A city known for political fireworks has lobbied its state representatives to allow the real thing.
The state House Finance, Ways and Means Committee today is expected to vote on a bill by Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, to allow the sale of fireworks in East Ridge. Passage would move the bill to the House floor.
A former police officer, Dean said enforcing public safety doesn't bother him so much as missing a revenue explosion dominated by rural counties. With specific exceptions under state law, vendors in Tennessee's four largest counties - Shelby, Davidson, Knox and Hamilton - cannot sell fireworks.
"People shoot them off [in Hamilton County]," Dean said Monday. "You hear them on holidays. ... The issue is whether or not they can be sold. This is a revenue generator."
And Georgia, which East Ridge borders, does not sell fireworks at all. East Ridge is the first city motorists see as they cross the Georgia-Tennessee border on Interstate 75 North.
The bill would not require fireworks sales in East Ridge, but its passage would let the City Council explore an untapped sales tax source.
"I don't want something big, bright and gaudy out here ... but anything we can do to get revenue into the city," Vice Mayor Larry Sewell said.
A fiscal note attached to the bill estimates East Ridge would receive a $14,180 sales tax boost annually if the state issues 10 permits to sell fireworks. The state stands to gain $44,100, according to the note.
East Ridge finished the most recent fiscal year with a $681,999 budget deficit - the largest hole for the city in at least two decades. The controversy spiked when councilmen blamed former City Manager William Whitson, who resigned and threatened litigation against the city until he got $62,500 in severance money.
Dean said "rural folks" in the Legislature have stonewalled the East Ridge fireworks bill in the past, but an amendment that would postpone the bill until July 1, 2012, has moved the bill "the farthest it's ever gone." Most rural counties - including Marion and Bradley counties - can sell fireworks and don't want to lose the business.
"[The amendment] gives enough time for Marion County and some of the others to set up shop in East Ridge," Dean said.
Dean has been less aggressive in moving a bill that would establish a uniform regulation scheme for statewide fireworks sales, allowing all local governments to decide on the sale, possession and use of fireworks.
"I think East Ridge is his priority," said state Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, who is co-sponsoring both bills. "Typically, you're going to run your most important bill first."
Possession of fireworks is the second bill's sticking point. If a municipality permits sale and possession of fireworks, it may not prohibit the use of such fireworks.
But if a city only permits the sale of fireworks "and at least 55 percent of the sales go to residents of other states" or to people outside a city's jurisdiction, then the city may prohibit the use of fireworks.
Contact Chris Carroll at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6610.