Town of Unicoi joins in local ambulance service

Sue Guinn Legg • Jan 21, 2020 at 11:52 PM

UNICOI — Unicoi County’s new inter-local ambulance service has its third partner.

On Tuesday, the Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously to join the county and the town of Erwin in a nonprofit EMS corporation to be funded by each of the three government entities.

The vote for approval came with the board’s selection of one of three inter-local agreement options offered by the county. The agreement includes the same population-based funding formula and executive advisory board makeup approved last week by the town of Erwin.

Based on a funding formula set out by state law for multiple local governments to share in the cost of county-wide economic development efforts, the town of Unicoi will be responsible for 12.9 percent, or $28,340, of a projected annual operating cost of just over $218,000.

The agreement stipulates the town of Erwin will contribute 21.4 percent of the annual operating cost but will be exempt from any monetary support for the service for two years based on its transfer of a $440,000 grant secured by the town for the purchase of ambulances.

The county will fund 65.3 percent of the annual estimated cost, or just over $142,000, and will also pay approximately $140,000 in grant match funding for the ambulances.

Commissioner John Mosley, who chairs the commission’s Ambulance Committee, told the Erwin Board last week that the county has already allocated $100,000 for first-year startup costs required by a one-year, temporary service agreement entered with Washington County/Johnson City EMS.

Mosley said last week the Unicoi service still has the county’s initial $100,000 allocation and is currently operating in the black with more revenue than expenditures.

While the agreement calls for any excess revenues to be divided between the three governments based on the same population-based funding formula, Mosely had suggested the local contributions be placed in a fund for future ambulance purchases.

Other options offered for the Unicoi board’s consideration included the town granting the county authority to provide ambulance service to the town at no cost and with no representation on its nonprofit board; and an option to seek a grant for the purchase of an additional ambulance with the same exemption from annual contributions afforded to the town of Erwin.

Mosley told the Unicoi Board on Monday the third ambulance will require the addition of six more staff members at an annual cost of approximately $25,000 each. He said the county’s goal is to station ambulances on both the northern and southern ends of the county.

In other business, the board received an update on work to move the historic Clinchfield Railroad caboose recently donated to the town to a spot next to the town visitor center at Exit 32 of Interstate 26.

Of the total $9,150 estimated cost of moving the caboose from Erwin railyard and placing it on rails at the visitors center, the town has received a donation of $4,347 in materials and equipment including railroad ties, rails, spikes and gravel, and an additional $1,000 anonymous cash donation.

Ashley Shelton, Unicoi’s programs and communications director, told the board the donations have so far reduced the town’s cost to $3,803, additional contributions are being solicited and community response to the project has been enthusiastic.

Martha Erwin, curator of Unicoi County’s Clinchfield Railroad Museum, who donated the caboose to the town, on Monday provided the board with documentation that the caboose was the last registered Clinchfield caboose in order to dispel misinformation that the caboose originated from another rail line.

Mike Tilley, president of the Watauga Valley Railroad Association, which maintains the Southern Railway caboose at the Chuckey Depot in Jonesborough, verified Erwin’s documentation.

Tilley said the town can expect many local railroad enthusiasts, particularly in the Unicoi County community, will be willing to donate to the restoration of the caboose after which he said the annual maintenance cost will be little more than bi-annual washings.

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