Houston County is joining a group of other counties in Georgia suing phone companies over 911 fees.
The commissioners on Tuesday agreed to engage with The Barnes Law Group, which is suing 55 phone companies on behalf of 40 counties in the state, including Macon-Bibb. The law firm, led by former Gov. Roy Barnes, alleges that the phone companies are underbilling fees that are supposed to be charged to phone customers to fund 911 services. Also representing the counties are the Evangelista Worley firm and the Harris Penn Lowery firm.
Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said there isn’t a firm estimate yet of what Houston County has been shorted, but the suit filed on behalf of Macon-Bibb alleged that county’s shortfall was nearly $3 million. The two counties have about the same population.
Stalnaker said he, the mayors of all three cities in the county and Sheriff Cullen Talton met with Barnes on Jan. 30 to discuss the lawsuit.
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“We have felt like for a long time in this county that we have been shorted on the 911 fees from the various providers,” Stalnaker said. “We are not unlike many other counties throughout the state that feel the same way.”
The phone companies are supposed to charge a $1.50 monthly fee for 911, which is then turned over to the counties. The counties claim that the companies improperly do not charge the fee for each telephone in a business.
Stalnaker said the suit seeks a forensic audit of the phone companies and would recover the fees for three years back as well as two years forward. If the fees are recovered, The Barnes Law Group would get 35 percent. The county would owe nothing if no fees are recovered, Stalnaker said.
“That tells me they obviously feel like there are fees that are owed to us because they are not going to be working for free,” Stalnaker said.
Telegraph archives was used in this report.