Anyone who has had a sale item ring up at full price can probably empathize with York County Commissioners - especially if he or she has ever been overcharged by $571,000.
Officials recently learned that phone provider Verizon had overcharged the county for at least four years, between 2008 and last year, for the more than 1,800 phone lines used at county offices.
Were they surprised?
"Omigosh, yes," said President County Commissioner Steve Chronister. "We really didn't know what to expect, but we didn't expect all that."
Last May, commissioners hired New Jersey-based Teleresource Consulting Group to perform an audit of four years of Verizon bills, wooed by owner Joe Quigley's assertions that they could be overpaying by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
His subsequent audit found $571,667 in numerous billing errors and wrongful charges on fees, taxes, and other billing areas, said county Administrator/Chief Clerk Chuck Noll.
"It was a wide range of errors made in the billing process and we're at a loss to be able to explain why that occurred," He said. "Verizon doesn't offer any explanation other than they recognize they overbilled us."
The company has paid back the money, with the county making a sizable deposit into the general fund, Noll said.
Under the contract approved by commissioners last year, the consultant group was to be paid $30,000 for finding overcharges of between $300,000 and $500,000. The county was to split the proceeds if the company identifies more than $500,000 in wrongful charges, Noll said.
Of the $571,667, the consulting group was paid $65,833 and the county netted $505,834, Noll said.
But there might be even more money headed for York County.
The fourth year: The $571,000 represents only three years of the four-year audit.
Noll said the company also identified about $150,000 in overcharges for the fourth year of those audited, but Verizon is contending the four-year statute of limitations has expired for that year.
The county is hoping it hasn't.
At a meeting Wednesday, commissioners approved an agreement with a Harrisburg law firm to review the matter. Noll said a special attorney will be paid hourly, up to $8,000, to determine whether the county can legally go after the money.
"We're not looking to rip off Verizon, but we have to look out for our taxpayers," Chronister said.
He said there was no way to hold the company responsible for overbilling until the consultant was hired.
Noll said the county's phone bills are "volumes," and anyone who hasn't been trained to sift through them wouldn't know the difference.
Regardless of what the attorney finds, the county will have additional savings because of the audit. Noll said the county's $33,000 per month phone bill has been reduced to about $20,000 because of the corrections made on the accounts.
Verizon media relations manager Lee Gierczynski said Wednesday he was unable to immediately comment on the county's situation, other than to acknowledge it had been overbilled. He didn't call with more information before the time of publication.
- Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.