County commissioners approve settlement with Verizon

Centre County commissioners voted Thursday to approve a settlement with Verizon over late fees related to the county’s 911 non-emergency telephone bill. Centre County had been incurring the fees for nine years, amounting to just more than $19,000.

Centre County 911 emergency communications Director Dale Neff said the issue arose in 2007 because of the amount of time the county took to process a series of bills. He explained the procedure, at the time, required the bill to be approved and processed before the paper check was generated and mailed, which happened after the due date. In the interim, Verizon considered the payment passed due and assessed the fees.

Neff said once the problem was resolved on the county’s end it was too late and the fees were adding up, but the county firmly believed it did not owe the money. A nine year stalemate was the result.

“They were making a good faith effort trying to get this resolved for a number of years and through a course of events nobody could figure out what the bottom line was,” Centre County Commissioner Steve Dershem said.

This year Centre County Solicitor Elizabeth Dupuis and Centre County Acting Administrator Denise Elbell engaged in negotiations with Doug Smith, Verizon’s governmental affairs liaison, in an effort to negotiate a settlement.

After what Dershem called “intense negotiations,” Verizon agreed to drop all of the late fees and allow Centre County to pay only the principle amount of almost $11,000.

To avoid the situation arising in the future, Neff said the Centre County staff will print the bills ahead of the paper copy arriving, which should expedite the payment process to avoid late fees.

“One of the good things about this is we now do have a strong line of communication with the folks at Verizon,” Dershem said. “If this situation arises again it certainly won’t compound to this degree.”

Leon Valsechi: 814-231-4631, @leon_valsechi