Verizon added $3.1 million in bogus charges to Fairfax County's phone bill over the last six years, county auditors claim.
The ongoing overcharges have been reported to Verizon repeatedly and have been refunded. But the company has done nothing to stop such erroneous charges from recurring, said members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors' Audit Committee.
Verizon overbilled the county $247,564 so far this year for its landlines, including unjustified late-payment charges, erroneous long-distance charges, services billed above contract rates and more -- even after the county recovered almost $1.5 million from the company in 2010 for overcharges on a phone bill that runs about $3.5 million a year.
The county attorney's office is now investigating what legal action the county could take to force Verizon to address the accuracy of its bills, county spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald said.
"This overcharge thing is unconscionable. It clearly is a pattern of conduct that should not be forgiven," Audit Committee member Michael Hershman said. "I suggest we hold their feet to the fire."
The county isn't the first government to get bogus bills from Verizon. The company refunded $93 million to Uncle Sam in April after the Justice Department sued the company for overcharging the General Services Administration for voice and data services.
"[The overbilling] is consistent. It's been pointed out to them. It's a matter of course for them; it's business practice," said Supervisor John Foust, D-Dranesville.
But Verizon said it was working to address Fairfax's complaints.
"We have made a number of process changes to address the county's billing concerns," said Verizon spokesman Harry Mitchell.
The county renews its phone service every year, but auditors cautioned that dropping Verizon would not guarantee savings.
"Telephone services are very complex," auditor Michael Longhi said. "You've got everything from office lines to the 911 center. There's a lot of public safety involved."
The county's Department of Information Technology said many of the overcharges were not intentional, but the result of "lag time" between when work is done on the lines and when the bills are sent for the work.
"I think it's part of their billing system," said Fairfax employee Stephen Brundage. "I have some similar problems at home. Once you bring it up to them, they recognize the problem and you get credited."