Last updated: February 19. 2013 7:26PM - 511 Views

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Luzerne County Controller Walter Griffith has issued a memo to county council criticizing cellphone and mileage reimbursement expenses as evidence there is still room for cuts in the proposed no-tax-hike 2013 budget.

The county's general fund pays about $3,578 per month, or $42,946 per year, on 85 cellphones and five Apple iPads, Griffith said.

About 56 phones have a basic monthly service allowing 200 text messages, 400 minutes of calling and unlimited mobile-to-mobile through Verizon, Griffith said. The remaining devices have packages allowing employees to access email and the Internet, he said.

The iPads were purchased for 9-1-1 employees, he said.

Another 100 cellphones and 22 Internet access cards for laptops are provided in human service agencies, but Griffith said they aren't covered by the general fund operating budget because state funding is involved.

I don't know why in today's day the county needs to provide a cellphone to so many employees when most people have their own cellphones available if there's an urgent need to reach them, said Griffith, who is preparing an audit on phone usage for council and the administration.

Griffith said he will ask county Manager Robert Lawton to cancel all cellphones and start from scratch assessing which employees need them as part of their job and whether additional Internet phone access is warranted. He said the 9-1-1 employees with iPads also have cellphones and don't need both.

This has morphed into this huge debacle, Griffith said.

The proposed 2013 general fund budget allocates $52,000 for mileage reimbursement to employees who use their own cars for county business, he said.

That expense is insane when the county has insured and maintained vehicles in its fleet collecting dust, he told council in his memo.

Griffith advised council to pass a policy requiring all county employees to use a county vehicle unless the county manager approves an exception, projecting the county would cut the expense in half as a result.

Griffith has complained for years about county-owned vehicles that sit idle. The county has no system encouraging workers to access available cars from other departments.

The controller said all vehicles should be labeled as county-owned and not treated as exclusive property of a particular department.

These vehicles are county cars, and people need to get away from the mentality that it's their vehicle.

The county owns about 300 vehicles, including trucks and other heavy equipment used by road and bridge employees, he said.

The county pays a reimbursement of 55.5 cents per mile, he said. Independent monitoring of mileage is difficult when employees use their personal vehicles, he said.

County Manager Robert Lawton told council Tuesday the administration must determine the solution that costs the least per mile.

Lawton said he is preparing a report on the county fleet evaluating the number of miles and maintenance costs for each vehicle.

It may make sense for the county to keep only sheriff and probation transport vehicles and pay employees a reduced mileage reimbursement, he said.

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