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Comcast Sues City, Wants Tax Refund



Is Comcast’s tax burden too high?

The cable, Internet and phone provider seems to think so. It’s taking the city to court over a tax the company says it shouldn’t have to pay — the business, professional and occupational license tax, known as the BPOL tax.

In a Richmond Circuit Court filing, Comcast wants its 2006 assessment declared “erroneous, invalid and illegal” — and it wants money back.

At issue, according to the May 27 filing, is where the company’s base is located. Comcast contends its office in the city is “ancillary” to its local headquarters in Henrico County. As such, the gross receipts on which the city bases its assessment should be subject to the BPOL tax of Henrico, not the city.

Incidentally, Henrico’s tax is significantly lower than the city’s. Henrico charges a maximum of 20 cents on $100 in gross receipts (the first $100,000 in revenue is exempt), while Richmond charges 36 cents per $100 after the first $99,999 in revenue.

Comcast previously asked the city for refund of 2003 taxes and an abatement of 2004 and 2005. The city denied those requests in 2007.

It’s also appealed unsuccessfully to the state Department of Taxation. In a June 2008 letter, Tax Commissioner Janie Bowen ruled that Comcast has a definite place of business in Richmond and that the services it performs in its city office aren’t ancillary. A lawyer for Comcast didn’t return calls seeking comment.

It’s unclear how much Comcast pays in BPOL taxes. Such information is prohibited from disclosure, says Maria J.K. Everett, executive director of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council.

Comcast tied nationally with Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable for last place among cable TV operators in the American Customer Satisfaction Index, earning a score of 59 out of 100.

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