County, Erwin, Unicoi pick up pace for ambulance service

Sue Guinn Legg • Dec 30, 2019 at 9:06 PM

ERWIN — Officials from the towns of Unicoi and Erwin met with the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee Monday in the first of a series of special meetings to expedite the creation of a new locally controlled ambulance service.

At the top of the agenda Monday was a proposed inter-local agreement between the participating governments that Washington County EMS Executive Director Dan Wheeley said will be needed for incorporation of the new service, creation of its funding formula and appointment of its administrative board of directors.

Proposed by the committee and approved in concept by county commissioners and the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen, the agreement remains under consideration in Unicoi, where a committee of town leaders was recently appointed to explore the proposal.

Asked for an update, Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch presented the committee with a list of items for which he said the town needs more information.

County Commissioner John Mosley, who chairs the commission’s Ambulance Committee, told Lynch a proposed funding formula based on population of the three municipalities breaks down to 64.7% county, 22.3% Erwin and 13% Unicoi. For a projected annual operating cost of $213,683, Mosley said the breakdown would be $138,283 to the county, $47,651 to Erwin and $27,779 to Unicoi.

Because the town of Erwin is picking up the cost of a more-than-$400,000 grant for the purchase of ambulances for the new service, Mosley said the committee is proposing Erwin be excluded from the first two years of financial contributions to the service.

If the service breaks even or earns money in any given year, Mosley said the committee recommends the funds placed in a reserve fund for future ambulances purchases up to an amount to be determined. Any money earned above that amount would divided between the three governments based on the same funding percentages.

Wheeley told the group the new service should maintain a reserve fund equal to three to six months of operational costs. He said the agreement should also address how all assets will be divided in the event the agreement is dissolved.

Once the agreement is in place, Wheeley said the towns and county can appoint representatives to an executive board that will be able to proceed with the establishment of the service, including state licensing and application for nonprofit status that will allow it to avoid taxes on any profits earned by the service.

He estimated the licensing process can be completed in two to three months while nonprofit status may require six to eight months or longer to secure.

With the county’s one-year temporary service agreement with Washington County EMS set to expire June 30, Mosley said, “time is of the essence.”

With County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely saying he would provide the requested information to Unicoi later this week, Mosely asked Lynch if Unicoi could address the issue next week and schedule a called meeting to vote on the agreement. Lynch said he would do his best.

Unicoi board member Kathy Bullen noted the town’s ambulance committee, appointed at the board’s Dec. 16 meeting, has not yet met and does not have a chairman that she, as a committee member, has been made aware of.

Mosley asked Evely, if possible, to schedule a called meeting of the Unicoi County Commission on the same night as the Unicoi board’s vote on the agreement. A follow-up committee meeting with the two towns is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 9.

In other business, the Erwin board met in a called meeting earlier Monday to vote on master plan for a bike and pedestrian trail to connect the towns of Erwin and Unicoi.

With a motion from Vice Mayor Mark Lafever and a second from Alderman Rachelle Shurtz, the board voted unanimously to approve a plan for the trail, which runs along the side of Highway 107, which is alternately known as Unicoi Drive and Erwin Highway.

The Unicoi board approved the same master plan for the trail at its Dec. 16 meeting.

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