Comcast gets bill for $7,100

September 25, 1994|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

Comcast owes Harford County more than $7,100 in additional franchise fees for fiscal 1994, according to a review of cable television franchise-fee revenue by County Council auditor Michael Treherne.

Comcast has agreed to pay the county $3,800, but it is balking at paying the rest of the money.

Mr. Treherne, who conducted the audit at the council's request, said miscalculations by Comcast short-changed the county by $3,378 in revenue percentages and $3,800 in misallocations.

He reported that the cable TV company paid the Harford County government $332,302 in franchise fees for fiscal 1994.

The payment was in accordance with a 1988 contract in which the company agreed to pay the county "3 percent of the company's total gross subscriber revenue per year, as derived from operations in the county."

But, Mr. Treherne said, Comcast reduced its "gross subscriber revenue" by $112,601 in net bad debts before computing the county's 3 percent share.

Using a net figure, rather than a gross figure, reduced the amount due Harford by $3,378, he said.

"This is not in accordance with the franchise agreement or the County Code," he wrote in his report. He reviewed the report with the council Tuesday.

Mr. Treherne said Comcast should give the county a $3,378 refund.

But Comcast officials say they don't owe the county a refund.

"It doesn't make sense for the company to give the county a franchise fee, which is essentially a tax, on money we never received," said Comcast spokesman David Nevins. "If people didn't pay us, how can we pay the county?"

Mr. Nevins noted, however, that Comcast's "legal people are reviewing the agreement to determine what our appropriate position should be."

Comcast's gross subscriber revenue in Harford County was more than $11 million in fiscal 1994, which ended June 30, according to figures in the audit report.

The other miscalculation, Mr. Treherne said, was the result of Comcast's "incorrectly coding" 185 customer accounts as lying in municipalities rather than in unincorporated areas of the county.

As a result, $3,800 in franchise-fee revenue was allocated to the four municipal franchising authorities -- Bel Air, Aberdeen, Havre de Grace and Aberdeen Proving Ground -- instead of to Harford County.

Comcast discovered 160 of the mislabeled accounts in a review of its own in late 1993. Mr. Treherne said he discovered another 25 during his recent audit.

Comcast has corrected the coding errors, and it has agreed to pay the county $3,800 to correct the franchise fee allocations, Mr. Nevins said.

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