Milan cellphone tax appears on nonresident's bill; resolution complicated


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Originally Posted Online: Jan. 09, 2013, 8:46 pm
Last Updated: Jan. 10, 2013, 7:20 am
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By Anthony Watt, awatt@qconline.com

When a rural Rock Island County woman recently went searching for the reason her telephone bill was going up, she discovered a new tax amounting to about $2.50 on each of the family's two cellphones.

Donna Clark was puzzled. The telecommunications tax was levied by Milan, but she does not live in Milan, though she has a Milan address, and gets no services from the village. Police service is provided by the county or the Illinois State Police, her garbage is private and her library service is provided through Sherrard.

"As far as I know, there is nothing the village of Milan provides for us at all," Ms. Clark said.

An initial call to her cellphone provider, in which she was told there was nothing to be done, left her frustrated.

Milan administrator Steve Seiver said the village approved the telecommunications tax in 2011. In doing so, the village joined the vast majority of municipal governments in the state, which collected a total of about $300 million through the levy last year.

But determining who is taxed is not a decision made by the village, Mr. Seiver said.

That is done by the cellphone providers, according to state law.

Municipalities file their taxing ordinance with the state, according to the law.

Then the cellphone carriers use a variety of sources, including address information provided by the municipality, to determine who is subject to the tax.

The carriers then collect the taxes and turn the money over to the state, which doles it back out to the involved taxing bodies.

Andrea Meyer, a spokeswoman for Verizon, Ms. Clark's provider, said via email that Verizon "assigns its customers to state, county and local tax jurisdictions based on address information received from the U.S. Postal Service and from other sources, including state, county and local government authorities."

Ms. Meyer said mistakes are possible, as did Susan Hofer, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Revenue, which distributes the tax money collected by the phone companies.

Ms. Hofer said people who believe they have been improperly charged a tax must first submit a written complaint to their cellphone carrier. That complaint must contain every detail of the issue. The service provider has 60 days for review and to resolve the problem.

Should a customer be unhappy with the decision of their provider, they can appeal to the state revenue department, she said. The necessary form is available online. It is called a Form RT-12.

Ms. Meyer said people who suspect an error on their tax jurisdiction "should verify that we have their correct address for tax purposes (which may differ from the customer's billing address)," she said.

To do this, customers can check their Verizon account online using "Phone Usage Addresses" in their account profile or call Verizon Wireless customer service to verify their address information.

When told about the appeal process on Wednesday, Ms. Clark said she may use it.

But she already has taken other steps to cut costs -- she canceled service for one of the two cellphones.


For More Information

-- To view a copy of the Simplified Municipal Telecommunications Tax Act, go to http://tinyurl.com/a48x25m

-- To download the appeal application -- Form RT-12 -- from the Illinois Department of Revenue, got to tax.illinois.gov/TaxForms/Misc/TelecomExcise/RT-12.pdf

-- The Tax Foundation, a think tank, has created a report on cellular telephone taxes by state. That report can be found at taxfoundation.org/article/states-target-cell-phones-stealth-burdensome-taxes

--Verizon's Website is verizonwireless.com for its subscribers. People with other carriers should consult their company's customer service department or visit their company's website.















 



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