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City governments spend thousands on cell phones

Nowadays almost everyone has a cell phone.

A recent report from the United Nations found that worldwide more people have cell phones than they do access to toilets.

Cell phones are used for social purposes as well as work.

While it has become a need for many, people try to keep that monthly bill down. But along with a monthly bill, consumers’ tax dollars are also going to fund cell phones for city employees.

The City of Columbia spends around $272,000 a year on mobility costs. That number includes around 281 city issued cell phones, including data plans, mobile data transfers for police cars, aircards, GPS, as well as cell phone allowances.

Tony St. Romaine, assistant city manager of Columbia, says while the number sounds big it’s for a workforce of 1,300 employees. It’s also out of a $400M budget.

Over in Jefferson City the city has about 425 full time employees. The total cell phone budget for Jefferson City is around $62,000 a year. That includes 37 city paid lines and stipend plans out of $66M budget.

Comparing Mid-Missouri costs to other parts of the state, Kansas city officials say $889,117 was slated for cell phone usage in the 2013-2014 budget.

Drew Hilpert, interim city administrator in Jefferson City, says to get a city issued cell phone or stipend you have to fit into one of two categories. The first are people that need to be contacted out inn the field and then the other are those who need to be contacted wherever they are.

Department heads fit into that second category and usually get a bigger allowance or city cell phone. Going down the line the department heads decide which employees should be given a stipend then HR has to sign off on it. The cost per employee is different depending on how mobile they are expected to be.

For instance, street crews have to be contacted out in the field so they will usually get some type of compensation for having to use their cell phone.

In Columbia its a similar concept. For those who get an actual cell phone the city utilizes a cooperative contract that’s put out by the state. Missouri puts out a competitive bid that municipalities can piggy back on allowing Columbia to choose any of the providers the state uses.

Romaine says employees can choose between an actual city issued cell phone or a cell phone allowance and most people take the allowance.

Those employees are required to submit a statement from their cell phone providers that an auditor can take a look at to make sure their personal use verse business use is what they stated it would be so the city can make sure they are paying the right amount.

Romaine says they are always looking for ways to save. Currently, the city is getting through the final stages of an audit on all landlines and cell phones. The audit should be finished by late March.

To get rid of some lines, the city is testing a new phone system. In the new system calling just one number would send you to either the desk phone of an employee, or if they were out of the office, to their cell.

Columbia officials are projecting a 15 percent savings by switching to the new system.

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