less than 150 of those 1994 dollars.

From another perspective, the county budget for 2010 is $1.33 billion, billion with a B (see 1.6M PDF here).  This measly $39K is 0.000029 of that amount – smaller than one part in thirty-four thousand.

Looking at it another way, it’s enough money to fund the county for about fifteen minutes.  The county spends almost double that amount burying paupers (see budget page 8).

But let’s look at it from another angle.  Do these people have an obligation to return the money at all?  It was paid to them by the county as part of their pay.  The county made a mistake, and the people accepted it in good faith.  I think the people had an obligation to repay the money when asked at the time, but after sixteen years, the county needs to admit they were wrong and write the rest off.

UPDATE: looking at the original article instead of the condensed version, it seems that the 1994 total was around $114K paid to 509 people.  329 employees have already repaid about $75K – almost $230 apiece.  The two groups don’t seem much different in the amount owed.  The full article is not clear on when the county started asking for the money.  Not sure how any of this changes my thinking.  Still seems to be straining at gnats.