Sunday, February 8, 2004

Customer corrects billing mistake

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - Thanks to two Hamilton residents who scrutinize their phone bills, about 78,000 Cincinnati Bell customers in Butler County will soon be receiving a little money back.

Steve Hessler and Elizabeth Stewart of Hamilton noticed that Cincinnati Bell had charged a 7 percent sales tax on their January bill - the Hamilton County rate - instead of Butler County's 6.5 percent sales tax rate.

"I knew it was wrong," said Hessler, who receives tax change alerts as controller for Hamilton Industrial Knife & Machine Co. He knew that a state law effective Jan. 1 allows telephone companies to collect sales taxes on universal service fees, detailed billing service, directory assistance, voice mail, caller ID and three-way calling.

Hessler alerted Butler County Commissioner Chuck Furmon after a Cincinnati Bell customer service representative told him the 7 percent tax was correct. After calls to the Ohio Department of Taxation and Cincinnati Bell, the company agreed to stop collecting the extra tax here on Jan. 27.

"It was an administrative error on our part," said Jeni Kues, company spokeswoman.

Butler County Cincinnati Bell customers will see "a small amount" credited on their bills in the next month or two, she said.

How small?

"Cents," she said.

Hessler also advised Furmon to make sure that Butler County receives the one-half percent piggyback tax receipts, instead of Hamilton County. Under the new law, Cincinnati Bell must distribute the telephone taxes to the counties where the sales are made, says Gary Gudmundson, Ohio Department of Taxation spokesman.

"The place of sale was treated as taking place in Hamilton County, because that's where the phone company is located. The state law changed, and (Cincinnati Bell) failed to pick up on that change," said Gary Sheets, commissioners' law director.


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