Our View: City should have acted
February 14, 2012
While the number of county residents who are charged city of Steamboat Springs sales tax on their monthly Verizon Wireless bills remains unclear, the city shouldn't be let off the hook for not making an effort to notify residents of the issue, even while they continued to collect and spend the tax revenue.
Verizon officials said Tuesday that the company's billing software differentiates between city and county residents and that any wrongly assessed city sales tax likely is the result of the customer using an old address or a city P.O. box for their account. Neither the city nor Verizon knows how many affected customers are out there. Similarly, the amount of improperly assessed sales tax that has landed in city coffers throughout the years is unknown.
But there's no excuse for the city of Steamboat's inaction on the issue. Deputy City Manager Deb Hinsvark clarified Tuesday that the city first became aware of the issue in 2007 and has communicated with Verizon on numerous occasions. She said the city essentially was told Verizon couldn't do anything about it.
However, there were some easy steps the city could have taken to alert county residents of the problem. For example: a notice in the city's biweekly City Page advertisement, a posting on its website, a briefing to any of the sitting City Councils of the past five years or simply a call to the Steamboat Today. Any of those actions could have made affected residents aware of the issue.
Instead, the city has continued to collect and spend those sales tax revenues. And although it's difficult to come up with an accurate dollar figure of improperly assessed sales taxes, that's perhaps less significant than the fact that some city officials were aware of the issue and still allowed the collection and expenditure of the revenues to continue.
So now, the city is offering refunds to Verizon Wireless customers who can provide monthly billing statements for up to three years showing improperly assessed sales taxes. That's all well and good, but it doesn't excuse years of inaction.