Tag Archives: cell phone tax refund

cell phone tax update – almost $300,000 accumulated, only about $10,000 refunded

1 Nov

Back in August, the ER did an update on cell phone tax rebates, saying applications were starting to slow down. At that time they reported a rebate total of $9,550, to 191 customers. Frank Fields told me at one point, most of the applicants were residential, but a few businesses had come in.

Since the beginning, Chico taxpayer Jim Matthews has been suggesting an electronic application, so that victims of the illegal tax could claim their stolen money without having to carry a pile of dead trees down to City Hall during their work day. I personally forwarded that suggestion to Brian Nakamura and staff, who oftentimes answered the e-mail but wouldn’t discuss our suggestion.

For weeks now, I’ve been getting searches here – the cell phone thing is the top search right now, even with all the cops in a titter over other stuff I’ve said about them. It’s even a top search on worldofjuanita.  So, I e-mailed the finance department to ask for an update. I got this reply from Chris Constantin.

“I’ve cc’d Frank to provide the latest numbers.  From the last report I received, unfortunately, not many took advantage of it.  The totals are pretty low.”

I like Constantin, he’s an honest guy – but you know me, I’m an honest gal, Compulsively honest. I found his e-mail offensive, and I had to tell him so. See, the city kept collecting cell phone taxes beyond the November 2012 election wherein we told them to STOP IT! They amassed a tidy $286,450, according to the ER. They will keep this money when a full year passes after the last taxes were collected, which was Spring 2013 (NOTE: meaning, it took them about six months to stop taking it!)   So, you have a few months to make your application, or tell your friends, co-workers, anybody you see standing there holding a cell phone – go Downtown and get your stolen money back!

Constantin purported surprise that more people had not come to claim their stolen money, but I had to call him on that. They made the process so onerous – come down to City Hall, during your work day, don’t forget every cell phone bill you ever got…   I won’t directly blame Constantin but I won’t stand for his pretending to be sorry. He could still change the process to make it electronic, make the phone companies send people their bills electronically, or just send them an annual total for their cell phone tax. That’s all in the records, but Constantin stands by while we are forced to bring a stack of paper Downtown on our lunch break if we want our stolen money back.

Let me repeat that – our stolen money.  $286,450, ill-gotten gain.

I’ll get back to you with that update, and watch for it in the ER, they’ll probably send it there too. 

$9,580 in cell phone rebates, and still counting

19 Jul

from Frank Fields 7/17/13

UUT refunds:

UUT cell phone refunds: $9,580

UUT annual refund program: $5,596 (May/June 2013)

Well, I am not excited about the UUT refund total, it doesn’t look like more than the usual number of people. At about $50 average refund, it only looks like the usual 100 people that always come in, myself included. I got almost $40, which puts the average Frank Fields gave me in perspective.

This tells me the process is too onerous for most people to take it seriously. You have to either mail that stack of crap in,  all your bills, all the pages, along with your tax returns, or, you have to find time during the work day to amble on down to the city building and make a personal appearance at the Finance Department window. 

To think, they’re ripping off the poorest people in town.  Maybe Brian Nakamura should grow a mustache, so he can twist it as he rips off the poor and closes them out of the playground. 

I’ve asked Nakamura, cc’ing the full council, to make the process electronic – something you could do over the computers at the library on a Saturday morning – but he just won’t answer.  I’ll get back to that soon. 

But, I do find the cell phone refund total impressive – $9,580 bucks. I didn’t get the number of applicants from Fields, but I’m guessing, that’s more than 100 applicants. Fields told me earlier this year, some of the applicants are businesses, with bigger refunds that kind of  mess up the average, but I’m still guessing, more than 100 people have filed for that refund, and that’s good. I get searches for the information in the blog daily, so I know people are still interested in getting their refunds, whether they will go through the onerous process or not. I wonder, how many people even keep their bills. 

I notice this morning, the city keeps announcing they’ve found this solution and that solution to the park closures, but the main park road and Caper Acres are still closed Monday through Thursday. I hope people get as mad about the park closures as they did about the cell phone tax. I’ll be in the park this weekend, for the Bidwell Park Birthday Scam, handing out fliers with dollar amounts and contact information – I hope we can turn this park closure on Nakamura, show him he messed with the wrong kind of bees.

I’ve reserved the library room for Sunday, August 4, 9am, for our First Sunday Chico Taxpayers meeting. I’ll have an update regarding the park closures, and more ideas for bringing the employees to the table. 

The figures are in – Schwab, Gruendl and Goloff just flat LIED about Measure J

12 Mar

As most of you probably remember, Measure J, the cell phone tax measure, was promoted by Ann Schwab, Scott Gruendl, and Mary Goloff. I really have to hand it to them – they were the only ones with the balls of brass to put their names on this obvious money grab.  That doesn’t mean I have anything but contempt for this group, I’m just saying, I’d hand “it” to them, “it” being a big turd.

In the argument they posted in favor of the cell phone tax, Ann, Scott and Mary claimed, ” A loss of $900,000 a year would result in reduced police and fire services, road maintenance and park funds.’

Where’d they get that figure? In the same argument, they cited “the average cell phone bill of $50 per month…”. I remember doing the math, and asking, “how could that add up to $900,000 a year?” My husband said it was possible, but I had to remind him – only AT&T and Metro PCS – the two cheapest cell phone providers out there – collected the tax. How many people in Chico use those providers? We don’t know, but it’s hard to figure how these two providers, who cater to welfare recipients and other low-income customers, could possibly come up with $900,000 a year in tax.

Well, they couldn’t. In subsequent discussions, finance department employee Frank Fields estimated a truer figure of $600,000/year, and, at a December council meeting, Finance Director Jennifer Hennessy reported the actual figure at $500,000. Yes, exactly $500,000, no odd dollars or cents. Go figure.

This whole discussion has been highly questionable. So you know Stephanie Taber, she did the asking. She stood up at the end of the meeting and asked very pointed questions about the figuring for Measure J. Crickets chirped.  Mayor Mary Goloff thanked Stephanie but neither offered answers of her own nor questioned $taff. So, Stephanie had to e-mail her questions to Brian Nakamura, Jennifer Hennessy, and the council.  The first two deal with Measure J, I didn’t include the others because I want to focus here on Measure J. I’ll  get back to the others.

Stephanie’s letter begins, “Perhaps you were unable to jot down the questions that I asked so here they are again:

1) What/who is the source of information that is now being used to verify the $500 loss (or whatever the current figure is) in revenue due to the defeat of Measure J?  At the offset of the proposal there was no definitive way of separating how much revenue was received based solely of cell phone calls and texting and how much on land line costs.  At least that was my understanding.

2) Are telephone tax collections a separate revenue line item that can be compared month-to-month and year to date?

(Questions 3 and 4 left out)

Stephanie Taber

On Sunday evening Silly Manager Brian Nakamura e-mailed back, saying, “I wanted to share that Ms. Hennessy has provided draft answers for me to review and share and its my delay that is slowing down the response to your questions.”  And he said he’d get back to Stephanie, which I assume Stephanie will clue us in there when she has something.

In the meantime, she answered Nakamura, ” As to the comparison one year against another to verify the $900K lost as a result of the defeat of Measure J, it would be of value to have that specific item as part of the quarterly report since a lot of taxpayers are skeptical of the figure. “

Yes, a lot of taxpayers are skeptical of that $900,000  figure – we’re damned sick of hearing it repeated. The News and Review used it in a February editorial, even after they’d printed Frank Field’s estimate back in November. I asked Robert Speer about it when I sent in a letter last week, he printed my letter and thanked me for it, but did not respond to my remark about the $900,000 figure.

What is this – the Big Lie? They think if they just keep repeating that figure, we’ll buy it hook, line and sinker? Well, that probably works when they’ve got both newspapers and the tv station to go along with them.  We need to get some folks writing letters, demanding answers to the “creative bookkeeping” they’re using Downtown. Ask questions people!

I did some asking – last week I dropped another note to Frank Fields over in Finance. I asked him, again, how many people have applied for and received cell phone tax refunds, and what’s the average refund amount? Frank is a sport, he got right back to me:

Ms. Sumner,
 
To date, we’ve processed 91 refund applications averaging $52.65 each.  In addition, I have another 10 or so applications waiting to be processed.
 
Finally, we’ll be posting the “UUT refund application” for the annual UUT refund program in the next couple of weeks.
 

Frank

Vielen Dank Frankster, that is just what I suspected above.  If the average refund is $52.65, that works out to $4.38 a month in tax – almost twice the figure Schwab, Gruendl and Goloff stated in their “argument for.” That would also make the average bill about $87 – again, almost twice the figure stated in the “argument for.” 

From the voter’s manual: “This rate, if applied to the average cell phone bill of $50 per month, would equate to a monthly charge of $2.25 as opposed to the current charge of $2.50.”

Boy, there it is – as Al Franken would put it, “Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.” 

And here’s the link to that refund application:

http://www.chico.ca.us/documents/CellPhoneRefundApplication_011713.pdf

Hurry up and get those refund applications turned in – they will only give back your stolen money a year previous to your application

5 Feb

I been so busy lately, I am spun. I keep walking into rooms and finding some half-done job – – half-made bed, half-done dishes, half-folded laundry, half-eaten lunch, etc.  Right now I’m about half-way through boiling a half dozen eggs.

It is hard to keep up with city business, which of course, is everybody’s business. They move those nutshells fast down there, because they don’t want us to get ahold of that pea!

So, at this past Chico Taxpayer’s Association meeting, I asked if we could make this blog more of a “newsletter,” an information site, somewhere to go when you’re looking for something. Lately I have had a lot of searches and hits on the information and links regarding the cell phone tax refund. I’ve been posting the link, but when I tried to talk about the rules for the refund this morning, I realized, I didn’t know!  I frankly had a hard time figuring out, what do they mean, one year? Etc. But, I had a bunch of other junk to do, so I had to put it aside.

Stephanie Taber went to the city website and cut it right out for us, read below. 

There it is –  “Refunds may be claimed for City of Chico utility users’ tax paid for cell phone or VOIP services within 12 months prior to the application date”.  

Think what that means – the longer you wait the less money you will be able to claim.  Every month you wait, you lose another month’s tax, money you paid involuntarily, money they took illegally.  Of course, I have to ask – if you apply for your refund before they stop taking the tax from your bills, will you be able to reapply for those bills that came after you applied for your first refund? Oh people, there are so many questions here, and so few willing to ask.

 Thanks again to Stephanie Taber, who is out there asking questions and getting answers.
CITY OF CHICO – FINANCE OFFICE
Location: 411 Main Street, Chico
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 3420, Chico, CA 95927
Phone: (530) 879-7320
TELEPHONE (Cellular Phone or Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP)
USERS’ TAX REFUND APPLICATION
Refunds:
1. Refunds may be claimed for City of Chico utility users’ tax paid for cell phone or
VOIP services within 12 months prior to the application date (i.e., applications filed
in Feb 2013 would cover billing periods Feb 2012-Jan 2013).
2. You may not claim a refund for amounts previously refunded through the City’s
Utility Tax Refund program.
3. Refunds will be issued beginning February 21, 2013.
4. Refunds will be mailed to the name and address on the bill(s).
5. Refund application and copies of bills may be submitted to:
a. The City’s P.O. Box as listed above; or
b. Dropped off on the first floor of City Hall located at 411 Main Street.
Items Required:
1. Copies of phone bills showing utility tax paid. Please note that the bills must show
an address within the Chico city limits.
2. Completed and signed application.
APPLICANT INFORMATION
Name on bill: Street Address on bill:
Zip Code on bill: Contact number:
Mailing Address if different than on bill:
TELEPHONE USERS’ TAX PAID (Only List Actual Tax Paid)
Month Year
Provider/Acct Provider/Acct Provider/Acct Provider/Acct
January $ $ $ $
February $ $ $ $
March $ $ $ $
April $ $ $ $
May $ $ $ $
June $ $ $ $
July $ $ $ $
August $ $ $ $
September $ $ $ $
October $ $ $ $
November $ $ $ $
December $ $ $ $
Total $ $ $ $
1. I certify that the information supplied is true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.
2. I understand that any person required to sign and verify any report under the provisions of the City of Chico Municipal
Code, who makes any false or fraudulent request with intent to defeat or evade the determination of any amount, is
guilty of a misdemeanor (City Municipal Code 3.56.160).
Applicant Name: _____________________________________ Date: ____________________
************************************************************************
Internal Use Only: Verified no previous cell phone refund Verified not paid via UUT refund process
Check # issued ____________

Does the city of Chico owe you money? Well go get it!

31 Jan

One of the nice things about wordpress.com is that you get a “stats” report every day, showing what people are reading and which links get hit on your blog. Lately, the cell phone tax refund application has been getting POUNDED!  

That makes me happy, because I don’t know what this whole Measure J fight was about if it wasn’t about getting back illegally gotten gains.  Here’s that link again:

Click to access CellPhoneRefundApplication_011713.pdf

This refund has been getting attention – there was a story on Ch 12 news the other night. But, the reporter was kind of sloppy again – this time, we heard Debbie Cobb announce that the most you can get back is $5 a month. She also said the city expects to lose $900,000, in refunds?   When the biggest refund is only about $60?  Do the math there, maybe Debbie should listen to her own reports. When I had AT&T, and we had the cheapest plan available with only two phones, we were seeing at least $5 /month taken for UT. Just imagine what these big families, with phones for each kid, were paying. And Mark Sorensen projected the average business was paying hundreds a year for Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VOIP.  But, even with these kind of refunds, there’s no way the city will pay out $900,000 – silly Debbie, that’s what  the city originally predicted they would lose annually from not having the tax.  At a Finance Committee meeting last month, Hennessy said it was really only $500,000, anyway.   I wish these “news reporters” would pay attention. They make it harder to get the truth out there when they stick their big foot in it. Sometimes I have to wonder if they do it on purpose. 

I just hope people saved their bills – this isn’t a giveaway, that’s  for sure. Hennessy acts as though she’s refunding the money out of her own checkbook. Well, she is, kind of. They’re starting to get worried about how they will make payroll down there, including her salary. Look at some of these people – they’ve been living it up on their big salaries, getting way into debt, I’m guessing. Some of them are faced with absolute ruin. I guess they’re worried!  

Well, to borrow a phrase from the playground – “‘tough titty!’ said the kitty, when the milk ran dry…”

The squeaky wheel gets the grease

26 Jan

I been rattling chains over at the Finance Department to find out how they plan to legally notify the public about cell phone tax refunds. I feel  it’s more their job to protect the citizens than to protect the city itself, but they agree to disagree with me on that. It’s all about civility people – don’t ask too many questions, you will be treated like you’re from Glenn County or something. 

I feel the city should be more responsible for returning this ill-gotten booty, so I’ve been e-mailing the Finance office about once a week for more details. I have to give Frank Fields some credit – at least he answers my e-mails.   He told me they’d finally decided how to notice the cell phone tax  refund:

Ms. Sumner:     The City will be placing a “Notice” (much like the notice for the annual UUT Refund program) in both the Chico ER and Chico N&R beginning late next week (i.e., sometime over the weekend).   – Frank

We’re so damned civil around here! Don’t fart, you gauche bastard! 

So, next Thursday there should be something in the N&R, and then we’ll maybe see it in the ER later that weekend.  

Of course, as far as I know, they’re still taking it out off people’s bills, which really isn’t very civil, but you know how they are. Down at the city, civility means, you get a kiss with your screwing.

 I have not heard one more word on their quest to inform the cell phone companies. That’s a question for Jennifer Hennessy, and I forgot to ask her at the last Finance Committee meeting. I’ll have to drop her an e-mail soon. 

What I do know is, people are hitting that link I posted to the refund application – here it is again:

http://www.chico.ca.us/finance/documents/CellPhoneRefundApplication_0117

I hope people will get their refunds – that’s the real “victory” I’m looking for here, that the city is called on it’s bad behavior, and made to set things right. 

Latest news from Chula Vista – these people are fighting a battle for everybody

25 Jan

The citizens of Chula Vista are set to take their case to court February 8, asking a Superior Court judge to make the city stop taking a utility tax on their cell phones, and refund money the city has been collecting illegally for years. 

When my dad was working on the San Diego freeway, we visited him in his motel in Chula Vista – it wasn’t a bad town at all, we had a pretty nice weekend there.  I’m wishing them all the best. 

 

From the website of Casey,Perry, Schenk, Francavilla, Blatt and Penfield, LLP – the firm representing the people of Chula Vista:

http://www.caseygerry.com/news/chula-vista-fights-cell-phone-taxes-update

Chula Vista Fights Cell Phone Taxes: Update

DECEMBER 13, 2012

Chula Vista’s Cell Phone Tax Woes: Checking Up

By Will Carless

In the latest of our posts checking up on past stories, I’m taking a quick look at the legal fight over taxes on cell phone calls in Chula Vista.

The tax, introduced in 1970, charges a small fee on users of telephones, electricity and other utilities within the South Bay city. As cell phones came into popular use, Chula Vista started allowing phone companies to tax cell phone calls too, and for years it collected and spent that tax money.

The tax on cell phone calls was always on rather shaky ground. It was loosely based on Internal Revenue Service rules governing what can and can’t be taxed. But in the mid-2000s, the IRS lost a number of court cases over whether it could tax cell phone calls and, in 2006, a cell phone carrier wrote to the city of Chula Vista saying it didn’t think it still needed to collect the taxes.

But Chula Vista didn’t stop taking the tax money. The city argues that the tax is legal, though in recent years it’s been carefully stashing away the proceeds from the cell phone taxes in case it loses in court one day.

That day might be coming soon. Let’s take a look at how this has played out:

Where we left it:

The last time we wrote about this was back in June 2011. A pair of law firms had just filed suit against the city of Chula Vista over the tax.
It was a tough time for the city to get slammed with a multimillion-dollar lawsuit. Chula Vista had just gone through a couple of years of financial misery, laying off staff and closing down city services.

The city had about $5.6 million stashed away in case in was ever sued on the tax, but attorneyThomas Penfield, who is suing the district, told me at the time that he would be seeking far more in damages.

What’s happened since?

The lawsuit was certified as a class action on Sept. 14. That basically means that a judge has

ruled that the plaintiffs in the case are the members of a class of people who have a claim against the city.

The city had originally challenged the lawsuit, arguing that a class action suit couldn’t legally be used to seek a tax refund. That challenge was dismissed by Superior Court Judge Richard E. Strauss in January.

Since the case was certified, the lawyers challenging the tax have been preparing to give notice to all the Chula Vista residents who might be a member of the class action. That involves sending out postcards to residents and setting up a website on the lawsuit. If any member of the class doesn’t believe he or she is being adequately represented in the suit, that person can choose to file a separate lawsuit, Penfield said.

Chula Vista’s city attorney and outside attorneys did not respond to calls for comment. The city’s finance director, Maria Kachadoorian said via email that the city’s financial situation has improved since the dark days of 2011.

“We are seeing modest improvements in our major revenue streams and the housing market seems to be settling down,” Kachadoorian wrote. “We anticipate that we will continue to see some challenges but nothing like what we experienced over the past four years.”

What happens next?

The case is set to go to trial on Feb. 8, 2013, before Strauss. Both sides of the lawsuit have proposed a two-stage hearing process, Penfield said. First, the judge will hear arguments as to whether the tax violates the law, and if so, whether damages should be awarded. The second stage, if necessary, will deal with how much the city will have to pay in damages.

As long as the city has continued to stash away the taxes and not spend them, the overall impact to Chula Vista’s bottom line shouldn’t be too damaging. If the city wins, it could potentially have a sorely needed windfall after years of cuts.

Penfield’s firm, CaseyGerry, partnered on the lawsuit with Orange County-based Capretz & Associates. The firm’s lawyers will be paid a contingency fee if the lawsuit is successful, and Chula Vistans who have paid the taxes will be entitled to damages.

Penfield said the amount of damages, and the method by which they will be paid, will have to be worked out in court.

In this case, the payoff amount per resident is pretty small. Cell phone users were likely taxed a few dollars a month by the city and they may have to go back through their bills to establish how much they are owed.

Penfield said the city is liable for the taxes for up to one year before the lawsuit was filed. That means Chula Vista is potentially on the hook for taxes it collected going back to April 2010.

I’ll write another update when there’s a verdict.

Segregating your phone bill – a sample Sprint bill

19 Jan

Sprint is another cellphone carrier I’ve found to collect Utility User’s Tax.  Notice, on page 5 of 5 of this sample bill, “Denver State-Community Service Taxes,” “Denver County 9-1-1,” and “Denver County-Comm Sales Tax.”  I’m assuming, if this bill were made out for a person living in the  city of Chico, it would say “City Utility User’s Tax.” 

This bill specifically refers to “mobile” service, with no reference to a landline.  

UPDATE:  Looking over these bills later, I couldn’t help but note – reread the arguments that Ann Schwab and Scott Gruendl made in favor of Measure J – they insinuate that the “average” cell bill is $50! Look at these “average” bills I’ve posted – these are based on real bills, for two to three users – $150 a month! 

Scott Gruendl is up for re-election in 2014. We need to call that little prick on his bullshit. 

Also, city manager Brian Nakamura keeps repeating, we “lost” $900,000 with the defeat of Measure J. But at last month’s Finance Committee meeting, Hennessy reported the loss for fiscal year 2011-12 was only $500,000, after  the N&R quoted her office boy Frank Fields as estimating it at $600,000 back in November.

Is our city manager just making stuff up?

Cell phone tax refunds now available, back to February 2012. Get ’em before the city runs out of money!

17 Jan

Before I head out to take the laundry down, I wanted to say, I got a note from Frank Fields over in the Finance Department that the cell phone tax refund info and applications have been put on the city website.  Here’s the application with all the information you need:

Click to access CellPhoneRefundApplication_011713.pdf

Yes, I had to bitch at him for it, and he put it up so fast I really don’t understand why it wasn’t up Wednesday by noon.

He also mentioned, they’re still trying to figure out how to notice it publicly. At what these people get paid,  they have to make everything they do look like rocket science.  I asked him to let me know, and I’ll keep watching it. 

That’s what it takes folks – gotta stay on it! 

It never ceases to amaze me the petty maneuvers they go through Downtown to drag as much $taff time out of the process as they can

10 Jan
Look what’s on next Tuesday’s council agenda:
 
2.1. ORDINANCE OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF CHICO AMENDING SECTION 3.56.150 OF
THE CHICO MUNICIPAL CODE REGARDING REFUNDS FOR OVERPAYMENTS AND
ERRONEOUS PAYMENTS OF UTILITY USERS’ TAXES – Final reading and adoption
Adopt –  On December 18, 2012, the Council introduced an ordinance to amend the City’s claims
procedures regarding requests for refunds of overpayments or erroneous payments of utility users’
taxes. The ordinance is now being presented for final reading and adoption by the reading of its title
only.  
 
Unfortunately, the clerk purposely loads these reports in such a manner that I can’t cut and paste from them (she says she’s afraid I’ll edit it, I swear to God, that’s what she told me), so here’s that link –
All they’re doing here is changing the charter to allow people to get a refund without having to first try to get it from the cell phone carrier – that’s what the old law said. I guess we should be glad they’re taking it up at all, but it never ceases to amaze me the petty maneuvers they go through to drag as much staff time out of this process as they can. Look at the number of documents it took just to change this minor little thing. See how many $taffers were involved!
 
There’s no information about actually collecting your rebate, I’m still waiting for staff to get back to me on that.