County offices' phone-line outage tied to mix-up in bill arrangement

LISBON -- An apparent mix-up in handling an overdue telephone bill is being blamed for putting the Columbiana County Sheriff Department's emergency line and other county phone numbers out of service for several hours.
The outage occurred about 1:30 a.m. Thursday and ended about 11 a.m., Sheriff Dave Smith said.
So far, it doesn't appear any emergency calls were missed, Smith said. But it's hard to tell because some callers who may have been unable to get through may have given up and not alerted any other authorities, Smith noted.
Besides the sheriff's office, phones at the county title department, juvenile court and dog pound also were out for about the same period.
Delinquent bill: Ameritech instituted the outages as the result of a delinquent phone bill owed by the county, Commissioner President Dave Cranmer explained.
Cranmer said the company informed the county May 2 it was behind on its phone bill by about $17,000 and that unless the money was paid, county phones would be shut off Thursday.
Commissioners contacted the company May 2 and explained that a cash-flow problem had put the county behind on its payments. Cranmer said arrangements with the company were made to cancel Thursday's shut-off and give the county more time to pay.
The county was to send the company a $9,009 check Thursday, Cranmer said.
The county should be caught up on its telephone bill in the next few weeks, he added.
Although he had yet to receive a thorough explanation from Ameritech, Cranmer said initial indications are that a computer glitch may have caused part of the canceled May 2 shut-off order to be enacted.
"It should not have happened," Cranmer said of the outage.
An Ameritech spokesman said this morning that the company is still investigating and regrets any inconvenience caused by the outage.
Reasons for shortage: Commissioner Jim Hoppel said the county has been short of cash since the beginning of the year.
One cause of the problem was the loss of the county's 1 percent sales tax in May 1999.
Voters agreed in November to reinstate the tax. But payments to the county from the state department of taxation, which collects the sales tax, are typically several months behind.
The county expects to get a nearly $500,000 sales tax check this month, Hoppel said. Last month it received nearly $400,000 in sales tax revenue.
Another situation sparking a cash-flow shortage is the loss of 2 mills of property tax, he added.
Commissioners promised to quit collecting the two mills, worth about $2 million annually, if voters passed the sales tax.

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