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HomeNewsArchivesINNOVATIVE WANTS TO STOP BILLING FOR 911 TAX

INNOVATIVE WANTS TO STOP BILLING FOR 911 TAX

May 10, 2002 – Innovative Communication Corp. wants its subsidiary, Innovative Telephone, relieved of the responsibility for collecting a dollar a month from phone customers on behalf of the V.I. government for emergency services in the territory.
And it wants the governor to speak out in the company's defense in response to what ICC's vice president for corporate affairs, Holland L. Redfield II, termed "attacks, misrepresentations and outright lies regarding the role we play as merely a conduit to collect these monies for the government."
Redfield expressed both desires in a letter to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull dated May 9 and circulated to the media on Friday.
The letter prompted a quick response Friday from the phone company's most outspoken critic in the Legislature, Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg. In a release, Donastorg charged that Innovative "is running from any investigation, as there are numerous discrepancies in its collection process" and "evidence that both the V.I. government and taxpayers have been defrauded."
On May 1, Donastorg announced that in April he had requested a federal audit of the $1 Emergency Services Tax program and that he had filed a new complaint with the Public Services Commission, which regulates the phone company.
Donastorg contended then that the approximately $60,000 a month that Innovative has been turning over to the government does not represent anywhere near the total amount collected each month. The amount corresponds roughly to the number of customers, he said, and not "the actual number of telephone lines, which is, by informed estimates, well over 90,000."
Most subscribers, he said, "are being charged $1 per phone line," and many subscribers have multiple lines — he, himself, having five. "This was clearly not the intention of the legislation, as this $1 fee is to be charged per customer, regardless of the amount of phone lines in their name," he wrote in an April 15 letter to PSC member Jerris T. Browne.
In that letter, Donastorg asked that the PSC "hire a neutral third party to audit Vitelco's records from 1991 to the present time." Donastorg has been pushing for several years for investigations of the phone company's rates and hiring practices. Last year, the Legislature passed and Turnbull signed into law a bill mandating that all utilities regulated by the PSC be audited every two years. The governor had vetoed an earlier measure calling for an investigation of ICC only.
What was then the Virgin Islands Telephone Corp., or Vitelco, began collecting the $1-a-month Emergency Services Tax in January of 2000 in compliance with new legislation. The company was charged with turning over the revenues to the government on a monthly basis with no deductions for administrative costs. The money is intended for essential public safety programs including 911 operations and ambulance services.
Two things that Redfield and Donastorg agree on are that it was a bad idea to place collection of the tax in the hands of the phone company and that it would be a better idea to have the Water and Power authority add the charge to its customer billings.
"From the inception of this legislation," Redfield wrote to Turnbull on Thursday, the phone company and ICC "had serious misgivings." He added, "We are a private sector company, and we believe that it is inappropriate to act in this capacity. Clearly, we want no part of it, and no involvement in the collections."
As for Donastorg, "I was against this charge from the very beginning," the senator said in a May 1 release. "And I was particularly dubious about attaching it to our phone bills when we are all so well aware of Vitelco's unethical and unregulated business practices."
Redfield said ICC would like to see the emergency tax legislation repealed or else have the collection be turned over to WAPA, "as it is a quasi-governmental agency."
Donastorg's Friday release stated that he "has maintained that the charge would be better collected by the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority."
A considerable part of Redfield's letter lashed out at the governor and the Legislature for failing to respond to Donastorg's charges. Without naming the senator, he wrote that "throughout this process, the silence has been deafening on the part of the executive branch and the legislative branch of government when they clearly knew that this was a falsehood."
By its silence, he continued, "the government has allowed a misperception and inaccuracies to continue." Further, he charged that "through the government's silence and reluctance to set the record straight," the character of Innovative Telephone's chief executive, Samuel Ebbesen, "has been severely compromised."
Specifically, Redfield told Turnbull, "we are requesting your office through your respective agencies to set the record straight and stand on the side of fairness regarding the facts surrounding this issue."
Donastorg countered in his Friday release that the phone company "should not be concerned about continuing collections" of the tax "if they haven't done anything wrong." Further, his release charged that Innovative "wants out of the surcharge collection simply to avoid any scrutiny." However, he said, Innovative's move to be relieved of collecting the $1 tax "will not eliminate the need for an audit" and that he will insist "that it go forward."
Redfield at the end of his letter invoked "the perception that government is anti-business" and said that Innovative "has always tried to reach out to the government to assist," noting that "we worked closely with this government in the collection of over $8 million of delinquent phone bills … We acted with a great deal of understanding and patience."

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