WALB Investigates: Your money and government phones

WALB Investigates: Your money and government phones

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - From public works to power crews, and commissioners to cops, your tax money provides cell phones to a lot of public employees and elected officials.

A WALB investigation shows the city of Albany provides about 175 phones at a cost of around $125,000 each year.

Last fiscal year, the county paid about $100,000 for 110 phones. Both the city and county just consolidated all their phones with one service provider: Verizon.

Albany City Manager Tom Berry says that's the cost of doing business.

"But it's like everything else, you make sure you don't pay any more than you have to," he noted.

The cost should be about the same. Officials said they made the switch more for customer service and continuity reasons, but it could also be good for taxpayers.

Assistant County Administrator Michael McCoy said they have been very pleased so far.

"We will also be able to more easily run analysis to determine if there are opportunities to save money," said McCoy.

But city officials admit that taxpayer-funded cell phones have a dirty past. Some employees misused their phones.

"Early on, people were using them for just about everything," recalled Central Services Director Yvette Fields.

Now, employees must sign a form outlining the rules, and leaders don't believe misuse is a problem anymore.

Department heads must also turn in a form to the City Manager to justify getting a phone for any employee.

The request is then scrutinized, before approval, and must be signed by the City Manager to be official.

In the county, the decisions are left up to department heads, but leaders said they work to make sure employees who get cell phones need them to do their jobs.

"It is important for us to be able to deliver the services to the citizens of the community effectively and efficiently," said McCoy.

City manager Tom Berry said the city plans to start dispatching workers electronically. That means putting even more smart phones and tablets in the field.

"We're going to use technology in every area we can to increase efficiency," said Berry.

Overall, more taxpayer money could be used to pay for devices in the future, but leaders say it is an expense they will continue to monitor closely.

Copyright 2014 WALB. All rights reserved.