Last updated: February 19. 2013 8:24PM - 627 Views

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This is not a tough call.

With Wilkes-Barre laying off 11 firefighters as well as other employees while discussing a major tax hike, city-funded cellphones -- especially for city council and other part-time positions --- should have already been cut.

In fact, in an age when 85 percent of American adults have a cellphone (according to a September, 2012, report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project), Wilkes-Barre should mimic Scranton, where city-funded cells were dropped two years ago.

It's not solely about money, though spending more than $35,000 a year to provide phones for nearly one-fifth of city employees -- as reported by Times Leader staff writer Terrie Morgan Besecker -- isn't exactly pocket change.

It's about sharing sacrifice and leading by example. If City Council and Mayor Tom Leighton want union concessions, they need to concede. And this would be an easy place to start.

Council members, who told Morgan-Besecker that their taxpayer-funded cells were unexpected but welcome, should have turned in their cells the moment the city's $2 million budget shortfall was announced. Leighton likewise should have started footing the bill for his city cell before asking for any union concessions.

In fact, Leighton should have taken a 3 percent cut in his own $79,911 salary before asking the union to forego a contractual 3 percent raise. Surely in these tough economic times Leighton could eke out a living making $2,297 less a year.

Unions and employees share blame. Remember the successful fight firefighters put up for more money solely because police had gotten an increase that was, itself, the result of a labor dispute settlement?

And Health Department worker Paul Ginter showed astounding indifference to taxpayer dollars when he responded to questions about high data usage on his city cell, in part apparently from streaming music through Pandora. Quite honestly, I don't see where it's an issue. I can take a call at any time, Ginter said. I look at Pandora as a radio.

Streaming music from Pandora uses data that can drive up phone costs (there is no way of knowing without seeing detailed bills), and Ginter streamed up to 10 gigabytes in a single month. Presumably that included other, work-related data usage, but it would provide nearly six hours of music a day. If Ginter wants to work to music of his choice, he should buy a personal iPod.

But this is about an administration and council apparently turned tone deaf to their own indulgences.

Want concessions? Start by hanging up your city cellphones. Today.

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