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City Of Austin Spends $88K A Year On Pagers Employees Hardly Use, Audit Finds

The City of Austin seal at City Hall.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT

Beepers are largely things of the past – a memo, er page, the City of Austin has not received.

Nearly a third of the 1,638 city employees who had pager accounts either didn't know where the pager was or said it wasn't working, according to a new report from Austin’s Office of the City Auditor.

“The City has not effectively managed pagers, resulting in unnecessary spending and possibly impacting the City’s ability to communicate in an emergency,” auditors wrote.

The city embraced a pager-based communication system in 1999, after deciding it needed a more reliable way to communicate with employees during emergencies; pagers typically are cheap and have long battery lives. But years later, the smartphone arrived, which auditors write “may make pagers obsolete for some users in the City.”

Some, but certainly not all.

Currently, eight city departments have more than 100 pager accounts each, including Austin Water, Austin Energy and the police department. The report shows a good number of employees don’t use their pagers – or even physically have one.

Nearly one-fifth of those who had a city pager account said they did not possess a pager. Of those who did have one but reported it as not working, the most common reason given for the malfunction was “dead batteries.”

“[O]ne employee reported they were ‘told upon hire to take out the battery and place [the pager] in [the] top drawer of [your] desk,'" city auditors wrote.

Among those city employees who did have a working pager, 42% received one or no pages a month within a five-month period. Annually, the city spends $14,634 on pager accounts for employees who regularly receive zero pages.

pager graph

“Staff indicated they find alternative devices, such as cellphones, more convenient and useful,” the audit reads.

Auditors estimate that if the city were to get rid of pager accounts for employees who receive very few pages, it could save about $37,000 a year.

In addition, auditors found that at least 90 pager accounts across more than a dozen departments were for employees who no longer worked for the city. Auditors estimated that the city had spent at least $13,000 since 2011 on pagers for nonexistent employees.

At the close of their report, auditors recommend that departments issuing pagers reconsider their use. But they caution this may not actually save the city any money if it were then forced to instead issue a cellphone, which costs significantly more.

In response to the audit, the director of Austin’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department said he would ask each city department by this summer to identify and cancel any unused pager accounts.

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