Kent cuts back on cell phones

(Original publication: February 19, 2004)

KENT — Town Supervisor William Tulipane wants to save the town about $1,800 a month by retrieving the three dozen cell phones doled out to Kent employees.

"The town is not going to be paying for phones anymore," Tulipane said. "It's something we can't afford."

The 36 phones were given to employees in various town departments, including Highway and Police; two Town Board members, Kent's two town justices and lifeguards who patrol the Lake Carmel beaches. As the Nextel contracts expire, they will not be renewed. Tulipane said he has already collected or accounted for about 20 of the phones and was waiting for employees to drop off others.

The move is the new supervisor's latest effort to control Kent's spending. During his campaign last year, Tulipane, a Democrat, warned of a 20 percent tax increase in 2005 because of the town's dwindling budget surplus. Recently, he averted a $12,000 increase in the yearly rent the town pays for its office space. He also tried to save the town about $25,000 by temporarily relocating the Kent Recreation Department into a vacant firehouse, a move that was ultimately scrapped after intense public opposition.

Cutting off the cell phones, said one resident, is better than eliminating positions or programs to save money.

"In the town in Putnam County that pays the highest taxes, one of the first things you have to scrutinize is the perks that all employees get. Any business person knows that when you're in a financial bind, the first thing you have to do is scrutinize extra costs before cutting people and programs," said Rosemary Zory, an Independence Party member who ran unsuccessfully for the Town Board last year.

Residents of the 43-square-mile town are saddled with the county's highest tax rate — $5.86 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The phones are an unaffordable luxury, Tulipane said. Employees, he said, are welcome to use their own phones and pay their own bills.

Other towns don't subsidize such a large number of phones for their employees. Southeast Councilman and Deputy Supervisor Paul Johnson said he knew of only three town employees with town-supported phones — the highway superintendent, the recreation chief and the special districts administrator, who oversees the town's water and sewer plants. Patterson Supervisor Michael Griffin said his town pays for his cellular service and for phones carried by the highway superintendent, the code enforcement officer and the building inspector. Patterson's monthly bill, he said, is about $400.

"I would never go down that road," Griffin said of Kent's 36 phones.

Tulipane said some of Kent's phones were being slowly phased out, such as the 10 held by the Police Department, instead of being collected immediately, such as those held by justices Peter Collins and Joseph Esposito.

"He hasn't pulled them yet. We rely on them constantly," said Police Chief Donald L. Smith, explaining the cell phone numbers may have been given out as part of ongoing investigations and can't be instantly cut off.

Kent Highway Superintendent Anthony Caravetta said the phones are sometimes more reliable than the Highway Department's two-way radio system. Republican Councilwoman Kathy Doherty, who turned in her phone, said Tulipane's move may be a rash one. "I don't think we looked into it enough to say, 'Just pull them,' " Doherty said. "I just think we could re-evaluate it."

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Thursday, February 19, 2004