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Los Angeles city-issued cellphones cost taxpayers millions

May 11, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
With Los Angeles' budget crisis looming, a new audit finds thousands of unnecessary city-issued phones are wasting millions of taxpayer dollars.

Los Angeles is hundreds of millions of dollars in the hole, and City Controller Wendy Greuel said the city is dialing its way deeper into debt.

"Twenty percent of all staff has a cell phone for an annual cost of almost $4.8 million," said Greuel.

Greuel released an audit of city-owned cellphones, and said for the first time, Los Angles has figured out how many mobile phones it hands out to city employees: nearly 12,000.

A third of those phones are assigned to the Department of Water and Power, and more than 1,500 go to the Los Angeles Police Department. Greuel's audit included just seven city departments, but found thousands of dollars a month spent on additional cellphone services.

"Spending $100,000 a year on city phones for directory assistance or call forwarding seems absurd," Greuel said.

City Councilman Dennis Zine pushed through a motion that cuts 10 percent of city cellphones this fiscal year.

"It's incredible that departments are not looking at the competitive rates that are available from the different cellphone carriers," said Zine.

The audit identified 563 cellphones that sat unused for two to three months, costing taxpayers $46,000.

"The city is in a bind for money and this has a lot to do with what gets us here. Small things adds up," said Menzo Jackson of West Los Angeles.

Greuel said poring over every city employee cellphone bill wouldn't be feasible. Her solution is to get rid of thousands of city-owned phones and instead pay those employees a flat, monthly amount to use their own cellphones.

"Given a possible $20 stipend for cellphones or $50, it would reduce our cost by over $1.2 million," said Greuel.

Greuel says she hopes her recommendations can shave $2.9 million off the city's cellphone bill.

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