County agency to switch phone service amid high costs

FRONT ROYAL – A Warren County agency plans to switch phone service providers after seeing high bills for long-distance calls.

A recent audit of the Department of Social Services showed the agency pays 60 cents per minute for long-distance calls through AT&T, Director Beth Reavis said Monday. A vendor report for the past 36 months – November 2012-October 2015 -shows the department spent $80,523 on long-distance calls, Reavis said.

The findings prompted the department to look into other options to save money. The department plans to switch to local provider CenturyLink by the end of the year, Reavis said. CenturyLink will charge the department 3 cents per minute for long-distance calls, Reavis said.

Many of the agency workers make long-distance calls to clients whose cell phones include out-of-town area codes. A significant number of clients have phone numbers based in the Northern Virginia area, she said.

“So we’ve stopped using as many landlines for long distance as we can,” Reavis said.

Social workers have cell phones and, as such, can make calls without being charged long distance, Reavis said. Benefits workers do not have department-issued cell phones to make calls to clients.

The department began to use AT&T prior to Reavis taking over about three years ago. Reavis said she didn’t know if the department used the provider before it moved into the building on Warren Avenue. Cell phones likely weren’t as prevalent when the department initially set up its long-distance service contract, Reavis said.

Department officials didn’t know how much it was spending until the audit, she noted. When Reavis took over as director, she recalled noticing that the bills looked high but she was told that the department had been using an old system.

“We’ll be able to recoup the cost of the new service fairly quickly,” Reavis said.

The department plans to move into the new Health and Human Services, the former 15th Street School, by the end of December. The pending move prompted the department to hold off on replacing its aging phone equipment. A lack of parts for the old system makes repairs difficult.

“We’ve needed a new system for a couple of years but, knowing that we were going to move, it didn’t make sense to make that big of a change until we were in the new building,” Reavis said.

The county provides 30 percent of the department’s funding. Federal and state sources reimburse the rest of the agency’s budget. But switching providers and going to a newer, more efficient phone system should help the department save money.

The department expects to reopen for business in the new location Jan. 4.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com