900 at UI get help with cell-phone bills

BY TESSA McLEAN | MAY 08, 2009 7:29 AM

Owning a Blackberry or Treo smart phone with e-mail and Internet access is a luxury many students can’t afford. But imagine if the UI were helping pay for it.

A total of 917 UI employees receive compensation for all or some of their cell-phone bills. This amounts to $38,143 per month, or roughly $500,000 a year.

UI spokesman Steve Parrott receives a stipend from the UI each month for his Treo smart-phone service, which he uses for e-mail, a calendar, and personal use. He said he gets compensated because he needs to be available all the time. He ends up paying around 25 percent of his monthly bill, he said.

“It is hard to do your job without it,” Parrott said. “It is like having a computer.”

The funding for his phone comes from the UI general fund, he said, but for others, it depends on the department. UI spokeswoman Linda Kettner also receives a cell-phone stipend, and each must reapply for cost compensation each year.

Roughly 580 UI employees receive a stipend, which means they receive their bills and are reimbursed a percentage of it based on how much can be billed as work use. The total monthly expense for that group is $30,482.

Another 349 people have their cell-phone service paid for directly by the UI. The service is subject to approval by the supervisor of their department. This totals $7,661 per month or $91,932 a year.
Shirley Long, the manager of the work control center in Facilities Management, said professional and scientific employees receive a stipend from the UI, and merit employees receive full payment for their cell phones. Long said the phones have been a great addition to her department because the office’s employees field all trouble calls from university buildings.

“We find them very handy,” Long said. “We can direct connect, while before we were on a pager system. Now, we know if people got our pages, and we can respond more quickly to the calls.”
Some students even have their services paid for by the university.

UI senior Cody Shafer works as program coordinator for the Belin-Blank Center, and in the summer, he gets a stipend from the UI for his cell phone use. He said he needs to be available all the time and estimated the UI compensates him for 99 percent of his service.

“It is absolutely essential. I mean, when there are that many kids I am responsible for, I need to maintain their health and safety,” the political-science major said. “Financial support for my cell phone is critical because of my financial situation as a college student.”

In the April 10 DI, Steven Fausch, a manager in maintenance services, said one operator on each side of the river owns a Blackberry equipped to control the heating and cooling system in dorm rooms and offices. Facilities workers use the Internet-equipped phones to handle temperature-change requests sent to the devices as soon as they are received.

“An alarm goes to the Blackberry. You have the ability to manage the problem remotely,” Fausch said. “We’re building on automation to automatically start temperature changes.”

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