Controller Melinda G. Kantner informed the Schuylkill County Commissioners Wednesday she is unable to verify that employees are using county-owned cell phones 100-per cent of the time for county business.
She reported that the county has issued 221 cell phones and the costs has averaged around $75,000 per year.
"Do you want us to act like the big brother and sister?, commissioner Francis McAndrew asked. "If an employee has to stay overnight at a conference but left a sick child at home are we going to stop him from using the phone to call home to find out about his child?
Commissioner Mantura Gallagher added that last October, a department head discovered an employee using a cell phone for personal reasons and the employee was terminated. Kantner said that this proved her case that more stringent monitoring should be enforced and that taxpayers should not be burdened with the cost for non-essential uses.
County Solicitor Eric Mika cited a recent IRS (Internal Revenue Service) memo pertaining to cell phones. It stated: "The current law leaves widespread confusion among employees and businesses and Secretary Geithner asked Congress to act to make clear that there will be no tax consequence to employers or employees for personal use of work-related devices such as cell phones provided by employers. The passage of time, advances in technology and the nature of communication in the modern workplace have rendered the current law obsolete."
Kantner released a report of an internal review conducted by her office on the use of cell phones and county vehicles.
"Our office received insufficient information to verify that 100 percent of the use of both cell phones and county vehicles for county business although the full cost is borne by the county," she said. "Our view of the mileage logs for county vehicles shows logs are currently maintained for only a small percentage of the county's 76 vehicles and that our office had received responses to mileage logs for only 41 out of 73 vehicles and that the sheriffs, coal lands, real estate, Rest Haven Home, public works, district attorney and commissioners did not return mileage logs."
Kantner said she is now asking each department head to keep a mileage log and submit it to the controller's office. Because of the current budget woes, she also proposed that alternates be explored, including the recission of county funded cell phones with reimbursement to employees for any business calls made from their personal cell phone or allowance of an annual stipend (taxable income) to vital personal requiring the use of a cell phone for county business.
No action was taken by the commissioners on the proposal at Wednesday's session.