Baltimore's municipal telephone system is being upgraded -- a move officials say will result in better service and a total net savings of $15.2 million over the next 10 years.
The upgrade, which will take 15 months to complete, will cost $7.2 million for the purchase of new equipment for the city government's 9,900 telephone lines and will save $22.4 million in reduced usage and service charges through 2005, officials said.
"It's going to mean better service," said Shirley A. Williams, acting city comptroller, whose office oversees the Municipal Telephone Exchange, which has an annual budget of $7.3 million. "Right now, we have a lot of breakdowns."
The Board of Estimates unanimously approved the upgrade at its weekly meeting yesterday. The approval took the form of a modification of a 20-year contract reached in 1985 with Bell Atlantic-Maryland, previously Chesapeake & Potomac Co. of Maryland.
The meeting opened with an exchange of pleasantries between City Council President Mary Pat Clarke and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, often bitter rivals in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary, which the mayor won by 20 percentage points.
It was the first time since the election that the two had appeared together in public. Mrs. Clarke was vacationing and did not attend last week's Board of Estimates meetings.
Savings from the upgrade will come principally from lower charges per telephone line and reduced costs for maintenance and for moving or adding on equipment, according to an analysis provided by Rochelle Young, director of the city's telecommunications services.
The analysis projects savings of $2.7 million next year and $4 million by 2004.
Officials said that the manufacturer of the telephones now used is no longer in business and that replacement parts are difficult to get, making repairs costly.