Auditor discovers errors in fire district phone bills

Fire District 7’s new contracted phone service billing auditor has only been on the job two and a half weeks, but she’s already found enough billing errors to net the district $500 in refunds and $83 a month in future savings.

On the recommendation of CenCom officials, the district last month hired Wright Call — a one-woman auditing company based in Atlanta, Ga. — to do a one-time investigation of its phone bills.

The district contracts with three different service providers and Wright Call claimed it had never before looked into a company’s records without finding errors.

According to the terms of the contract, Wright Call reviews all the district’s billing records from the past few years and, in return, receives one-third of the monetary value of all the errors it finds. So far, Wright Call has investigated only one of the district’s three accounts with AT&T and has already turned up enough errors to earn a decent commission.

“She found out they’ve been overcharging us,” said fire district accounts payable tech Darlene Slagle. “And this only on one account she’s looked at so far.”

Slagle, who has been receiving weekly reports from Wright Call, said she expects more revelations to follow. Aside from the district’s other two accounts with AT&T, the organization also contracts with Qwest and CenturyTel.

Due to a mixup over contract renewals, Slagle said, the district’s Qwest bill doubled this year and she’s hoping Wright Call will find a way to not only reduce the price but even net the district a refund for the increase.

“We pay a lot,” Slagle said, adding that the district’s telecommunications bills, since Jan. 1, total $10,555.45. “We’re sure hoping she can find whatever she can.”

Both Fire Chief Mike Brown and the district’s commissioners have expressed enthusiasm over Wright Call’s preliminary findings. Brown said the audit has done “exactly what we hoped it would do” in terms of housekeeping on the district’s accounts.

Fire Commissioner Darla Hartley expressed shock that the district had been overbilled so much.

“I just can’t believe this,” she said. “No wonder phone companies can (afford to) send out so much junk in the mail.”

Nevertheless, the board isn’t entirely sure it’s as happy about the new contract Wright Call preliminarily arranged with Qwest. Assistant Chief Gary Faucett, who presented to the contract to the board last Thursday, said the replacement contract offered major savings but locked the district into a three-year deal.

The board opted to delay making a decision on the deal and few of the board members expressed reservations with the contract.

“Typically, when you have the ability to vote with your dollars, you get a better rate than when you’re locked into a contract,” said Commissioner Rick Metzger. “Three years — lots can happen.”

The district is expected to continue working with Wright Call until all remaining billing issues get worked out. The contract has no specific termination date — essentially the contract ends when the district considers the job done.

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