Debit card for jurors good idea

Blair County’s decision to step into the 21st century regarding jury duty pay isn’t a major development.

Nevertheless, the move demonstrates a commendable commitment to efficiency — efficiency that’s a basis for saving money and county employees’ time, now and in the future.

Rather than paying jurors by the traditional check method or, as done more recently, with cash, the county has switched to issuance of debit cards for the amount of time individuals are present for jury selection or actual jury service.

With debit and credit cards now so much a part of people’s lives, the jury duty cards fit in with most individuals’ financial habits. Meanwhile, like what the county experienced with cash payments, the debit cards eliminate the tedious process of maintaining records regarding which checks have and haven’t been cashed.

And, as county Controller A.C. Stickel pointed out, loading the cards is more efficient than assigning a couple of employees to fill envelopes with cash, especially during those times when perhaps 200 people have been summoned for jury service.

Paying with cash required significant staff-preparation time that now isn’t necessary with the cards.

Stickel also noted the cards provide a better way for the county to track and verify payments to jurors.

It’s true that use of the cards doesn’t come without cost to the county. According to the controller, the county pays 49 cents for every card that the county loads.

“But that cost is offset by the 15 hours of staff time that we’re saving,” Stickel said.

Regarding the amount of time devoted in the past to maintaining a record of cashed and uncashed checks, it can be presumed that 15 hours was on the low side of the time actually expended in connection with juror pay during the “check era.”

“I think, overall, it’s going to be much easier for the county, and it’s going to create a much better record than we ever had,” said Court Administrator Janice Meadows.

Evidence of that began falling into place on Monday with the first issuance of cards; Meadows said it was her understanding that the new payment setup worked well and involved no more waiting time for jurors than usual.

Such results, aimed at streamlining court-related tasks and expenses, were the goal of the Utah company that established the jury duty debit card option.

Those who are issued cards have the opportunity to register the cards’ ownership online and check the balance — options not unfamiliar to 21st century day-to-day life and more palatable than “depositing” a paper check in a cupboard or drawer and forgetting about it.

President Judge Elizabeth Doyle said the juror-payments change is being regarded as part of an ongoing effort this year to encourage people to participate in jury service.

Actually, no such beefed-up effort should be needed; people should regard jury service as part of their civic duty — like voting — and welcome it.

Nonetheless, it’s important to implement changes more compatible with the times, and the use of “plastic,” from the standpoint of the county and jurors, fits that objective.