County’s phone bill drops, but not near predicted level

Published 12:01 am Sunday, July 24, 2011

Illustration by Ben Hillyer — Cell phones cost Adams County $40,221.28 in a 12-month period from May 2010 to May 2011.

NATCHEZ — Adams County only trimmed $207 off its annual cell phone bill in the last year despite decreasing the average number of county phones by 14.

During the 12-month period from May 2010 to May 2011 the majority of the county’s average of 60 phones were on Cellular South plans. Four phones — those of Supervisors S.E. “Spanky” Felter, Henry Watts, Thomas “Boo” Campbell and Road Manager Clarence Jones — are on AT&T plans.

The average monthly phone bill across the 12-month period was $3,351.77.

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The total cell phone bill for the 12-month period was $40,221.28.

The county canceled its AT&T group contract in May 2010, citing cheaper plans and better billing practices with Cellular South. At the time, the county said it expected to save $13,000 in a two-year period.

Three of the four phones still on AT&T lead the county in annual phone bills. Their bills in the 12-month period were:

• Felter — $1,856.23

• Campbell — $1,170.30

• Watts — $1,132.20

In September, after The Democrat published a story about last year’s cell phone bill, Felter announced he would begin paying his own cell phone bill and reimbursed the county $550 for the previous year’s worth of cell phone bills.

Since then, accounting department chair Patsy Bryant said payroll deducts $88.33 each month from Felter’s paycheck to reimburse his phone bill.

Felter’s average monthly bill from May 2010 to May 2011 was $154.69.

Felter said he asked Chancery Clerk Tommy O’Beirne months ago to deduct a monthly rate from his paycheck, but that he does not monitor the bills.

Felter said his bill might have cost more than other supervisors because he uses it a lot.

“Everybody that calls me I answer. That’s what a phone is for,” Felter said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time (his conversations) are county business.”

Supervisor Mike Lazarus pays his own bill each month by writing a check each month, Bryant said.

A May 6 invoice provided by bookkeeping shows Lazarus paid $62 to the county for a recent cell phone bill of $61.90.

Lazarus said he’s pleased to see the overall county bill down a bit, but doesn’t think the job is done.

“We’ve still got work to do (cutting cell phone costs), but that’s better (than last year),” he said.

Most county employees with cell phones have unlimited plans, Bryant said, which charges a flat rate for any number of minutes.

Five of the monthly rates come from four Internet data cards and a netbook that contains an internal Internet data card, and the rest come from cell phones.

Cellular South now breaks phone bills down by department, something the county requested in order to better track costs. Those departmentalized reports show that the Adams County Sheriff’s Office has the highest number of phones — 18 plus one data card and one netbook in May — and the highest bills — $1,317.60 in May.

Sheriff Chuck Mayfield said all ranking officials and investigators receive cell phones because they are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“If anything goes wrong, all ranking officials get called,” Mayfield said.

Newly hired public information officer Emily Ham incurred charges for a cell phone as well as a data card, which provides Internet access to a computer through Cellular South.

Ham uses a data card as PIO to update the sheriff office’s new web site live from the scene of a crime, Mayfield said.

Mayfield incurred charges of a cell phone and a netbook, which he said he keeps with him in the car, at home and out-of-town at all times to have access to the sheriff’s office computer system.


• The county continues to pay for phones that are never or rarely used.

Last month the county paid $201.74 on its June bill to Cellular South for three cell phones on which zero minutes were used and on a data card that reportedly hasn’t been used for approximately a year.

Those phone numbers were registered to Adams County Sheriff’s Investigator John Manley, Patricia Scott from the tax assessment office and Justice Court Judge Patricia Dunmore. The unused data card was registered to Juvenile Detention Director Glen Arnold.

Maj. Billy Neely, who monitors cell phones at the sheriff’s office, said Manley was hired last month and his phone was just recently activated, which is why zero minutes were used.

Manley’s account was charged $79.99 for a new cell phone last month in addition to $39.99 for a monthly-unlimited plan and $7.99 for unlimited nationwide texts. Neely said the sheriff’s office would get a refund for the $79.99 price of the cell phone, because the phone was supposed to be free.

Tax Assessor Reynolds Atkins said Patricia Scott only occasionally uses her cell phone, and it will be cut off when she retires at the end of the year.

But he wanted her to have a phone, however, Atkins said, since she sometimes does appraisals outside all over the county.

“I didn’t feel safe without her being out there without a cell phone,” Atkins said.

The monthly cell phone rate for Atkins and Scott of $26.94 each is among the lowest in the county.

Arnold, the director of the juvenile detention center, said one of the numbers registered under his name is a data card used to connect his computer to the Internet.

But Arnold said he thought the data card was canceled when the county switched to Cellular South last April.

The data card has not been used in approximately a year, although the county has been paying a monthly rate of $41.40 to Cellular South for it. In the last 12 months, the county has paid approximately $497 for the unused data card.

Dunmore did not answer her cell phone and could not be reached for comment about a county phone bill that charged $26.94 for a cell phone registered to her name, which used zero minutes in June.

• Board of Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said for several months he has used two cell phones — a personal cell phone and one for county business.

But Grennell said he canceled his county cell phone in the last month or so and now takes county calls on his personal phone. He made the switch, Grennell said, because keeping up with two phones was a hassle.

• In addition to the unused data card, the juvenile justice detention center has four phones — two registered to Arnold

Arnold said his assistant uses one of the phones.

Arnold said he and his assistant use the phones to keep in touch with youth in the juvenile detention program. In addition, an emergency phone stays at the office, which has a staff of 11 people, in case the landline goes out, Arnold said.

• Three phones registered to Circuit Judge Lillie Blackmon Sanders and one to Martha Griffin are used for Adams County Drug Court and the bill is reimbursed by the state.

Drug court coordinator Flavis Wiley, who answered one of the cell phones registered to Sanders, said the four phones are used by herself, drug court probation officer Roosevelt Baldwin, drug court case manager Sharon Johnson and Griffin, a drug court counselor.

“The county pays for (drug court cell phones) every month and reports (the cost) at the end of each month for a reimbursement,” Wiley said.

Wiley said drug court staff constantly uses cell phones to keep in touch with program participants.

• The civil defense department has two cell phones and a data card registered to Director Stan Owens.

Owens said the data card is intended to allow him to report updated data to the National Weather Service or Mississippi Emergency Management Agency during emergencies.

“Really it is just there as a ‘just in case’ measure,” Owens said.

• One of two Adams County Youth Court phones is reimbursed by a federal youth drug court grant.

• Bills — $50.25 monthly — for a cell phone registered to Martin Kemp are reimbursed by federal grant for youth court called Alternatives to Detention grant.

Keeping track

Grennell said it is up to each department to decide who gets a cell phone, and it is generally up to the departments to monitor their phone usage.

“(The supervisors) approve (cell phone usage) in a sense during budget season,” Grennell said.

Cell phones are not formally addressed or monitored by the board, Grennell said, except if they are itemized in the department budgets in the late summer months before the budget is adopted. Grennell said the county is currently considering budget proposals for next year.

Lazarus said the supervisors cannot micromanage every expense, but they should probably discuss cell phone usage as budgets are being made this month and in August.

“We probably need to discuss (cell phones) during this budget (season) and go back through and see which phones are really a necessity,” Lazarus said.