Jackson Co. hot check program loses profitability

JACKSON COUNTY, AR (KAIT) – The City of Newport is finalizing its 2012 budget, and one request for more money may contribute to a failing business model.

Henry Boyce, Prosecuting Attorney for the state's third judicial district, runs the Jackson County Hot Check Program. He says the volume of business has gone down dramatically, and the program is no longer profitable.

"When the offense of a hot check is written, we still feel that we need to provide that service," Boyce said. "We've just needed some extra money in order to be able to fund the salary and the costs involved with prosecuting those cases."

Boyce is asking the City of Newport and Jackson County to supplement the expenses to keep the hot check program afloat. He placed a request to receive $2,500 from Newport to help pay a part-time employee to maintain the dwindling service.

"It's not breaking even, or I wouldn't have to ask both the city and the county to supplement the funds to support it," Boyce said.

The program has seen declining revenues during recent years. The Jackson County Sheriff's Office ran it more than a decade ago, and it actually turned a profit. A number of factors, however, have contributed to funding problems, including the growing use of debit cards and the rise of competition from independent hot check collectors.

"Either they aren't using check to pay their bills, or merchants aren't accepting the checks because it's simpler not to take that risk," Boyce added.

The Prosecuting Attorneys Association steered legislation to raise the fees generated by hot checks. Boyce's office recently mailed out a letter to someone with an insufficient account. The person was unable to pay two dollars, so now he or she will have to pay back 57 dollars.

"As long as the legislature has determined that writing a check on an insufficient bank account is tantamount to theft, it's my job to prosecute the person that committed the crime," Boyce said.

He says he will defer to the local decision makers to decide if the program is worth funding, but his request still stands so that he continue providing the service to businesses who use the program to recover bad checks.

This is the first time Boyce has requested money for the Jackson County Hot Check Program, but he has received funds from the other three counties in his district to sustain their respective hot check operations.

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