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Builders group says city cell phone plan not working as intended

By Staff | Mar 26, 2011

Local contractors say the city’s recently implemented employee cell phone policy is sending mixed messages about Cape Coral’s touted business friendly attitude.
The cost savings to the city has been overstated, they say, and made the site inspection processes needlessly complicated.
“They don’t have enough real facts to the costs and impacts,” said Wayne Kirkwood, of Kirkwood Electric. “City leadership is saying ‘your business is our business’, but I don’t see it.”
Cape Coral Construction Industry officials met with Department of Community Development Director Paul Dickson this week to discuss their concerns.
City spokeswoman Connie Barron said Dickson was still waiting for incident specific information from the CCCIA.
CCCIA Executive Director Heather Mazurkiewicz said Dickson listened to their concerns and the parties “agreed to keep working toward a better solution.”
For now, the CCCIA believes the time spent trying to communicate, and wait, on inspectors is having a financial impact on its members.
“There hasn’t been enough time to track how this is fiscally affecting our members, but we believe it’s costing them hard and soft dollars,” Mazurkiewicz said.
Cape Coral instituted its new cell phone stipend program in January, which brought an end to all city-funded cell phones.
Employees were offered three stipend tiers, of $30 – $50 per month, which city officials said would provide significant cost savings to the city.
The program has saved $160,000 so far, Barron said in February.
The city still does maintain “direct connect” phones for employees at $5 per month, per phone, which allows the users to communicate phone to phone similar to Nextel technology.
In the Department of Community Development, employees all are using the direct connect phones, or unified messaging.
Unified messaging allows for voice mails to be left for DCD inspectors, who then are able to check the messages on their laptops via email.
Since the program’s implementation, though, contractors said it’s become difficult to get in touch with inspectors, as the unified messaging system has added steps to the process and made communication difficult.
Tori Gansen, chief operating officer for Kirkwood Electric, said that communication with inspectors must bounce through third parties via land lines in city hall if they can’t be reached through email. She worries that more barriers between their employees and the city inspectors is inviting trouble.
“Any time you involve more people in a process there’s more possibility to have errors,” she said.
“My concern is the level of service,” Wayne Kirkwood added.
Brian Rist, president of Stormsmart, said the “homeowners were paying the price” for the new cell phone policy, left waiting for inspectors without knowing when they will arrive.
As did other CCCIA members, Rist and Stormsmart said the new policy is sending the opposite message of a business friendly community.
Stormsmart, which builds and installs hurricane protection screens, pulls 700 – 1,000 permits each year in Cape Coral, according to Rist.
“Our job is to serve the public. We shouldn’t create policies that cause a lack of that service,” he said.