WILKES-BARRE — Councilwoman Maureen Lavelle on Tuesday questioned the need for “so many smartphones” in use by city employees.
Lavelle said she is concerned about the cost to the city to reimburse employees for their cellphone usage.
“Especially here at City Hall. These employees have phones in their offices and computers. If they need to talk to another employee, they can call on their office phone or send an email. Why do we need to have smartphones?” Lavelle asked.
Mayor Tom Leighton and City Administrator Marie McCormick said the employees with the smartphones are seldom in their offices. They said the employees work out of the office a lot, and with email on their phone, they can receive messages and emails much more quickly.
“And when I send out an email, I can reach all of the employees at the same time, no matter where they are,” McCormick said. “We have dropped many cellphones and we’ve downgraded others.”
Leighton said a select group of employees have the smartphones.
“It increases the efficiency,” he said.
Earlier this month, about three months after a Times Leader analysis of city cellphone bills raised questions about cost and possible abuse, city officials canceled the plans in lieu of a stipend system they expect will save more than $13,000 a year.
Stipends were divided into two categories: $40 per month for employees who were deemed to need only a basic cellphone with talk/text, and $80 a month for employees who were deemed to need a smartphone with talk/text and data, which will allow them to access email and the Internet.
The city has approved 11 employees for the $40 stipend, at a cost $5,280 per year, and 17 for the $80 stipend, at a cost of $16,320 per year, for a total of $21,600. Records show the city paid for 60 city-owned cellphones in 2012, at a cost of $32,337 in 2011.
On Thursday, council will consider a resolution to enter into an agreement with Northern Tier Research for blood alcohol and drug laboratory services. Rates are $75 per legal blood alcohol test, $125 per blood drug screen, $150 per blood screen confirmation and $125 for evidence analysis of unknown substance.
Leighton said Police Chief Gerard Dessoye recommended the company and expects to realize significant savings to the city.
Council Vice Chairman Tony George questioned a resolution to execute documents relative to the restructuring of funding for the Northampton and Main Project. The city decided to not hold the prospective buyer of University Corners — Joe Amato’s TLC Holdings LLC — responsible for repaying $500,000 loaned to the developer of the retail space in the downtown complex.
The complex, anchored by R/C Wilkes-Barre Movies 14, is nearly full, except for a large section along East Northampton Street eyed for an Irish pub. The 21 loft condominiums that make up the residential component of the complex are not part of the deal.
The loan is half of the $1 million in local-share state gambling account grant that the city applied for and received from the state Department of Economic and Community Development in 2009 to complete construction of the street-level retail space interiors. DCED approved splitting the money into a grant and a no-interest loan for William Geary Jr., whose Los Angeles, Calif.-based Carlsberg Properties Inc. manages University Corners LLC. Geary has filed for personal bankruptcy in California.
Leighton said Amato’s company is not buying the property; he is assuming the mortgage.