Dennis Vonderfecht (Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
ERWIN — The contributions from Mountain States Health Alliance are in Unicoi County’s and the town of Erwin’s coffers, and while Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said the town already has ideas on how some of this funding may be used, Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch is urging the county’s governing body to take a measured approach when it comes to utilization of the money.
On Friday, both the town of Erwin and Unicoi County each received $750,000 from MSHA, the same day legal documentation was completed to make MSHA’s acquisition of Unicoi County Memorial Hospital official. The contributions from MSHA to each of the municipalities at the time of closing on the transaction was part of MSHA’s acquisition proposal.
The governmental entities are to use the funding for health care-related purposes.
Lynch said it will be up to the Unicoi County Commission to determine how the $750,000 is used. But, he said just because the money is now available, the county should not go on a “spending spree.” He said the funding should not be used on items that may cost the county when the funding runs out.
“We’ve got to be careful moving forward that we don’t use this money for anything extra that’s going to cost the taxpayers down the road when the money runs out,” Lynch said, “in other words, residual things aren’t already in the budget. We’re going to have to be very careful about that.”
Lynch said he would like to see a portion of the money earmarked for grant matches, as he anticipates health care-related grants to become available in the future. Another option for the funding is for the county to use $180,000 toward the annual subsidy for the county’s ambulance service provider, MedicOne Medical Response. This option was a topic of discussion among county commissioners during the county’s process to set the 2013-14 fiscal year budget, as was budgeting a portion of the MSHA funding in the county’s budget.
The county would eventually opt not to budget any of the then-tenative MSHA contribution. Lynch said the funding will not immediately affect the county’s budget, since the budget has already been set.
“We’ve got to make sure we don’t run our budget up in other areas that become a burden on the taxpayers three or four years from now when that money is gone,” Lynch said.
Unlike the county, the town of Erwin did budget the MSHA contribution in its 2013-14 fiscal year budget. Hensley also said the town is in no rush to use the funding, but town officials have ideas on how it may be spent. “We have to use it for health-related purposes, so that’s what we’re looking at,” Hensley said.
Hensley said options for the funding include using a portion toward completion of the Erwin Linear Trail extension, including the Harris Hollow Road tunnel, which would take the trail to Fishery Park. Hensley said a portion of the funding has already been earmarked for defibrilators.
“We kind of had made out a budget on how that was going to be spent,” Hensley said.