Verizon today can hook you up with a new Apple iPhone 11 with 64 gigabytes for $10 a month along with a starting unlimited plan for $35 a month plus applicable fees and taxes.
It would include 5G nationwide and 4G LTE coverage. You also get six months of Disney Channel and Discovery Channel as well as six months of Apple Music for free.
All of that costs just under $55 a month.
It’s a long way from a decade or so ago where a smartphone service would run you right around $100 a month. It is also a lot cheaper from the days when you had to fork over tons of extra money for exceeding a plan’s minutes limit or the Stone Age of cell phone service when overseas calls were added costs and roaming charges siphoned money out of your pocket.
So why is the City of Manteca in the year 2021 still giving select employees — specifically those making well into the six figures — cell phone allowance of $120 a month?
The most recent example was when they hired a city attorney last month for $219,000.
This has nothing to do with the person they hired as city attorney who seems like a personable and competent enough chap.
It has everything to do with the city’s continued sleep walking through many things that are of a financial nature.
You might even argue basically “gifting” an employee $65 a month or $780 a year beyond what a cellphone plus service would cost is splitting hairs or is insignificant.
To paraphrase the late U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen from Illinois, “a thousand here and a thousand there and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”
If there are 10 employees getting such a perk, that means they are collectively pocketing $7,800 a year beyond the cost of service and a smartphone that are well in excess of what they need in the course of their employ with the city.
Anyone have any thoughts what the city could do with $7,800 a year to actually benefit Manteca’s 87,000 residents? What, you believe $7,800 won’t do much of anything?
If you buy into that line designed to provide cover for careless or thoughtless spending, here are a few suggestions:
It could buy $7,800 worth of library books. It could cover the replacement of $7,800 worth of tools used each year by maintenance staffs. It could purchase poles, trees, and fertilizer to add $7,800 worth of trees in city parks. It could fund a $7,800 contract for manpower to help tackle weeds in city property or various other Manteca beautification efforts.
Perhaps more importantly it could be aggregated with other savings the city is likely to find with relative ease if they simply stop doing things on autopilot, because other jurisdictions do them, or without examining cost and value.
If the new city attorney turned down the $219,000 job with health and retirement packages as well as a $300 car allowance because he was only offered a $55 cell phone allowance, then perhaps the council should have said good riddance.
There is no justification for a $120 cell phone allowance that was born back in the days where one line and one phone along with taxes and applicable fees could run you that much.
In case no one at 1001 West Center Street hasn’t noticed not only has cell service been steadily dropping in costs but the services provided have been steadily growing.
One must assume that those receiving $120 a month for cell phone allowance and are spending considerably less are following the law and reporting what isn’t needed to cover out of pocket phone expenses related to city business as additional income on their taxes.
Granted it a six-figure city employee with a $120 phone allowance opts to go for the most expensive Apple phone on the market and take a Verizon plan that includes monthly access to Hula, Disney, and ESPN their out of pocket cost will be over $100 a month.
Such an argument raises even more serious questions. The taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for overkill based on the desire of a six-figure salaried employee to have a tricked out smartphone that is light years beyond what they need to do their job. Nor should taxpayers have to pay for their ability to entertain themselves, presumably not on city time, to watch sports, movies and TV shows.
There is a legitimate argument for providing such an allowance. And accounting types will argue, correctly, I might add, that it is more cost effective in terms of financial staff processing time to have allowances as opposed to reimbursements. That concession is with a caveat, however, since the clear cost of a one line phone with service unless it is a satellite phone that would open up another set of legitimate questions, have collapsed to the point $120 would easily cover two phones and two lines regardless of the wireless carrier.
And yes, the six-figure city employee buying a phone on a contract would have to pay all of the taxes up front. In the case of the iPhone example listed at the start of the column it would likely be $48 as the actual price and not the discounted price of the phone needs to be used under the law calculates sales tax burdens.
Should $48 be too rich for a six-figure employee to cover all at once perhaps someone at city hall could arrange a loan from the streets fund.
The odds are that anyone who interviews for a job such as city manager or city attorney — the only two positions that the City Council directly hires — has a cellphone with services already is likely 100 in 100.
So unless they buy a separate phone and dedicated service for city business, the allowance is going to cover a pre-existing personal expense. That would further justify slashing the allowance even farther.
This might sound like a bit too much thought for a recurring and fairly prevalent expense throughout various levels of government given it is “only” $120 a month. Ratchet the discussion up just one step to the $300 car allowance and do a bit of thinking.
Exactly how many miles would a city attorney compile in an average month conducting city business? At a fairy liberal 60 cents per mile —the federal allowance is 56 cents — he’d have to drive 500 miles a month on city business.
Getting to and from work should not count even if he opts to live west of the Altamont Pass.
Again, the argument is it is easier for the city to pay a flat allowance than to reimburse for actual expenses.
And should the city argue it is quibbling over small dollars then your response should be these are simply two extremely low hanging pieces of fruit that point to a systematic, robotic, and virtually non-existent cost analysis of day-to-day municipal expenditures.
If you don’t think it is needed, the most damning evidence is this city over the course of years being on somewhat of an automatic pilot has racked up what will be a $20.9 million deficit in the sewer and water accounts by the time this fiscal year ends on June 30.
Government by sleepwalking is how you get a situation when you are paying twice and then some of what is needed for a cell phone and service and $20.9 million deficits.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org