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Placer County Reducing Cell Phone Costs

February 23, 2011

Placer County has reduced costs for the use of cell phones and other mobile communication devices by 58 percent over the last three years as part of an ongoing effort to trim its expenditures.

The county spent approximately $900,000 during the 2007-08 fiscal year on the use of Blackberries, other cell phones, pagers and other mobile communication devices (MCDs).

By comparison, the county budgeted $375,000 for MCDs for 2010-11 and was on target to meet its budget goal after the first six months of the fiscal year.

“This is a great example of the county’s success in reducing ongoing costs over the last few years,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Robert M. Weygandt said. “Placer County has been very proactive in cutting expenditures to offset revenue losses caused by the economic slowdown and the state budget crisis. That’s an important reason our county is in better shape than many counties and cities in California.”

Some departments provided details on what they have done to reduce MCD costs.

The Probation Department, for example, currently has only 37 Blackberries and other cell phones, down from the 60 it used during the 2007-08 fiscal year. The reduction is largely due to the department’s decision to create a central pool of cell phones and have many of its employees check out phones as needed.

Health and Human Services, the county’s largest department, has reduced its costs through increased scrutiny and restructuring of service plans with vendors. Its MCD costs were about $138,000 for 2008-09, dropped to $116,000 in 2009-10 and are projected to be about $71,000 for the current fiscal year.

“Although we have a large number of phones, the actual average cost is very small due to many of them being priced on a pay-as-you-go basis of basically 8 cents per minute,” explained County Finance and Budget Operations Manager Graham Knaus, who until recently was the department’s administrative services director.

In December 2008, the County Executive Office began a concerted campaign to work with other departments to review MCD use. The goals were to reduce the number of MCDs used by county employees and cut the costs of monthly service plans whenever possible.

Reducing MCD costs also has been an important focus of the county Cost Savings Task Force. Created in February 2009, it mission was to review more than 300 cost-savings ideas proposed by management and confidential employees during a series of informal budget meetings with County Executive Officer Thomas M. Miller. More than 80 employees volunteered to serve on the task force.

A recent survey of departments revealed that about 38 percent of the county’s approximately 2,200 employees use county MCDs. The inventory includes 191 Blackberries and other smart phones and 662 regular cell phones.

The inventory does not include a cache of phones used by the Elections Office during elections and a cache for use during emergencies by the county Office of Emergency Services and Placer County Fire Department. Costs for the two caches were included in calculations of the county’s annual MCD expenditures.

Many of the employees who carry MCDs are elected officials, department heads and other management employees who frequently conduct county business during evening hours or weekends.

Many are public safety employees whose job responsibilities required them to carry MCDs and others are employees from such departments as Facility Services, Public Works and Health and Human Services who often work in the field, but must stay in contact with their departments.

Carrying MCDs often allow county employees to conduct business quickly and efficiently when they are away from their offices. Being able to receive and send e-mails frequently is vital.

Third District Supervisor Jim Holmes, for example, noted he received a media inquiry about the Capitol Corridor commuter rail service while he was in Washington, D.C. to meet with federal officials last week. Using his BlackBerry, the supervisor was able to provide the requested information in less than 15 minutes.

“When I am out in the community and receive inquiries from constituents, I can generally get the information back to them in a very short time by using my BlackBerry,” he explained.

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