by Ivan Foley
It appears some providers of television/video services in unincorporated Platte County have been charging customers a monthly franchise fee that was never officially authorized by the county.
County officials would like to see the companies return that money to the affected customers.
Platte County Auditor Kevin Robinson this week released an audit of franchise fees assessed in Platte County by video service providers.
At the county commission meeting held Tuesday, Robinson said the audit was prompted in March when the county received the first check from Charter Communications (“Spectrum”) for franchise fees in the amount of $47,626.98. During the audit, a second check was received in May for $47,477.87.
“Video service providers have been assessing Platte County customers franchise fees. Per Missouri Statute RSMo 67.2689.1, the Platte County Commission is responsible for authorizing and setting the rate of a franchise fee. No authorization has been made by the commission,” Robinson said.
Robinson said working in conjunction with Bob Shaw, county counselor, officials could find no record of any Platte County Commission authorizing the franchise fee.
Robinson reported that based on information received from the Missouri Public Service Commission, Time Warner and PowerComm Broadband completed the application with the state for rights to provide video services indicating a 5% franchise fee for Platte County.
Spectrum acquired Time Warner in 2016 and the collected franchise fees were remitted to the county.
“The audit period is from August 2012 to May 2017. During this time, no franchise fees were remitted by Time Warner. From monthly customer invoices, a franchise fee was assessed. Platte County has not received a remittance from Time Warner. PowerComm’s billing practice will be released in the follow up reports,” Robinson said.
Per Missouri statutes, the auditor has launched an audit of Time Warner and PowerComm Broad Band. Robinson said the purpose would be to determine whether in fact those companies did in fact collect an unauthorized franchise fee from customers that was never turned over to the county and has not been returned to customers.
“I am recommending the commission approve refunding the monies to Spectrum to return the fees to the customers in Platte County. Additionally, a copy of the audit report will be turned over to the appropriate authorities for review,” said Robinson.
At Tuesday’s session, the county commission did approve a motion authorizing the refunding of the money to Spectrum.
Robinson indicated the county does not have the authority to force the companies to make refunds to the affected customers.
He said county prosecutor Eric Zahnd has brought the matter to the attention of the Missouri Attorney General, and any enforcement ability appears to rest with that state office.
Robinson speculated that the matter eventually could become a class action type lawsuit of wronged customers taking legal action to try to get the unauthorized charges refunded to them.
The situation applies to only video services customers in unincorporated Platte County, not customers located within any municipality’s city limits.
John Elliott, second district county commissioner, thanked Robinson for investigating this matter after the franchise fee check arrived.
Ron Schieber, presiding commissioner, said the county’s primary responsibilities at this point are to make citizens aware of it and get the money returned to Charter Communications (Spectrum) in hopes that those monies will then be refunded to affected customers within unincorporated Platte County.
Robinson said he agreed with Schieber’s assessment of the county’s primary responsibilities at this point.
Dagmar Wood, first district commissioner, emphasized the money to be returned to customers is not from the county but from the video companies.