Yakima says mobile technology a necessity for city employees

YAKIMA, Wash. -- It's the price of doing business in the digital age. Yakima spends hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to keep its employees connected. KIMA found out which city department spent the most on cellphone and data plans - and how that money can help the city's bottom line.

Yakima firefighters on the scene of a burning home.

Their truck includes a mobile data terminal that told firefighters what to expect, before they even got to the scene.

It's one example of how the City of Yakima uses technology to improve efficiency, communication and the city's bottom line.

Wayne Wantland runs Yakima's IT department. He says cellphones are no longer a luxury, but a necessity.

"Why do we have cellphones? It's the efficiency. You know, again, the big number sounds scary, but the reality is how much is that saving us in man hours and in work."

The big number Wayne's talking about is the amount Yakima spends on cellphone and data plans for city employees: almost $200,000 just on the voice plans in 2013 and more than $100,000 on data.

Cell phones for the police department cost taxpayers the most. Fire was next and the IT department third.

Roughly half of all police officers carry city-issued cell phones. Data terminals are in every vehicle. These give officers information on suspects and allow them to write reports from the car.

Yakima Transit had some of the highest costs for data plans, but KIMA learned this comes from the onboard Wi-Fi offered to passengers. And, GPS systems allow riders to track buses.

Yakima's leap from old devices to new undoubtedly has cost more. Cellphone and data plan costs have increased more than threefold in the past decade. To keep that in check, the city audits itself yearly to see if every employee who has a cellphone actually needs it.

All part of doing business in a wired world.

Not all employees use smartphones. Some city-issued phones are the old flip phones without a data plan. Yakima's cellphone carrier is Verizon.