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GPS phones will home in on homes

CELESTE HADRICK / Newsday | April 20 2006

County inspectors who drive through Nassau, tracking home sales and assessing property values, will be tracked themselves starting next week.

In one of the latest instances of local governments monitoring their employees electronically, Nassau Assessor Harvey Levinson has purchased specially equipped cell phones designed to keep detailed records of his field inspectors' whereabouts.

About 40 Nassau inspectors who spend most of their time outside their Mineola office will be required to carry the new Nextel TeleNavTrack cell phones, which use global-positioning systems, Levinson said yesterday.

The systems will track inspectors as they travel and record locations and times - and will even issue alerts if employees drive too fast. The phones also will provide the best routes to reach each inspection site and count the miles to get there.

Supervisors can spot-check each inspector through a secure Web site, which also keeps a permanent record of the inspectors' activities.

Levinson said there had been no problems with field inspectors' work and that it is simply a matter of accountability.

Jerry Laricchiuta, president of Nassau's Civil Service Employees Association, acknowledged a need for accountability, but said, "My main concern is we don't want an invasion of privacy."

Said Levinson: "This is not Big Brother. In any business that has people going out on their own all day, there has to be some supervision."

He said the cell phones, purchased for a discounted $24.96 each, will add at least an hour of productivity each work day because the inspectors will no longer need to drive to the Mineola office to sign in and out.

Levinson said the office tries to inspect each house when it is sold and after remodeling permits have been issued. Inspectors also respond when homeowners complain that the assessor's Web site has incorrect information about their property.

Levinson's initiative is the first in Nassau government. Babylon has installed GPS systems in all its vehicles, North Hempstead has it in a dozen street sweepers, and Suffolk County uses the system in its marked police cars. Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced yesterday that all New York City ambulances and fire vehicles will have GPS, too.

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