The Unicoi County Commission discussed the future of the county’s ambulance service during a meeting on Monday, Nov. 26, at the Unicoi County Courthouse. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County Commission got to work on Monday, Nov. 26, to address several issues. One issue that has been on the minds of the commission for a long time has been the county’s ambulance service.

During Monday’s meeting, Unicoi County Commissioner John Mosley moved to enter negotiations with MedicOne in regards to ambulance services for the county starting in April 2019. Unicoi County Commissioner Jamie Harris seconded the motion.

The plan would call for members of the Unicoi County government to negotiate terms with MedicOne, which has a contract to provide ambulance services to the county through April 2019, and if both parties agree then when the current contract is up in April, Unicoi County would retain MedicOne as it’s ambulance service.

If an agreement is not met by Dec. 14, then Unicoi County would send out a request for proposal or RFP.

“If we wait until December, what are we going to do with an RFP? Most ambulance services want 90 days notice to set up shop,” Commissioner Marie Rice inquired.

Another concern raised by Commissioner Glenn White was that the last two times the commission sent out RFPs only one ambulance service responded and that was MedicOne. Mosley responded that the proposed plan would be to have Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely and County Attorney Douglas Shults talk to MedicOne CEO Jim Reeves to see if an agreement can be met. If the agreement can not be made by Friday, Dec. 14, by noon, then the commission will send out RFPs.

Members of the Commission discussed the ambulance service during a Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 21.

“There are three options on the table, stay with Medic One, re-open the bidding, or create our own ambulance service,” Mosley said during the committee meeting.

The concern for Unicoi County has been a lack of staff and equipment, which has reportedly caused issues with wait times.

“The big thing hurting us right now is personnel. It’s not just a MedicOne issue; it’s statewide,” MedicOne Manager Jamie Kemp said to the committee.

Currently, there are four job openings posted through MedicOne’s website.

“We are short two paramedic positions,” Kemp said.

Another problem that has recently affected the call load for MedicOne is the hospital moving. “Before there weren’t many calls from the UCMH Long Term Care Unit because they could transport the patients next door without calling an ambulance service, now we get more calls to transport from UCMH Long Term Care to the new hospital,” Kemp said.

Along with staffing concerns, the committee is concerned about the lack of vehicles for MedicOne.

“I think we need three ambulances,” County Commissioner and committee member Jamie Harris said. “I know it’s a lot of money and I don’t want to put it on the people, but we need it.” Only two ambulances currently serve Unicoi County.

The committee has a  decision to make going forward.

“We have to make a move on this,” County Commissioner and committee member Glenn White said.

On Monday, the proposal made by Mosley passed on a 5-3 vote with Chairman Loren Thomas abstaining. Commissioners John Mosley, Glenn White, Jamie Harris, Stephen Hendrix and Todd Wilcox voted for the motion, while Jason Harris, Marie Rice and Matthew Rice voted no.

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Next on the agenda, the Commission listened to citizens of Buffalo Valley as they asked the commission to sign a letter of opposition to the City of Johnson City’s streambank mitigation plan.

Speaking on behalf of Buffalo Valley was Calvin Hoyle, Steve Williams, Andy Landers, Town of Unicoi Alderwoman Kathy Bullen and former Town of Unicoi Alderman Roger Cooper.

A motion was made by White and seconded by Wilcox to send the letter.

“This affects all of Unicoi County,” Mosley said to the board.

According to the Buffalo Valley citizens, the prices for home resale values have dropped $50,000-$60,000. The board voted unanimously to send a letter of opposition to United States Army Corp of Engineers.

If you are interested in writing an opposition letter to the request made by the City of Johnson City to use the land that housed Buffalo Valley Golf Course for streambank mitigation, you can email it to ryan.evans@usace.army.mil by Nov. 30.

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In other business, the Commission voted to receive a non-financial matching grant of $36,750 for signage. This grant is a shared grant for Unicoi County, the Town of Unicoi and the Town of Erwin. The only cost will be labor for this grant.

The motion to accept the grant was made by Matthew Rice and seconded by Hendrix. The motion passed unanimously.

“One of the things about tourism is we have all these wonderful places to go, but don’t have signs showing people where to go,” Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely stated.

In closing, the Commission voted unanimously to accept the approval of William Todd Hopson as the new commissioner of Unicoi County Water Utility District.