INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - When most people need help, they call 911. But some funding for the emergency service may not be getting where it needs to go.
As people switched from land lines to cell phones, the tax revenue for the state's 911 centers dropped by $20 million. A law passed in 2012 was designed to stop the financial bleeding and stabilize the state's funding for 911 emergency systems.
But I-Team 8's hidden cameras found not all retailers are following the new rules.
Customers with monthly contracts are charged 90 cents every month under the law. But not everyone has contracts. Prepaid phones are the fastest growing segment of smart phones.
That's why lawmakers decided that for prepaid phones, businesses must collect 50 cents per sales transaction in addition to the state's 7 percent sales tax.
So, if someone buys $10 in prepaid minutes, they should pay the $10 plus 70 cents sales tax and 50 cents for the 911 tax.
I-Team 8 started looking into this after getting a tip from a retailer who says he loses customers because he charges the taxes when other businesses don't.
"We have several people become very angry and refuse to do business here because we charge the sales tax along with the 911 tax," the store manager said. "It's not right. I feel like I am being punished for doing the right thing."
I-Team 8 wanted to put retailers to the test. So we sent our undercover camera to three stores. We were charged three different prices at each location.
The first retailer charged $10, the second $11 and the third $10.70. Again, according to state law, we should have paid $11.20.
I-Team 8 took the receipts and showed them to Barry Ritter, executive director of the state's 911 system.
"What I do not see is a 50 cent 911 fee on any of those receipts," Ritter said.
Even though state law requires customers know the taxes paid, the receipts didn't show them.
I-Team 8 went back to the store that charged the least. We showed the receipt to a man identifying himself as the store manager. He insisted our customer paid $11.20. But our hidden camera video shows the customer paying $10 flat.
The state senator who drafted the 911 funding bill, Brandt Hershman (R- Buck Creek) is concerned about what I-Team 8 discovered. Hershman said the law was created to help secure and stabilize 911 funding as people trade their landlines for cell phones.
Hershman is already working to stop the type of activity we uncovered.
"That is real money. Not only real money in terms of a funding loss for the 911 system, but an inherent unfairness to retailers who are following the law," Hersham said. "That's why I have met with the Department of Revenue commissioner and expressed my interest of ensuring a robust audit."
The Department of Revenue plans to audit the three retailers I-Team 8 visited. What the state wasn't able to tell us is how much those retailers paid in taxes compared to other stores. That tax information is not public record.
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