Commissioners, sheriff debate cell phone costs

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FARMINGTON – Tempers flared briefly at the Franklin County commissioners’ meeting Tuesday over communication and the Sheriff Department’s cell phone bills.

Chairman Gary McGrane of Jay told Sheriff Dennis Pike that commissioners have some issues over cell phone use.

Commissioners approved the use of cell phones for emergency situations and other pertinent calls that could not be done over the radio, McGrane said.

“Phone bills are getting out of hand,” McGrane said.

Commissioners agreed to pay for basic plans, McGrane said, but they’ve been seeing bills for $90, $100, $102, $103 and $112 with two or three deputies exceeding allotted minutes.

“I think you’re wrong,” Pike said.

Pike said he wants as much as possible go over the air waves.

He added that he spoke to Chief Deputy Ray Meldrum previously on the matter and believed it was straightened out.

McGrane said some calls appear to be for personal use.

Pike got up to call Meldrum to the meeting.

County Treasurer Karen Robinson said the bills also contain additional fees that are not factored into the plan.

McGrane said he had six bills in front of him with only the bill portion and no back up information.

“There are several of us” who discussed whether it would be better to receive a stipend for a cell phone, Deputy David Rackliffe said.

“I use my personal phone for work more than I do my work phone,” Rackliffe said, adding others do the same.

Farmington Police Chief Richard Caton III said his department cell phone bill is about $200 since they went to a business-share program.

When Meldrum arrived, he told commissioners deputies are not exceeding the minutes.

The cell phone bills each have multiple phones on them, he said.

The department has 19 cell phones, including one of that is lost in the woods and the other not working, but they had to wait for the contract to expire to make changes. Next month there should only be one bill for all cell phones and hopefully a better contract price, Meldrum said.

Commissioner Fred Hardy of New Sharon said, “We’re all in agreement, they cost us a hell of a lot of money.”

There are 1,000 minutes on each contract.

“They’re not going over their minutes,” Meldrum said. “I gave them hell enough times. They’re doing a great job.”

One month’s total cost for the cell phones was $582 and the cost per year averages about $7,000, Robinson said.

Meldrum said the bill for part of June and July averaged out to $25 per cell phone.

He also handed over a 1-inch stack of detailed call information that comes with the bills.

After Meldrum left, Pike told commissioners he would have been prepared to discuss cell phone use if he knew it was on the agenda.

County Clerk Julie Magoon said she e-mailed an agenda to the Sheriff’s Department Friday.

Pike said he didn’t receive one.

McGrane suggested Pike get better communication with his staff or the e-mail could be sent to the sheriff’s personal e-mail.

Pike said he knows of no statute requiring him to have an e-mail.

“I need some notification,” Pike said.

Magoon added that the agenda was posted at the commissioners’ office.

“I’m not going to be sucked into this because I do my job and do it well,” Magoon said. “I’m not going to sit here and be berated by you, sheriff.”

Hardy said e-mailing the agendas saves money.

After tempers died down, Pike said, before they proceed he would like the authorization to hire Vicki Worth of Chesterville as a part-time deputy.

The vote was 2-1, with McGrane opposed, he said, only because it was not on the agenda.

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