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Joint ambulance meeting ends in stalemate

Washington County/Johnson City EMS addresses officials from Unicoi County, the Town of Erwin and Town of Unicoi during a joint meeting on Monday, Dec. 30, at Erwin Town Hall. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

A joint Ambulance Service Committee meeting between the Town of Erwin, the Town of Unicoi and Unicoi County officials reached a stalemate on Monday night.

The meeting, which took place at Erwin Town Hall on Monday, Dec. 30, included members from each governing body as well as Washington County/Johnson City EMS representatives Dan Wheeley and Adam Copas.

According to Copas, the goal of the meeting was to discuss and take the necessary steps to establish Unicoi County EMS – the proposed locally-run ambulance service. 

“We are going to look at what Unicoi County EMS will be and what their board of directors will look like,” Copas said.

Unicoi County Ambulance Committee Chairman John Mosley explained that the proposed board will consist of two members from each municipality that signs the interlocal agreement, the medical director, Unicoi County Hospital representative Eric Carroll and a member at large.

“We need to know if it’s going to be a seven or nine member board and that depends if we are working with both towns or just with the Town of Erwin,” Mosley said.

According to Wheeley, the committee needs to decide which municipalities will be involved and form the board of directors before moving forward. 

“We need to answer these questions before we can move on with business licenses, charters from the state and any other legalities before establishing Unicoi County EMS,” Wheeley said. 

The Unicoi County Commission voted unanimously to approve that a 501c3 corporation be established and that an interlocal agreement be prepared determining each local governments’ level of participation during its Dec. 16 commission meeting. The Town of Erwin voted unanimously to enter into an interlocal agreement in principle with the county in creating the Unicoi County EMS during Erwin’s Dec. 9 BMA meeting.

The Town of Unicoi decided to create a committee to explore the proposal during its Dec. 16 meeting. 

During the Dec. 30 joint meeting, Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch told the committee that Unicoi needed more time to decide on an interlocal agreement. 

“We need all the information we can get before we decide on anything,” Lynch said. “We will make an effort to get a meeting scheduled by next week.”

Lynch told The Erwin Record following the joint meeting that there is a lot to consider. 

“We sign this interlocal agreement, we are locked in,” Lynch said. “We need to know the funding part of this, what it’s going to cost us and we are concerned about response times as well.”

Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas confirmed during the joint meeting that Washington County/Johnson City EMS response times are below the national response time averages. 

“The average countywide for November was right at nine minutes, which is below the national average,” Thomas said.

During the joint meeting on Monday, Mosley shared what a proposed breakdown of costs would be for each municipality. 

“It could go by population, which would leave Unicoi County responsible for 64.7 percent or roughly $138,253, Erwin responsible for 22.3 percent or roughly $47,651 and the Town of Unicoi 13 percent or roughly $27,779,” Mosley said. “Since they would be funding the ambulances with a grant, Erwin would be off the hook for the first two years.” 

Mosley said he hopes that the service will be self-sustaining, but if it isn’t the projected costs should fall within what the county paid as a subsidy to Washington County/Johnson City EMS to serve Unicoi County under the current contract. 

“The $213,683 is close to the figures Mr. Wheeley projected when he established the subsidy,” Mosley said. 

Unicoi County paid roughly $218,677 in subsidies to Washington County/Johnson City EMS to serve Unicoi County from July 15, 2019, until June 30, 2020.

Mosley added that the municipalities must make a decision soon. 

“Time is of the essence,” Mosley said.

Unicoi County Commission Vice Chairman Jamie Harris agreed with Mosley. 

“I feel we need to get this done as soon as possible, to get a board established; there is still a lot to do,” Harris said.

According to Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley the joint committee needs an answer from the Town of Unicoi before they could move forward. 

“We need to find out what Unicoi is going to do,” Hensley said. “We would like to set another meeting for next Thursday to see where everyone is at.”

The joint Ambulance Service Committee is scheduled to meet again at Erwin Town Hall on Thursday, Jan. 9, at 6:30 p.m.