By Elsa Maxey
It’s going to cost more up front for Fort Bend County to use a card payment solution to pay jurors. In fact, it will now cost over twice as much. Fort Bend County Commissioners last week authorized spending close to $24,000 instead of the estimated $11,000 the county currently spends annually by going to a new payment solution system to pay jurors, “a more efficient way to pay jurors,” said County Auditor Ed Sturdivant.
Precinct 2 County
Commissioner Grady Prestage presided over the court’s regular meeting during Judge Bob Hebert’s absence as it was stated he was out of town.
Under the county’s present juror compensation system, checks are mailed, most of them for six dollars for the one day that prospective jurors spend at what is pejoratively referred to as “the cattle call.” That’s when those summoned for jury duty show up en masse to find out whether they will be picked to serve on a jury. Most of them are not picked, but they are mailed a six dollar check, the daily pay, which is compensation for the time of doing one’s civic duty.
“The issue is that we currently pay our jurors by checks, 21 percent of the checks never clear, which gave an indication that it is not an efficient way from a juror’s perspective for payment since they are choosing not to redeem payment,” Sturdivant told commissioners. He also told commissioners that the majority of the checks are for six dollars and “do create a burden to manage.”
In spite of the doubling of the cost to pay jurors, Sturdivant said “we expect a redemption rate of 95 percent plus,” based on the feedback from payment processors, which are credit card companies. “So, (it’s) a more efficient process to pay our jurors,” he said.
“But the reason that we are willing to go from an $11,000 expense to a $24,000 expense is that (for) the $11,000 expense in order to meet all the auditing requirements,” queried Precinct 4 Commissioner James Patterson, is that “you have to have a lot of staff,” and “this other way, there is no staff involved,” and “we feel that we will save that differential.”
“And other resources in the county,” added Sturdivant. “Otherwise, there’s no reason to do this,” further queried Commissioner Patterson. Both of his statements were affirmed by Sturdivant.
One Fort Bend County resident, aware of the newly authorized system costing over twice as much up front than the former one asked, “why can’t the county just give out the six dollars in cash to jurors when they leave the first day of jury duty when they weren’t picked?” Although it may sound like a simple solution, would it work?
Sturdivant said, “We are actually looking at a couple of options right now.” So there still may be time for yet another more efficient solution.