My article in the Reporter June 25 (“Unexpected and unwanted ‘bonus’ in city’s utility tax”) stirred things up a bit. I do like to do that, but in this case, the conclusions were wrong.
I assumed the Covington utility tax was being collected from us for some time, and I assumed the information from the Verizon reps was accurate.
You know what they say about assumptions. And my bias against the utility tax didn’t help the matter.
After my letter appeared, Covington city manager Derek Matheson contacted me and looked into it further. He was able to examine a co-worker’s Verizon bill with the same new surcharge on it. He did some calculations and realized that the amount was exactly the utility tax amount.
I went back through one and a half years of my Verizon bills and was not able to find any previous change due to the utility tax, so I agreed with Derek’s conclusion that this really was the new utility tax being applied. All of the other utility bills vary based on usage, so the tax is not really visible. But the Verizon bill was fixed, so the new tax really stood out.
So how did this confusion occur? We have to do a little guessing here, but it seems to make sense:
• First, it was identified as a Verizon surcharge. Derek noted that technically, the utility tax is a tax on utility companies, not utility customers, and this is probably why it appeared in the surcharges section rather than the taxes section. We can’t guess as to why none of the Verizon reps were able to explain it.
• And second, the timing added to the confusion. Again, Derek noted that Verizon has been obligated to pay the tax to the city since February, but it looks like they didn’t pass it along to customers until this last bill. Part of what the Verizon rep told me may account for this. Remember, they told me that Verizon had to get approval from the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission to pass that cost on to the customers, and that was approved just recently. That may explain the appearance of this surcharge now, but again, this is only a guess. So the conclusions drawn in my article were simply wrong.
I am still dissapointed that Derek and the City Council passed this utility tax against the citizens’ wishes, but I will apologize to Derek for implying there was incomplete information provided to us. Hope this will help others understand this surcharge and how the tax is applied.
… and from the city manager
I would like to thank Covington resident Gary Wigle for his June 25 guest editorial that asked questions about how one utility company passes the city’s utility tax along to its customers that live in the city. We exchanged a few e-mails and were able to sort things out.
Mr. Wigle’s guest editorial has generated a few letters to the editor in recent weeks about how the same company passes the tax along to customers that live outside the city. This was never the city’s intent, and the city doesn’t support the practice. City staff will continue to work with the company and the appropriate state authorities to address the problem in a comprehensive way.
Anyone with questions about Covington’s utility tax should feel free to call the city’s Finance Department at (253) 638-1110 or e-mail the finance staff, using the city’s online directory at www.ci.covington.wa.us/contactus.cfm.
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