Budget cut victims: Small businesses on their own with worthless - WECT TV6-WECT.com:News, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

Budget cut victims: Small businesses on their own with worthless checks

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WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - New Hanover and Pender County District Attorney Ben David announced Friday the Worthless Check Program will be eliminated.

The program, which has been in place since 2000, gave business owners a simple, direct way to recoup money lost from worthless checks. 

After more than ten years of success, the program will end effective March 1, 2011.

The decision to eliminate the program was not made locally; it's part of a statewide budget cut initiated by North Carolina's Administrative Office of the Courts.

In a press release, David wrote, "Worthless Check Programs are being eliminated around the state as a cost-cutting measure since they are no longer self sustaining. However, the real victims will be the small businesses that cannot afford to spend their business days in a courtroom now that this program has been eliminated."

The District Attorney's Office established the Worthless Check Program to deal with frustrating check cases in a way that prevented the parties involved from going to court. David said the program kept 19,394 cases from the criminal district courts over the past decade.

At least one Wilmington business owner thinks ending the program is a terrible idea. Diana Pellington owns Top Toad, a clothing shop within "The Cotton Exchange" in downtown Wilmington.  She has used the program for years and is afraid she'll begin to see more bad checks once check writers find out the DA's Office is no longer handling worthless check cases.

"We work very hard to make money to pay taxes, which pay your salary, so why would you take a program away from a small business that helps them?" asked Pellington.

The program paid for itself with fees collected from check writers who responded to "demand for payment" letters issued by the DA's Office. Now, with many large vendors using instant check verification, the number of worthless checks have declined overall.  That means less money is collected from fees, keeping the program from remaining self-sufficient. That, combined with statewide budget cuts, caused the program to be eliminated.

David insists this won't be a blank check for people who'd like to take advantage of the system. 

"We're going to continue to vigorously prosecute these cases," said David.

He says more people will come out from behind doors and end up in court, which means business owners like Pellington will have to appear as well.  Since time is money, the business owner hopes the program will bounce back.

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