RVRC authorizes audit of 911 fees owed to local governments

Published 6:11 pm Friday, July 22, 2016

CRISP/DOOLY—Today, the River Valley Regional Commission announced it has secured an agreement in principal with Georgia’s former Governor, Roy Barnes, to pursue recovery of unpaid 911 fees that may be owed to the local governments served by the Commission. Barnes has agreed to make his legal fees contingent on whether he makes a recovery.

Known to everyone from toddlers to seniors, the three digit 9-1- 1 telephone number is the universally used to summon emergency assistance anywhere at any time needed in the United States. Georgia’s 911 System was first established in

1977 by the passage of the “Georgia Emergency Telephone Number 9-1- 1 Service

Act of 1977,” the current version of which allows local government to impose a charge of up to $1.50 per telephone line and requires telephone companies to bill, collect and hand over those monthly charges to the local governments that provide

911 services. Collection and receipt of monthly 911 fees fund “lifesaving services” provided by local governments to its citizens.

In exchange for their statutory duties of billing, collecting and remitting, the statute allows telephone service providers to deduct 3% of the amounts collected as an administrative fee, plus up to 30¢ of each 911 charge to recover a telephone company’s actual costs spent on providing wireless enhanced 911 services. But how does a local government know whether the proper amounts are being collected and what those actual costs might be? The Commission intends to find The former Governor’s law firm, The Barnes Law Group LLC, the Atlanta and Savannah-based law firm of Harris Penn Lowry LLP, and an independent consultant called Expert Discovery LLC, have agreed to conduct an audit of the books and records of the telecommunication companies that provide landline and wireless telephone services to areas served by local governments in the River Valley Regional Commission. The agreement will be effective upon passage of a Resolution by any County or City government that authorizes the Commission to retain Barnes and his colleagues on its behalf. Although Georgia’s E-911 Act provides audit rights, Barnes says “the lack of specialized technical knowledge, limited human resources, and the high costs associated with doing the audit would deter any local government from monitoring the collections to determine whether telecommunication companies are doing the The agreement with Barnes and his colleagues clears the path for the River Valley Regional Commission to provide technical services and assistance in securing an audit of the 911 fees paid over the last three years, and to collect any additional 911 fees that might be owed. The Commission struck a contingency fee agreement with Barnes which means if there is no recovery, neither the Commission nor the local governments they serve are responsible for paying attorneys’ fees or any costs associated with the audit. Barnes says “a contingency fee agreement is the only way local governments can level the playing field against a company that doesn’t want anyone snooping around in its books.”

Such a contingency fee audit is not the first of its kind. In fact, Cobb and Gwinnett County governments have hired Barnes and his colleagues to file 16 suits against 36 telecommunication companies and their subsidiaries, claiming that at least some companies have purposefully “failed to bill, collect, report, and remit 911 charges in accordance with the law” and have “refused to provide the books and records necessary to conduct [any meaningful] audit.” The telephone companies agree the statute allows local government to audit 911 collections, but say the law does not allows them to recover fees that were not paid as required by law. Barnes says that based on publically available information he has reviewed, “These billing practices extend well-beyond the borders of the Metro Atlanta region, and result in an estimated statewide underpayment of more than $85 Million each year, money desperately needed by local governments to deliver “lifesaving” services.

Barnes says “The failure of these companies to comply with the law will eventually end up requiring property owners to pick up the 911 tab, and that was never the intent of the General Assembly.”

Barnes and his colleagues have entered similar contingency fee agreements with multiple local governing authorities throughout the state, including the Middle

Flint 9-1- 1 Authority that is comprised of 8 of the 16 counties being served by the

Commission. The audits seek to recover unpaid 911 fees for the past three years and to require them to be paid for two years going forward.

River Valley Regional Commission – www.rivervalleyrc.org

River Valley Regional Commission supports 35 municipalities and county governments in the following 16 counties: Chattahoochee, Clay, Crisp, Dooly,

Harris, Macon, Marion, Muscogee, Quitman, Randolph, Schley, Stewart, Sumter, Talbot, Taylor and Webster.

The Barnes Law Group, LLC– www.barneslawgroup.com The Barnes Law Group, LLC, is anchored by former Georgia Governor Roy E. Barnes. The firm has received national recognition and distinction for its skill and advocacy on behalf of citizens and consumers.  BLG’s legal team is comprised of dedicated talents that create a formidable group of trial attorneys in complex litigation matters.  Collectively, BLG attorneys have secured judgments or settlements of over $1 Billion on behalf of their clients.

Harris Penn Lowry LLP — www.hpllegal.com Founded in 2006, Harris Penn Lowry LLP, handles large-scale litigation throughout the United States. With offices in Atlanta and Savannah, Ga., the firm and partners are sought-after, highly skilled trial lawyers, who have gained impressive reputations for past trial work, including many multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements

Expert Discovery, LLC – www.expert-discovery.com

Expert Discovery provides specialized consulting, audit and revenue discovery services tailored to your unique needs. Services available to government entities, corporations and legal representatives.