Unused phone lines costing thousands each month

LISBON — Columbiana County commissioners have been paying $4,800 a month for phone lines to the county sheriff’s office that were last used nearly a decade ago.

County Commissioner Tim Weigle said he and county clerk of courts IT systems administrator Ben Black discovered the oversight recently while performing an inventory of phone lines to determine which ones can be eliminated as part switch back to AT&T from Easton Telecom Services as the county’s telephone service provider.

The county does not have an IT department, so Weigle said he and Black work at it as they have time, which is how they found lines hooked into four repeaters that were part of the sheriff’s old analog radio system. Former Sheriff David Smith upgraded to the digital-based MARCS (Multi-Agency Radio Communication System) in 2008, which eliminated the need for repeaters to relay radio communications between dispatchers and deputies.

Since then, the county continued to pay $4,800 a month, or $57,600 per year, for the four lines even though they were no longer used or needed. Weigle, took office in 2013, described it as something that must have fallen through the cracks at the time.

The county changed from AT&T to Easton earlier in the decade to save money but decided in 2015 to switch back when commissioners purchased a new digital phone system to serve all offices because the contract with Easton was proving to be even more costly.

Weigle said AT&T is not responsible for untangling the series of telephone lines to determine which ones were still necessary, and Easton’s telephone bills were complicated to decipher. As time allows, he and Black have been trying to track down all of the lines.

During their review they also recently discovered the county was paying $2,126 per month for two telephone lines that appear to have gone no where. Weigle said they called the numbers and no one answered, so they disconnected the lines. When no one contacted commissioners to complain, the decision was made to eliminate the lines.

Weigle said they were paying a combined $16,000 a month for telephone lines with Easton but it is now down to $9,200. It will drop by another $4,800 after Easton was advised last week to disconnect the lines that went to the old radio system.

“We’ve been whittling away at it but we’ll soon be down to zero” once they complete the switch to AT&T, he said,

To help Weigle eliminate lines, commissioners hired the SpyGlass Group in October to perform a cost analysis of the county’s telephone bills and search for inefficiencies.

There was no upfront cost to the county, and SpyGlass would only be paid from any savings that would result.

Weigle said SpyGlass reported they could not find any inefficiencies, but overlooked the four lines going to the old radio system no longer in use and the two lines that apparently went nowhere.