July 18, 2003 – A change in the way government workers are paid is in the works, and not all of those who will be affected are happy.
Effective Jan. 1, all salary payments will be by direct deposit to the bank of the employee's choice. Paper checks will no longer be issued. However, employees will receive a printed record of the deposit made at the end of each pay period.
"We're meeting resistance," William Belardo, Finance Department payroll director, said on Thursday.
According to Belardo, about half of the approximately 10,000 government workers currently are paid by direct deposit, which the government has offered as an option since 1997. Some of those who continue to be paid by check do not have either a checking or a savings bank account, something they will have to acquire by the end of this year.
To give workers a clear understanding of their options, the Finance Department is organizing Direct Deposit Expos on July 26 at Tutu Park Mall on St. Thomas and Sunny Isle Shopping Center on St. Croix.
Between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. at both locations, representatives of various banks will be on hand to explain the ins and outs of their various direct-deposit account services.
Belardo estimated that going to all-direct deposit will save the government about $1 per payment in check-processing costs. He said the government issues about 300,000 checks each year, so the change should result in a $300,000 annual savings.
Direct deposit also increases security and will save the government the postage costs of mailing checks to St. Croix, he said.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull signed the bill making direct deposit mandatory into law on Monday.
In the St. John Administrator's office, staff members were of different opinions on Friday.
"I just like to have my money in my hand," Helen Francis said.
Her co-worker Corrine Matthias likes the benefits of direct deposit. She said she signed on last January.
Francis, who doesn't have a savings or checking account, said she pays her Innovative Cable TV bill with cash. Other government workers without bank accounts said they buy money orders at a bank or the post office to pay the bills they can't take care of in person with cash.
Matthias said she doesn't spend as much money now that she doesn't have the cash in her hands. She said she pays many of her bills by telephone — and, most important, she doesn't have to stand in line at the bank. That, she said, "was a hassle."
Alicia Bean, FirstBank marketing director, is enthusiastic about the coming change. In addition to the fact that banks across the territory will get new customers, she said Friday, they also will be able to streamline operations. "It's a big relief," she said, discussing the long bank lines on "the dreaded government payday."
Bean said she anticipates that people without bank accounts will pick a bank based on convenience. She pointed out that with direct deposit, money gets into a person's account more quickly than it would if the individual had to go to the bank and deposit a check.
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