Friday, February 18, 2000

Officials: Phone bill tax to appear

But deal with company still in works

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Last spring, Kenton County's police chief lobbied Kenton Fiscal Court to put a surcharge on county phone bills for improved 911 and emergency dispatch services.

        Fiscal Court obliged, adopting legislation in May authorizing Cincinnati Bell to add the tax.

        But the added $1.50 monthly surcharge — scheduled to take effect last July — has yet to show up on Kenton County phone bills.

        “No one ever said to me, "Where's that charge?'” said Kenton County Commissioner Dan Humpert, echoing comments of other county officials. “Maybe they consider it a blessing that they haven't had to pay the surcharge.”

        While some of the county's Cincinnati Bell customers may have been pleased at the tem porary tax reprieve, that will soon end, county officials said Thursday.

        After months of negotiations with Cincinnati Bell, Kenton County officials say collection of the surcharge is expected to begin next month.

        “We have a temporary agreement with Cincinnati Bell, and we expect that we'll have a full agreement in a few weeks,” Kenton County Attor ney Garry Edmondson said Thursday. “The surcharge should start appearing on the March phone bills.”

        Cincinnati Bell officials, however, aren't ready to back up Mr. Edmondson's optimism.

        “Cincinnati Bell continues to negotiate with Kenton County and at this time has not reached an agreement, tentative or otherwise,” said Bell spokeswoman Libby Korosec.

        Ms. Korosec said Cincinnati Bell has reached agreement with Grant and Pendleton counties on a 911 surcharge, and the utility anticipates an agreement with Kenton County in the future.

        County officials said state law stipulates that all they had to do was pass an ordinance to get the additional surcharge on county phone bills.

        However, Cincinnati Bell rejected Kenton County's ordinance in favor of a contract, and also failed to notify the county of a four-month lag time to get the additional surcharge on phone bills, said Kenton County Deputy Judge-executive Scott Kimmich.

        Other sticking points arose over issues such as a one-time, $3,500 fee that would be charged to the county that Mr. Edmondson said Cincinnati Bell officials would not explain.

        While Kenton County's emergency communications improvements have gone ahead as planned, the county has not received the $82,500 a month that the additional surcharge was to have generated to help equip and operate a state-of-the art communications system.

        “There's been some talk of maybe charging a little bit more for several months” to make up that lost revenue, Mr. Edmondson said. “I had suggested adding another nickel a month.”

        Mr. Edmondson said that he has not yet seen the contract spelling out the amount of the surcharge that will appear on the March phone bills, but he expected it to total $1.65. That amount includes a 15-cent surcharge that most Kenton County Cincinnati Bell customers have been paying since 1988.

        The original surcharge was to establish and maintain 911 communications equipment for the 13 life squads and 13 police and fire departments that Kenton County's dispatch center serves, Kenton County Police Chief Mike Browning said.


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