Baltimore Spent More Than $108K On Unused Phone Lines From 2017 To 2020, Report Finds

A report from Baltimore’s inspector general found the city spent more than $108,000 on unused phone lines over a period of two and a half years.According to the report, city agencies spent $108,451.80 on 204 phone lines that they weren’t using between September 2017 and February 2020. Another 13 lines were reportedly billed to the wrong department.In addition, one agency had reportedly specifically requested that the unused lines be disconnected in February but was still billed in March and April.The report said the inspector general’s office found a spreadsheet in early March with a list of 240 phone lines that city agencies were being billed for but weren’t using. A further review lowered the number to 204.

Documents submitted along with the report showed Inspector General Isabel Cumming sent an alert to the city’s finance department on March 11 outlining the “irregular billing practices.”

On April 2, Comptroller Joan Pratt, whose office oversees the city’s Department of Communication Services, submitted a response to the alert. In her response, she said the Municipal Telephone Exchange, which is a division of the communication services department, had found hundreds of unused lines during its own review in February.

Some of the lines were reportedly used for testing and were not billed; others had been requested by departments during a switch to the current phone system but were never used. Billing was still set up for the lines when they were originally requested, she wrote.

Pratt wrote that billing was suspended at the end of February for most of the 359 lines MTE had found to be inactive.

She also wrote that the inspector general’s office’s way of verifying what lines were unused — calling them individually — isn’t an accurate method to gauge whether the lines were being used or if they had been used at some point.

In total, 16 agencies did not get refunds from the Municipal Telephone Exchange. The mayor’s office did get a refund after they were charged for unused lines in March, the report found.