Limestone Cove helipad plan fails to take flight with panel

Brad Hicks • May 21, 2014 at 9:22 AM

ERWIN — The proposed helicopter landing pad project at the Limestone Cove Volunteer Fire Department will remain grounded, at least until Unicoi County officials can take a closer look at the project’s proposed funding source.

After some discussion, the Unicoi County Commission voted at a called meeting held Tuesday evening to table its consideration of funding the helipad project. The item was proposed by Commissioner Kenneth Garland, who said last week he would like to see the county use $6,325 of the $750,000 contribution Unicoi County received from

Mountain States Health Alliance following its acquisition of Unicoi County Memorial Hospital to construct a 20 foot-by-20 foot helipad, surrounded by eight lights, at the LCVFD.

Garland said this helipad would serve as a landing and takeoff point for emergency air transport services, such as Wings Air Rescue, to allow quicker accessibility to the Limestone Cove area in the event of emergencies.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Garland said he felt the project would be important not only for those residing in and traveling through the Limestone Cove area, but to Unicoi County as a whole. He also said the $6,325 for the pad would be the “best money we’ll ever spend.”

“Six-thousand dollars is nothing compared to what it will do for that section up there,” Garland said.

While he agreed the helipad is needed in the Limestone Cove area, as well as others, Commission Vice Chairman Dwight Bennett said he would like to see the formation of a committee that would be tasked with reviewing how the MSHA funds are spent.

The work to construct the helipad would not be completed by the county, but Unicoi County Attorney Doug Shults advised commissioners that if the county were to provide the funding for the project, it would have to consider the expenditure a “charitable donation.” Because of this, the county would have to advertise the $6,325 as a nonprofit appropriation, Shults said.

After Garland’s motion to approve funding the project failed, Bennett made a motion that the commission table consideration of the item and establish a committee to address requests the county receives for MSHA funding and to ensure this funding is spent appropriately.

The commission also voted to approve a resolution to adopt a continuing budget and tax rate for the new fiscal year set to begin July 1 until a budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year is passed. The county’s property tax rate for the 2013-14 fiscal year was previously set at $2.6838 per $100 on real property.

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