ELIZABETHTON — For the second time in a week, a committee of the Carter County Commission has failed to reach a recommendation on a one-year franchise agreement for the Carter County Rescue Squad to provide services for county residents outside the Elizabethton corporate limits.
On Monday, the Budget Committee fell one vote short of reaching an agreement to recommend a franchise agreement. The vote was 4-3, with one not voting. It takes five votes for any measure to be approved by a committee. Nancy Brown, Pat Hicks, Scott Sams and Harry Sisk voted for the recommendation. Ken Arney, Thomas “Yogi” Bowers and Lawrence Hodge voted against a recommendation and Charlie Bayless said he was not going to vote until he has seen the final financial report from the Carter County trustee.
Following the vote, the committee approved a motion by Bowers that negotiations be continued between the county and squad.
The committee was debating the matter because the Health and Welfare Committee had reached a similar impasse May 6. That committee also fell one vote short, 4-2, with two absences. The Health and Welfare Committee then voted to pass the question on to the Budget Committee.
The committees were voting on a one-year franchise for the Rescue Squad, which would include a county payment of $225,000 for rescue services, transport of jail prisoners, transport of corpses and hazardous material responses, including decontamination at raids on illegal methamphetamine laboratories. The squad had also included a case-by-case billing at standard Medicare rates in lieu of the $225,000 payment.
Bowers said he and other commissioners had complaints against the squad because of its practice of suing patients who did not pay their ambulance bills.
Arney agreed, saying, “I think you are doing an injustice when you see the people who worked all their lives in the rayon plants and poured money into the Rescue Squad buckets at roadblocks and are now on welfare or unemployment or Social Security and they are sued. That isn’t right.”
Rescue Squad Attorney Richard Norris said “the county sues when people don’t pay their taxes. The county sues and collects houses and sells indigent people’s houses.” He said the Rescue Squad does not try to collect debts from indigent people.
“We use the same form the Carter County Health Department uses and we have a sliding scale,” Norris said, adding that the bills of indigent people are just written off.
Mayor Leon Humphrey said it is too late in the fiscal year for the county to search for another ambulance service to take over the Rescue Squad’s responsibilities.
“We have been in discussion for two years,” Humphrey said. “Two years ago you took $35,000 from the Rescue Squad and transferred it to the volunteer fire departments.”
He said instead of putting the $35,000 back in the squad’s budget this year, “you cut their budget another $100,000 for 911. ... For two years, the Rescue Squad has been the only outside agency that has been cut.”
He said in the meantime, the county has not reached an agreement with the squad.
“My concern is that it is too late to put this out for bid. The sand has already gone through the hourglass.”