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04-10-06 Commissioners ponder checking for billing errors

By Tim Cox

  Mercer County Commissioners are considering paying for a "telecommunications audit" of county offices to make sure the county is getting the most bang for its buck.

  Chris Stone of Spyglass Inc., Westlake, told commissioners the average government entity realizes 25 percent in savings after signing up for the company's services. A Spyglass audit team would check for past billing errors and the origin of those mistakes, determine whether the county uses all of the services it pays for and whether the county could save money by changing its technology or rate plans.

  Commissioners had considered a similar proposal about a year ago but then opted against it because they didn't like the company's billing structure. That company was to be paid whether the county implemented any of its recommendations or not. Spyglass only charges if the county implements its recommendations.

  Spyglass is to receive 50 percent of revenue recovered for past billing errors and 12 months' worth of the price on future savings.

  "If we don't find anything, or you don't implement anything, we don't make any money," Stone said.  About two-thirds of audits turn up past billing errors, and the average client reduces 25 percent of their future telecommunications costs, Stone said.

  "What do we have to lose?" Commissioner Bob Nuding said.

  Quantifying the county's monthly telecommunications costs is not simple. The county's general fund -- directly funded by local tax dollars -- pays some of the bills. But some offices are not funded by the general fund, such as the county engineer's office and the board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities. Those offices pay their own telecommunications bills.

  The annual cost of Internet service countywide is about $7,800 annually, county Auditor Mark Giesige said. Other telecommunications costs, such as local telephone service provided by Verizon North, cost $70,706 in 2005. Long distance service through First Communications cost $6,030 in 2005. All of those figures are for all county offices combined.

  Commissioners said they want to review references for the company before signing a contract with Spyglass.

  Stone said the company has been in business five years and recently has done work for Fulton County and school districts in Lima, Elida and Shawnee.

  Cellular telephone service would not be included in the audit. An audit on cell phone billing would cost $2,500, and Stone said he does not recommend it for entities that spend less than $5,000 annually on cell phone service.


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