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Official: Verizon overcharged Suffolk $1.25M

Verizon overcharged Suffolk County on its phone bills $1.25 million, largely for hundreds of extra miles of emergency 911 phone lines for which it should never have been charged, county Comptroller Joseph Sawicki said Monday.

The county's outside consultants, said Sawicki, also expect to find another $1 million in overcharges before their review is completed next year.

"With the county paying more than $7.5 million in annual phone bills on 15,000 phone lines, we knew it was definitely worth investigating," said Sawicki. He declined to say whether the overcharges were intentional, but added, "It's funny that when errors like this are found it is never in favor of the customer, it is always in favor of the utility."

John Bonomo, Verizon spokesman, acknowledged the overcharges, but said the company tries to make bills "as accurate as possible." Although he noted that a large customer like Suffolk is "not a static account," there are "changes almost every day." Verizon, he said, has already credited Suffolk with $600,000 in refunds as a result of the audit and is "currently reviewing the county account for verification on other charges."

But Sawicki's top deputy, Christina Capobianco, said the county has already received credits for the full $1.25 million.

In addition to recouping as much as six years of past overcharges, Sawicki said the audit will save the county about $264,000 a year on future phone bills. County Executive Steve Levy praised the recoveries as "welcome news in these challenging financial times."

The ongoing audit, done by PhoneReview, found that Verizon was improperly charging the county for 415 miles of emergency 911 phone lines that are tied into Southold, Riverhead, East Hampton and Amityville.

In the biggest instance, Sawicki said the county was billed monthly for 48 miles of 911 phone lines hooked into the Southold Police, but the county should have only been billed for 48 quarter miles, or 12 miles - an overcharge of $363,604.

Sawicki hired the Mineola-based firm last year under a contingency agreement in which PhoneReview gets 30 percent of whatever overcharges are found. The comptroller said the firm has completed its review of the police department, 911 system and the information technology office, but still has to review other county offices in Hauppauge and elsewhere.

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