Hundreds of Franklin PUD customers could get credit

By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City HeraldDecember 21, 2012 

A few hundred Franklin County households could get an unexpected gift this holiday season -- money back from the Franklin PUD.

The PUD learned this week that it collected city utility taxes by mistake from people who live in unincorporated parts of the county -- in some cases for years.

"We were very glad to get the call," PUD spokeswoman Debbie Bone-Harris told the Herald on Thursday. "We are in the process of correcting any accounts. We will be adjusting those as soon as we go through them."

The PUD estimates 200 to 300 of its 24,000 customers were affected by a software glitch that added the utility tax to their bills incorrectly, Bone-Harris said.

The billing software used by Franklin PUD has a default setting that assumes the customer pays the city tax, which is true for the majority of customers, she explained. The PUD collects city utility taxes for residents of Pasco, Connell and Kahlotus. Pasco residents pay an 8.5 percent tax on utilities, or about $8.50 on a $100 bill. Unincorporated residents pay no utility tax at all.

The error can occur when a new person moves into a home in unincorporated parts of the county, and the default isn't changed on the account.

"We're more than happy to credit our customers what's due to them," Bone-Harris said. "We'll apologize if it's our error and correct everything."

The PUD will reimburse taxes incorrectly charged as far back as three years. For a customer whose bill averages $100 per month, that would amount to about a $306 reimbursement.

But some customers say they've been charged the tax for longer than that.

Dunyele Mason, finance director for Pasco, said the city's utility billing department received a call Thursday from someone asking if the city would reimburse the money collected further back than three years.

In short, Mason's answer was, "No."

Because the mistake was the PUD's, customers need to talk to the PUD about reimbursement, Mason said.

The PUD may in turn be able to seek some reimbursement from Pasco because the tax money ultimately ended up in the city's coffers, but Mason said the city has a one-year statute of limitations on claims written into the city code.

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