Local News

State worthless check program cuts most positions

Posted January 25, 2011 5:51 p.m. EST
Updated January 25, 2011 5:52 p.m. EST

— North Carolina's Worthless Check Program has always paid for itself, but the number of returned checks was down significantly in 2010, prompting the state to eliminate most of the program's positions.

Worthless check program employees work in prosecutor's offices to go after people who write bad checks and collect fees on each returned check to cover costs. By working with merchants and offenders to work out a plan for restitution, the program keeps bad check cases out of the court room. 

In 1998, there were 162,650 bad checks written in North Carolina. In 2010, that number dropped to 28,797.

In a memorandum sent to district attorneys Jan. 5 , the state's Administrative Office of the Courts announced it would be eliminating most worthless check positions across the state. 

The memo attributed the decline in worthless checks to better technology and more people using credit cards. Some stores now have a system that can immediately determine whether a check will clear.

The AOC advised prosecutors to transfer affected employees into current state-funded position vacancies that were otherwise frozen. Of 24 worthless check employees across the state, five will be retained, 17 will be transferred and two will be eliminated.

In Wake County, District Attorney Colon Willoughby was not surprised to be losing two of three worthless check positions.

"I understand why we have to look at those things in these kinds of budget times," he said. "(I'm) more disappointed that it's gonna reduce the services we provide to victims."

Judge J.P. Rowland who runs Wake's Worthless Check Court expects that the change will mean more work for the courts, and more people facing criminal charges.

"(We'll be) much busier because what will happen is that merchants would come to this court," Rowland said.

But Willoughby remains somewhat optimistic that the program can still function with fewer employees.

"We think we can do that with one person. We're gonna try and I think it's worth the effort that goes into it to both help the court system and to help the merchants," he said.

Revenue collected from worthless checks across the state in 2010 was $301,636, while expenditures – mostly personnel – were $551,433, the memo states.

Wake is one of only five judicial districts that brings in sufficient funds to continue the program with one employee. Rockingham, Stokes, Surry, Davie, Davidson, Buncombe, Nash, Wilson and Edgecombe counties comprise the other four districts that will each have the option to retain one worthless check employee.