Some Routt County residents may have noticed on their bills that they are being charged Steamboat Springs city sales taxes for their wireless services. Those residents are eligible for a refund.

Photo by John F. Russell

Some Routt County residents may have noticed on their bills that they are being charged Steamboat Springs city sales taxes for their wireless services. Those residents are eligible for a refund.

Some Routt County residents wrongly paying Steamboat sales tax

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— Each month Rob Douglas pays a city sales tax on his Verizon Wireless bill — it was $2.55 in February. But there’s a problem. He doesn’t live in Steamboat Springs city limits.

Douglas lives in Tree Haus, just outside city limits where there isn’t mail delivery.

Douglas is among an unknown number of county residents who, because they still have a Steamboat zip code, are assessed a sales tax it doesn’t appear they should have to pay.

City officials acknowledge they’ve known about the issue for several years, and they say Verizon Wireless is responsible. No attempt has been made to notify county residents of the issue, but the city said it will issue refunds to anyone who has been improperly taxed.

“I don’t think anyone is being malicious here, but at the same time, I think maybe this has just been going on for a while and hasn’t been talked about,” Douglas said.

Deputy City Manager Deb Hinsvark said the city found out about the issue in 2009 during a Verizon Wireless audit, and has issued some refunds to county residents. She said the city is not aware of the same tax issue with other cellphone carriers. AT&T, which also provides service in Steamboat, doesn’t appear to charge city sales tax to customers who live outside Steamboat Springs limits but still carry an 80487 zip code.

Hinsvark said the city immediately reached out to Verizon to rectify the problem but was told the company’s software bills customers based on zip code and can’t differentiate between a customer located within city limits or outside its boundaries.

Hinsvark said the city wasn’t sure how to alert county residents of the issue.

“We have talked to Verizon on behalf of the community,” she said. “They have not indicated they will do anything to change.”

Verizon spokespersons did not return calls seeking comment Monday.

Hinsvark said the city has no idea how many county residents are assessed a city sales tax on their Verizon bill and therefore doesn’t know how much revenue it has generated as a result. Because the sales tax is proprietary, she declined to say how much revenue wireless service sales taxes generate for the city.

But the amount could add up to tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars over a period of several years. If, for example, there were 1,000 Verizon customers like Douglas who were wrongly paying $2.55 a month in city sales tax, that would add up to $30,000 in tax revenues a year.

Because Steamboat is a home rule municipality in Colorado, it collects its own sales taxes, said Ro Silva, of the state Department of Revenue. She said the wireless companies remit those sales tax revenues directly back to the city instead of passing them through the state.

Silva said wireless taxes are remitted through the state for cities and towns that are not home rule municipalities, such as Oak Creek. She said any residents of non-home rule municipalities who think they have been taxed improperly would need to submit a claim for a refund through the Department of Revenue. Stagecoach residents, for example, have an Oak Creek zip code, meaning they could be paying Oak Creek sales tax on their monthly statements.

Hayden Finance Director Lisa Dowling said her town assesses a sales tax on wireless customers. Dowling said she wasn’t aware of the town taxing county residents with Hayden zip codes but would address that issue with anyone who thought they were improperly assessed.

In addition to local taxes, wireless customers are assessed county and state sales taxes.

County residents who have been paying city of Steamboat sales taxes on their Verizon bills can take their bills to Centennial Hall for a refund for up to three years, the period of time permitted by city ordinance, Hinsvark said. She said including the monthly statements and a cover sheet that includes the amount of city wireless sales tax per month for each year would help expedite the refund process for city staff.

“We’re happy to have the information out there because we shouldn’t be receiving taxes we’re not entitled to,” Hinsvark said.

However, Verizon makes available online only the past 12 months of billing statements. A Verizon customer service representative said Monday that statements dating further back cost $5 each. For many residents, the cost to get copies of old statements would be more than the refund they’re due.

After discovering, by chance, that he was being taxed incorrectly, Douglas called the city to inquire about a refund. And he called Verizon. Douglas said Verizon told him it couldn’t stop assessing the city sales tax even though he provided his physical address that is outside of city limit. He’s also waiting to hear back about his request to have the re-printing fees for his old bills waived or reduced.

Douglas thinks all parties share blame for the improper taxing issue, but he also believes it can — and should — be rectified.

“There clearly are software solutions that Verizon can do on its end,” he said. “And on the city’s end, it’s an issue of notice. They know that they’ve been collecting this because they’ve been issuing refunds and they should be notifying county residents. And it’s a cautionary tale. We all should be looking at how we’re billed more closely than I am.”

To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

Dan Hill 2 years, 9 months ago

Surely there's a law that requires vendors to levy the CORRECT sales tax? Can Verizon just make @#$% up and continue to get away with it? One of the many reasons I dropped them as my cell phone provider.

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jerry carlton 2 years, 9 months ago

Its all about socking it to the consumer and the taxpayer. If the consumer/taxpayer ever catches on we (corporations and governments) will deal with it then but we will still have lined our pockets for years. Nothing malicious, just the usual incompetence of big business and any size government.

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sledneck 2 years, 9 months ago

Big deal. Buy concrete by the thousands of dollars, pour every ounce of it in a foundation out in the county, and you still pay city tax on all of it. Ditto for lumber if you don't wait for the lumber yards to deliver; and plumbing and other supplies... I HAVE talked to my suppliers about it. I am told the city is well aware of this and forces them to charge this way. I will admit I have not spoken to the city directly but I intend to before I do another project.

Completely opposite from the statement here regarding cell-phones that "...[it] has been going on for a while and hasn't been talked about." With the concrete and construction materials issue it has absolutely been "talked about".

And a whole house hits a lot harder than a cell phone bill. Add it all up and there's probably a large part of a carpenters' salary taken out of a large home this way. Just another way that the City, intentionally or not, kills growth County-wide.

"County residents can take their bills... for a refund of up to 3 years, the period of time permitted by city ordinance..." I wonder, if the city found a county resident had been NOT paying a legitimate City tax for 4 or 5 or 6 years, would the city be satisfied with a refund for only the last 3?

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sledneck 2 years, 9 months ago

I'll be getting my bills together right away too.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 9 months ago

I wonder if Verizon is just being cautious because it might be legally risky to not collect the city sales tax. It would seem that the cell phone service provided within City limits would be subject sales tax. So a city looking for additional revenues could reject the argument that a cell phone customer that lives just outside city limits is not subject to the city sales tax because all of the calls and service provided to the customer when the customer is within city limits would be subject to the city sales tax.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 9 months ago

Sledneck, You can buy supplies at Flat Tops Supply in Pburg and not pay a municipal sales taxes since Pburg is not a city. And they carry concrete and plumbing supplies.

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Fred Duckels 2 years, 9 months ago

Sled, When I buy a machine the dealer must deliver to a non taxable address or tax is due at the dealership location. If it is delivered within the city limits all city tax is due. I can't pick it up without being nailed on the tax. This is the same statewide so Steamboat is not the exception.

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bellyup 2 years, 9 months ago

I live in the county, have an 80487 address, and don't pay city sales tax on my Verizon bill. Is the issue only with 80477/80488? If somebody else is 80487 and they're getting hit with the tax, I'd be interested in hearing about it--it would at least show that their software is capable of distinguishing between city and county.

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sedgemo 2 years, 9 months ago

Bellyup, just got my Verizon bill, and it shows a line item charge identified as: Steamboat Sprgs City Sales Tax, $2.43.

I have an 80487 address but do not live in the city limits, been the same teh whole time I've had a Verizon phone, over two years now. Guess I'll be gathering up my bills and heading to town for a refund soon!

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Kevin Nerney 2 years, 9 months ago

Just checked my bill- it comes to the home address of 80487 not my POBox at 80477 and the line item says Routt Co Sales Tax $.47. So everyone should check and complain if they are being taxed, as "they" get enough of our money

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sedgemo 2 years, 9 months ago

Kevin, why does mine say Steamboat Sprgs.City Sales Tax and your says Routt. Co. ? Shouldn't they be the same?

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Kevin Nerney 2 years, 9 months ago

sedgemo- you would think but, that's above my pay grade as Highway Star would say.

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