Officials say county was overpaid for cable franchise fee

GERING, Neb. (AP) — A cable television provider erroneously paid more than $413,000 in franchising fees to a Nebraska Panhandle county for nearly a decade and the county board must now determine how to return the money so three cities owed their fees can be paid.

The Scottsbluff Star-Herald reported that the mistake was discovered last year, when the city of Scottsbluff was preparing to renew its fee agreement with Allo Communications. Customer accounts were not affected by the error.

"I'm stunned by the level of incompetence," Scotts Bluff County Attorney Dave Eubanks said at a county board meeting Monday in Gering. "Nine years and no one said a thing about not being paid."

Allo President Brad Moline told Scotts Bluff County commissioners that his company set up Scottsbluff, Gering and Terrytown as one account under the county after the company launched its local service for television in 2010. But, he said, the county should have received the fee only in relation to customers who live in the county but not in those cities.

Allo provides internet, cable television and phone services, but Moline told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the franchise fees relate only to television service.

Eubanks said the original franchise agreement didn't include any breakdown on how the fees should be distributed.

"It says nothing about us remitting fees to Scottsbluff, Gering or Terrytown," Eubanks said. "I'm not privy to what was in Allo's agreements with the municipalities, but they were entitled to monthly revenue and didn't see a penny."

County and company officials have since determined that $318,087 should have been sent to the city of Scottsbluff, $95,338 to Gering and $66 to Terrytown. The county should have received just $3,604.

Allo has been sending the appropriate amounts to the county and to each city since earlier this year.

Allo suggested that the county remit the outstanding balance in two separate payments to the company to reduce the impact on the county budget. Allo would then forward the old, unpaid fee amounts to the three cities.

The board decided to delay its decision.

"I'd like the county to take a look at the agreement and make sure we have all the information we need before talking about our options," County Commissioner Mark Harris told Moline, Allo's president.

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This story has been corrected to show the franchise fees were only for television service, not for TV, internet and phone service.

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Information from: Star-Herald, http://www.starherald.com