With Alderman Virgil Moore’s motion to create a new ambulance department failing for the lack of a second, a $440,000, non-transferable grant that would have allowed the town to purchase three ambulances was lost.
The Unicoi County Commission, which was to set to vote next week on a recommendation to contribute just over $138,000 toward start-up costs and first year of operations of the Erwin service and to take over the service after one year, was also dealt a setback.
“We will not get the grant for the ambulances,” Mayor Doris Hensley said after the meeting. “I am very disappointed.”
Hensley introduced the proposal to the board, citing the county ambulance committee’s recent consensus to recommend $138,253 in county funding for the Erwin service to the full commission, $1.1 million in projected first-year revenues from ambulance calls, $250,000 in grant funding from the Unicoi County Foundation for Healthcare and another $150,000 loan available through the foundation if needed.
All total, Hensley said the funding sources added up more than the anticipated $1.23 million in projected startup and first-year operating costs for the new department.
“It’s something we need, if you look at our calls our police department had to answer or other counties had to answer,” Hensley said.
“We have been told it’s the county’s responsibility. It’s not our responsibility. But as mayor, I think it’s my responsibility to at least try.”
Vice Mayor Gary Edwards was the first to voice opposition to the proposal, saying, “Well, I’m not satisfied with that ... with what the county has done.”
When Chandler cited remaining costs of more than $100,000 to the town, Hensley countered that the funding sources she listed earlier would cover the entire cost without any financial investment by the town.
Chandler responded by saying, “I’ve talked to a lot of people who say it’s a county thing, not to get in it.”
Alderman Mark Lefever, who was the most vocal in opposition to the department, repeatedly asked, “Who is going to be responsible when all these revenues do not come in like they are supposed to?”
Hensley said the town and the county would be responsible and would have a written agreement setting out their financial responsibilities.
Lefever went on to say the revenues were overestimated and that Erwin residents would pay twice for the service through the payment of both city and county land taxes.
Hensley responded by saying the projected revenues included a 25 percent non-payment of calls estimated by the state and a 10 percent billing fee charged by a South Carolina company that specializes in ambulance billing.
Moore made the motion to create the department, citing the number of joint meetings conducted by the board and the commission in a joint ambulance task force and his belief in the need for town to proceed as planned.
Hensley called for a second to Moore’s motion three times without response from the aldermen before declaring the motion failed.
Alderman Gary Chandler thanked Hensley for her work on the ambulance service afterward and added his disappointment in the county. “I think the county dropped the ball,” Chandler said.
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