Communications Officer Nikki Cook works at her terminal in the E-911 Center Monday afternoon. With the state set to start charging prepaid cell users a .75 911 fee in January, city and county leaders are considering a resolution that would allow some of the funding to stay in Albany.
ALBANY — A state organization that works to promote the interests of county governments across the state has released a report contending that state officials have raided millions of dollars from various trust funds and funneled the money into the state’s general fund.
The report, “When a Fee Becomes a Tax,” lists at least eight funds in which the Association County Commissioners of Georgia contends the state has either redirected funding meant for the fund into the state’s general fund, underutilized the money that is available in the funds or not allocated any of the funding at all.
Perhaps the best example listed in the report is the Emergency 911 Assistance fund, which was created and adopted into law in 2007 and is to be replaced by HB 256 on Jan. 1, 2012.
As that law currently stands, vendors are required to charge at least $1.50 per customer per purchase of prepaid cellular products and, according to ACCG, use the resulting revenues to fund a grant program through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs that was intended to help fund enhanced emergency response services to needy communities around the state.
And while more than $25 million was collected, according to the report, not one single dollar was ever given to DCA for the program. That money, according to ACCG, went instead into the general coffers of the state of Georgia, where it could have been spent on anything.
“Regrettably, none of this money has ever been appropriated to DCA for its intended purpose. Furthermore, vendors have informed ACCG that the market for pre-pay cellular phones is growing at a rapid rate. ACCG believes that only a portion of the fees owed are actually being remitted; however, DCA has no way to audit or enforce this as no money has been appropriated to the Emergency 9-1-1 Assistance Fund,” the document states.
The Herald attempted to contact the Governor’s office, DCA and the Georgia Department of Revenue for comment on the report but because of the Columbus Day Holiday, all state offices were closed Monday.
HB 256, which will replace the Emergency 9-1-1 Assistance Fund law in January, changes the way the funding is collected and to whom it is dispersed.
The funding will be remitted to the GDOR, which will then disperse it to communities with 911 centers that have adopted an ordinance acknowledging the law and stating that they would like to receive the funding to help offset costs of the centers and to fund upgrades.
The funding dispersement will be based on population, not a competitive grant process as before, Deputy Dougherty County EMA Director Jim Vaught said.
Still the report raises questions about the credibility of the state’s fee structure at a time when public distrust of government is already high.
Some EMA officials said Monday that they have been in contact with state officials about the matter and that some at the Capitol have expressed interest in making the fees part of a constitutional amendment, which would then have to be approved by voters.