Commission finds savings in phone, electricity services

By ED HOWELL, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 11/7/17

The Walker County Commission on Monday agreed to changes in phone and electricity service that should save tens of thousands of dollars, as well as provide improved phone service, such as a centralized number, transferred calls across buildings and voice mail.

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Commission finds savings in phone, electricity services

Posted

The Walker County Commission on Monday agreed to changes in phone and electricity service that should save tens of thousands of dollars, as well as provide improved phone service, such as a centralized number, transferred calls across buildings and voice mail.

The savings were good news to the commission, which have continued to find ways to cut costs in the wake of the failure of a 1-cent sales tax referendum in August. While the commission avoided bankruptcy and balanced the Fiscal 2018 budget, it has continued to look at ways to cut costs and find savings.

County Engineer Mike Short said several months ago the county looked into improving the phone service. AT&T won a low bid to provide that service. Shad Molck, a Birmingham-based territory manager for AT&T’s Avaya Sales Center told the commission the company had been talking with the county for about a year and a half.

Molck said, “Basically what we have put together is a way to lower the cost to the county substantially on a monthly basis and give at the same time additional features that the citizens have asked for.” Officials said the discount comes with customers getting off the old traditional copper lines and becoming connected to AT&T’s fiber optic network.

The dial tones for the county have been centralized, which currently comes in on different lines, he said. The service would be centralized through the courthouse annex housing the commission office. The service would be shared through new data circuits to the Sheriff’s Department, the Walker County Courthouse and the Probate Judge’s Office.

In the first 60 months, the county would be able to save $1,000 to $1,300 a month, he said. After leasing new equipment that was bid on, the savings could be as high as between $2,400 to $3,000 a month.

“We’re removing all the old copper out of the buildings and we’re going to consolidate all that onto one circuit, for lack of a better term,” he said. “That will give you substantial discounts over what you have. At AT&T, we want people on our fiber network because it is less expensive for us, thus it is less expensive for you.” 

County Administrator Cheryl Ganey said the new service will link the county buildings together so that phone calls can be transferred from one building to another.

“We do not have that capability right now,” she said. “I cannot tell you how many times someone calls into our office and it is for the probate office. We have to tell them to actually hang up and call another number. We cannot transfer them.” 

Although the new system was first discussed for the annex, the courthouse, the Walker County Jail and the Probate Judge’s Office, District 4 Commissioner Steven Aderholt asked about connecting the district offices, which only have one phone each currently. Molck said that could easily be added for maybe $200 or so, giving each commissioner and district their own voice mail. “It’s just a matter of programming,” he said.

As long as internet connection was available where the phone is, “we could add that phone as part of the complex and you would have four-digit dialing as part of it as well.” 

Chaney said the idea would be that only one phone number would be needed for the county, and options would be given, such as, “For Sheriff, press one; probate judge, press two” and so on.

Aderholt said every department in the county constantly gets calls about how to contact other departments. “One bank of four-digit dials for every department in the county would be really useful,” he said, adding a centralized system with voice mails with several ways of connecting would be helpful.

Ganey said the new system also discontinues the present system of using a separate long distance plan. The new system would include long distance and offer great savings.

District 1 Commissioner Keith Davis, who has been heavily involved in the county’s budgeting process, said he was pleased after looking closely at the plan, saying it could save as much as $36,000 a year as well as improve services.

On questioning from Aderholt, Molck said the new service would be a lease agreement, with the county owning equipment at the end of the lease, which is where big savings could kick in. The lease would be 12 to 60 months. Davis said similar agreements have been made in the past lease purchasing patrol cars for the county, with a $1 buyout at the end of the term.

“It is time we brought technology to Walker County. This phone system is a start,” Chairman Jerry Bishop said.

After agreeing to the ATT deal, Britton Lightsey, who is over Alabama Power’s offices in Walker County, also spoke to the commission. Davis had asked Short to look into electrical usage for the county, who had Lightsey to review all the county’s electrical accounts. The annex building and the Walker County Health Department building could save nearly $20,000 a year if they were put on a contractual basis, Short said, with automatic renewals.

Lightsey said the county is responsible for about 35 accounts, most of which are on the correct rate. The two accounts in question qualified for a BTA (Business Time Advantage) rate, saving the courthouse annex about $14,000 a year and the Health Department about $4,500 a year, assuming the usage remains the same. The difference is these would be contractual rates as opposed to usage for 12 months and renewed each year. Twelve months notice must be given if the facility is closed; otherwise, the county would be backbilled for usage required to pay.

“If you are going to build a new building, just give us 12 months notice,” he said.

In related developments on the county’s finances:

•Ganey said health insurance would go up 1.5 percent and vision insurance would go up a small amount, while dental insurance would be the same. She said a survey of other insurance did not find enough savings opposed to the current insurance.

•Commissioners discussed ongoing efforts to sell off excess property, including one house in District 4, a building in District 3 and some sheriff vehicles. Davis suggested buildings receive an appraisal first, noting he will not be involved as a realtor in the transactions. The commission also agreed to advertise notices in the Daily Mountain Eagle when it plans to sell items on govdeals.com.

•Commissioners approved a change to the county’s hiring freeze, which took effecti Sept. 5 and will run through Dec. 31. While the overall freeze will remain in effect, the hiring freeze “does not apply to those employee positions that were filled as of Oct. 4, 2017, and become vacant due to retirement, voluntary resignation, or due to termination because of disciplinary reasons,” according to the resolution passed. “If the department head determines that the duties of the vacated position could not be accomplished through reassignment of other employees within a department, the department head can submit a request to the commission chairman for approval to replace that employee’s position which was filled on Oct. 4, 2017, with the hiring of a replacement employee. This does not apply to vacant positions created by layoffs.” 

Ganey said the department heads essentially could request the positions be filled with new hires, if they determine another employee cannot do the work. The chairman can then approve the hire in a letter to the Walker County Civil Service Board, without having a full commission vote. Ganey said the Solid Waste Department had lost three people that needed to be filled within a couple of weeks.

Davis emphasized the hiring freeze would be in effect, but would allow replacements if a position is open due to retirement, resignation or termination. The request would still have to be approved by the chairman and the department head’s budget would still be a primary factor in moving forward, he said.