Local Phone Fee To Fall … For Some

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One of those little-known or discussed fees Wheat Ridge residents see on their phone bills will be smaller next year.

By a 6-1 vote at its Sept. 25 meeting, the city council approved a city code revision that replaces a late-1990s ordinance. Councilmember Leah Dozeman voted against the measure and Councilmember Valerie Nosler Beck was absent.

According to a memo to the council, the city’s code regarding the taxation of basic local telecommunication services was outdated. It was based on the now-false premise that Lumen (formerly U.S. West, Qwest and CenturyLink) is the primary telephone service provider in Wheat Ridge. 

The city charged a per-line rate computed from Lumen’s number of lines and a flat occupation tax paid by Lumen under a 1997 city ordinance. The memo noted that due to the rapid decline of landlines in the city, the per-line charge had substantially increased. 

Over the past five years, revenue from the rate grew from $498,000 to $876,000, while the monthly rate went from $3.63 to $8.24. 

The code also did not reflect the status of the telecommunications industry and was not consistent with Wheat Ridge’s municipal neighbors. 

A city survey found rates in Arvada, Golden, Lakewood, Broomfield and Westminster between 38 cents and $8, paid monthly, quarterly or annually. 

The change will set a 2024 per-line monthly rate of $3.55 for all basic local exchange providers. That rate will be adjusted annually based on the consumer price index for the Denver-Boulder area. 

In an Aug. 21 study session, Finance Manager Mark Colvin noted that cell providers replaced Lumen as the city’s primary telecommunications provider.

“Our rates have increased revenue from this fee exponentially because of that inverse relationship,” Colvin said.

Colvin estimated around 70 phone service providers operate in Wheat Ridge.

With fewer landlines to charge the fee, residents with landlines were paying higher rates. Last year, the city froze the monthly rate at $8.24 to study the issue. Next year, the city expects just 463 landlines to be operating. Under the old ordinance, they would be charged $34.30 a month, Colvin said.

“This seems like a no brainer,” Councilmember Janeece Hoppe said at the study session. “There are times when our code does need to be updated.”

Councilmember Amanda Weaver said, “the right decision is to move forward.”

Dozeman said Monday that while she agreed with the logic and reasoning behind the ordinance change, “We should have had a broader conversation and represent more of our citizenry a little better.”

Dozeman stated that the $3.55 monthly rate per phone number will affect more people than those with landlines in Wheat Ridge.

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