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Vote set on trauma, fire, 911 funds from fireworks tax

Jeff Mullis

Georgia’s voters will decide in November if the 5-percent excise tax on fireworks should be earmarked to help fund trauma care facilities, fire departments and local governments’ 911 centers.

When the Georgia General Assembly legalized fireworks sales last year, it included an excise tax paid by the sellers to the state. Senate Bill 350, sponsored by state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, sets up a vote on a constitutional amendment guaranteeing how the revenue would be used.

If approved in the Nov. 8 general election, 55 percent of the money would go to the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission, 40 percent would go to the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council, and the remaining 5 percent would go to local 911 systems.

Former Rome fire chief Gordon Henderson is now executive director of the GFSTC. He said Monday he hasn’t been given a solid figure on how much money that would mean each year.

“Got more unknowns than we do knowns right now,” he said.

However, Henderson did estimate funding could be around $250,000 to $300,000, and said “it would be a shot in the arm if it’s passed.”

He said the council would look at fire departments throughout the state and see where the money is needed most.

The purchase of used fire trucks and upgrades to turnout gear are first on the agenda, Henderson said.

Rural departments are typically under-funded, he said, and a portion of the spending would go to updating their equipment to improve the ISO — Insurance Services Office — ratings in their areas.

It won’t be a lot of money to spread around, he said, so the council would assist departments in applying for grants and perhaps match contributions a department makes toward upgrades.

GTCNC Executive Director Dena Abston didn’t have a figure for how much the Trauma Commission would receive, but said the funding would go to support Level I and Level II trauma centers throughout the state.

Floyd Medical Center is a Level II center.

The Commission has the responsibility of allocating state funds to all the trauma centers, which also include lower-ranked Level III and IV facilities.

However, Abston said their budget falls far short of meeting all the readiness costs so they’re focusing on funding the best-equipped centers.

She said the fireworks tax revenue would help, but “it’s probably not likely that we’ll ever be able to pay every dime of what it costs” for a statewide trauma network.

The additional revenue for the 911 centers would go to local governments along with the existing funding allocation each fall.

Mullis did not return several calls for comment.