By Richard Rourk
Leaders from Unicoi County and the Town of Erwin took the first steps in creating a county-run ambulance service during a meeting held on Friday, Dec. 6.
During the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meeting, Chairman John Mosley made a motion to propose that the Unicoi County Commission vote on creating an interlocal agreement to include the towns of Erwin and Unicoi in creating a joint ambulance service.
“I propose establishing a 501c3 interlocal agreement so we can start a board of directors for Unicoi County EMS, but we need to then seek who will be in support of this and who is responsible for funding,” Mosley said. “The board would be made up of two members from each participating municipality, Unicoi County Hospital director (Eric Carroll) and two members at large.”
According to Mosley, the board would have nine members if all parties agree to move forward, or 7 if it’s only two municipalities. As of last week’s meeting, Town of Unicoi officials had not participated in ambulance related meetings.
“I haven’t heard anything back from the Town of Unicoi,” Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely said.
The Erwin Record spoke with Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch following the Dec. 6 meeting and got confirmation that Lynch would be open for dialogue pertaining to the ambulance service’s future.
“We would be willing to sit down and listen to the county,” Lynch told The Erwin Record.
“This is a good thing that you are doing,” Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said on Dec. 6. “I have been a proponent of starting our own service for a long time.”
Mosley acknowledged that it was Hensley who got the ball rolling with starting a locally run ambulance service.
“We are here today because of you,” Mosley said.
According to Unicoi County Attorney Doug Shults, the joint venture is off to a solid start.
“I think this committee is correct in the way you are moving forward,” Shults said. “We need now to see how both teams wish to proceed.”
Current ambulance provider Washington County/Johnson City EMS Executive Director Dan Wheeley agreed with Shults.
“You are taking the correct steps. You really need a board of directors to begin to move forward,” Wheeley said. “You need all involved to provide an interlocal agreement or permission to operate in their towns moving forward and the sooner the board is established, the sooner you can establish bylaws but you will have to have those interlocal agreements first.”
According to Mosley, the breakdown of financial responsibility for each municipality would break down by population.
“Unicoi County’s population is 17,719 and the county would be responsible for 65 percent of the financing, the Town of Erwin’s population is 6,097 and they would be responsible for 22 percent of the financing, and the Town of Unioi’s population is 3,574 so they would be responsible for 13 percent, if my numbers are correct and everybody signs,” Mosley said. “I feel Erwin should be off the hook for two years, since they are providing the grant.”
Hensley confirmed during the Nov. 20 ambulance committee meeting that a $443,000 grant is still available to purchase vehicles. Wheeley advised during the Nov. 20 ambulance committee meeting that the commission consider purchasing two Type 1 ambulances and a four-wheel-drive transport vehicle that would be used by the Unicoi County EMS director.
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The Town of Erwin BMA voted unanimously to enter into a concept of an interlocal agreement with Unicoi County during a meeting held on Monday, Dec. 9.
“There is no legal commitment at this point. You are just agreeing to entertain the notion of signing an interlocal agreement,” Town of Erwin Attorney Thomas Seeley said.
According to Hensley, this was the first step for the Town of Erwin to get involved with the proposed county run ambulance service.
“The first thing we would need to sign is an interlocal agreement and they asked us if we would sign, and I told them that I wouldn’t sign anything until I saw it,” Hensley said. “This is just to say that we would be interested in seeing an interlocal agreement for a county-run ambulance service.”
Hensley acknowledged that the Town of Erwin wouldn’t have to pay for the first two years of the ambulance service since they are providing the $443,000 grant for the purchase of ambulances. “Erwin would not be asked for any monetary submission for two years time,” Hensley said. “Hopefully by the end of two years the program would be self sustaining.”
The Unicoi County Commission is scheduled to vote on the creation of an interlocal agreement on Monday, Dec. 16, at 6 p.m.
The Unicoi County Ambulance Committee is scheduled to meet again on Thursday, Dec. 19, at 3 p.m. A joint workshop is scheduled to take place with all municipalities invited on Monday, Dec. 30, at 5 p.m. at Erwin Town Hall.
“We will know by then what everybody’s intentions are,” Mosley said.