The Unicoi County Commission held its last meeting of 2018 at the Unicoi County Courthouse on Monday, Dec. 17. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

On Monday, Dec. 17, the Unicoi County Commission made the contract renewal with MedicOne official.

MedicOne will continue to serve Unicoi County beginning the new contract in April of 2019. The contract will run until April of 2023. The contract includes a $225,000 annual subsidy to be paid by the county to MedicOne. The county currently pays $132,000 dollars annually under the current contract which expires in April.

The commission voted to approve the bid and contract, in a 6-2 vote with Commission Chairman Loren Thomas abstaining. County Commissioner and Ambulance Committee Chairman John Mosley made the motion to approve the contract with MedicOne and Commissioner Jamie Harris seconded the motion.

Monday’s vote followed the recommendation made by the Ambulance Committee during a meeting at the Unicoi County Courthouse on Friday, Dec. 14.

On Friday, the committee viewed a response from MedicOne to a proposed contract submitted by the county for ambulance services.

“We sent a proposed contract to representatives of MedicOne on Dec. 5,” Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely stated on Dec. 14.

MedicOne CEO Jim Reeves responded back to the committee on Dec. 14, prior to the meeting with some proposed changes.

The proposed changes included removing a $2 million insurance umbrella that would cost MedicOne $63,000 in annual costs. Another change that MedicOne would like to see was a new ambulance being purchased in April 2019 and a second one to be purchased in April of 2020. MedicOne already has a 2017 ambulance currently in their fleet. This would allow the ambulance service to have three ambulances that would be in compliance of the original 5-year, 250,000-mile option in the current contract.

“We would have three frontline ambulances that should be in good shape and low mileage within the first 12 months of the new contract,” Evely told the committee.

The committee voted to continue talks with MedicOne to try and reach an agreement and discuss it at the Dec. 17 Unicoi County Commission meeting. The commission had the option of either accepting the updated contract from MedicOne at the meeting or putting the contract back out for bid. Unicoi County Attorney Douglas Shults was asked to draw up a new request for proposal just in case talks fell through with MedicOne.

The current contract for ambulance services is up in April of 2019.

“What we are concerned about is the safety of our citizens,” committee member Commissioner Glenn White said on Friday.

On Monday, commissioners Mosley, Jamie Harris, Glenn White, Todd Wilcox, Matthew Rice and Stephen Hendrix voted to approve a new contract with MedicOne. Commissioner Marie Rice and Commissioner Jason Harris voted no.

“I’d like to see this go out for bid,” Commissioner Jason Harris stated.

Once the vote was over Commissioner Marie Rice expressed her concerns about continuing to have MedicOne provide ambulance services to Unicoi County.

“I will refer the calls I get to the ones that voted for this, those calls are coming,” Rice said. Commissioner Jamie Harris was more hopeful for the contract renewal.

“This contract gives the commission more teeth. I’m hopeful this works out,” he told The Erwin Record.

The new contract calls for three ambulances instead of two, which is what the previous contract called for. The ambulances will all be Type 1 ambulances which allow for enough room for up to two people. Two of the ambulances will be staffed 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The third ambulance will run on a 12 hour shift for 7 days a week. MedicOne is currently running a third part-time ambulance in preparation for the new contract.

Thomas was optimistic about the agreement going forward.

“We are paying for more because our citizens deserve more,” Thomas told The Erwin Record about the subsidy.

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With the ambulance service issue taken care of, the commission moved on to revisit an item that was previously shelved.

Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Representative Troy Ebbert addressed the commission concerning a proposed bike trail that would cover roughly five miles and travel through the Town of Erwin, the Town of Unicoi and a stretch of Unicoi County. The proposed grant was for $90,000 dollars and required 10 percent of the grant be paid by the three municipalities, to complete a study of the proposed trail.

The 10 percent would have been split between the three municipalities, costing the Town of Erwin, the Town of Unicoi, and Unicoi County roughly $3,000 dollars each. The Town of Erwin and the Town of Unicoi have already agreed to pay the $3,000 dollars for the study. Commissioners Glenn White and John Mosley expressed concern over the trail study.

“I have spoken to people in that district and they do not want the trail,” Mosley stated.

The commission narrowly voted to oppose the trail study in a 5-4 vote. A motion was made to approve the study by Commissioner Matthew Rice and the motion was seconded by Commissioner Stephen Hendrix. Joining Matthew Rice and Hendrix in approving the study grant was Commissioner Jason Harris and Chairman Thomas. Voting to oppose the bid was Commissioners White, Mosley, Wilcox, Marie Rice, and Jamie Harris.

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In the last order of business, the commission voted unanimously to update their contract with Quillen College of Medicine, Division of Forensic Pathology to perform autopsies for Unicoi County. The current contract has a 20 autopsy yearly cap. The new contract will release the cap.

A motion was made by Commissioner Jason Harris and seconded by White. The commission voted unanimously to accept the new contract.