The Unicoi County Commission voted to move forward with a possible interlocal agreement with Washington County during a meeting on Monday, April 22. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Richard Rourk

The future of ambulance service in Unicoi County was once again on the agenda for the Unicoi County Commission when the panel met on Monday, April 22, at the Unicoi County Courthouse.

During the meeting, the Commission voted unanimously to enter into discussions with Washington County EMS to develop an interlocal agreement to provide ambulance service for Unicoi County on an interim basis. The approval allows Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely, Unicoi County Ambulance Committee Chairman John Mosley, and Unicoi County Attorney Doug Shults to negotiate an interlocal agreement with Washington County EMS.

During a meeting of the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee on April 9, Washington County EMS Director Dan Wheely offered to speak to the Washington County Emergency Services Board.

“I feel we would have a desire to help in the short term, but if we are talking several months then we would require an interlocal agreement,” Wheely said during the April 9 meeting. “Again, I can’t speak for the board, but I feel we would be willing to help as long as it doesn’t take away from Washington County residents.”

After much discussion during Monday’s meeting, and several failed amendments, the Commission voted to approve to add a representative for the Town of Erwin (Mark LaFever) and Town of Unicoi (Johnny Lynch) to the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee. The amendment was made by Unicoi County Commissioner Glenn White to approve the additions of Lafever and Lynch, but decided to exclude Stacy Wigand, who is currently employed by MedicOne.

“I’m not against Stacy Wigand being on this board,” White said. “Sometimes in government it’s about compromise.”

White’s amended motion came after several amendments failed. The final vote was 6-3 with commissioners White, Todd Wilcox, Stephen Hendrix, Jason Harris, Marie Rice and Matthew Rice, who made the initial request to remove Wigand as a voting member, voting for Lafever and Lynch to be voting members of the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee. Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas, Vice Chairman Jamie Harris, and Mosley voted against the amendment.

The Unicoi County Ambulance Committee met on Tuesday, April 16, and agreed to send out request for proposals (RFPs) on May 8. Interested ambulance service providers will have until June 10 at noon to return the RFPs to the county. The ambulance committee is scheduled to meet on June 10 at 1 p.m. to review bids.

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Also on Monday, the Commission next focused on and approved the resolution for Capital Projects for Unicoi County Board of Education in an amount up to $5 million, pending finalization of funding agreement between the government bodies.

During the April 10 Unicoi County Budget and Finance Committee meeting, Stephens Inc. Senior Vice President of Public Finance Ashley McAnulty laid out a number of scenarios for the capital improvements plan, which includes work at Gentry Stadium and the Unicoi County High School track. According to McAnulty’s report, the county could accept roughly $5 million without a property tax increase. According to McAnulty’s report, repayment would be funded through sales tax and would be paid back in 20 years.

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Shifting gears on Monday, Vice Chair Harris made a motion to waive the agenda to discuss paying the Unicoi County Solid Waste operators $500 per month to compensate for loss wages since the operators will no longer be selling items at the solid waste facilities. Mosley seconded the motion.

“We are operating in an emergency situation,” Vice Chair Harris said.

Unicoi County Commissioner Jason Harris disagreed.

“These contractors bid on these jobs,”Jason Harris said.

White agreed with the Vice Chairman.

“We are looking at two months before we rebid,” White said. “If we don’t pay them more money, they are going to walk off.”

Commissioner Marie Rice agreed with commissioner Jason Harris.

“This wasn’t a problem before – when these contractors were allowed to sell items,” Marie Rice said. “We either increase their pay or allow them to sell items again.”

The Commission voted 7-2 to pay the three contractors $500 a month for May and June. The $3,000 to cover the $500 payments will come out of the Solid Waste budget. Thomas, Jamie Harris, White, Mosley, Matthew Rice, Hendrix, and Wilcox voted for and Jason Harris and Marie Rice voted against the motion.

The bids go back out for contractors on June 1.

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The Commission then got back on track to vote unanimously to approve a request by Reneau Dubberly to limit access on Temple Hill Road for Bicycle Race Time Trials on June 1.

The commission also voted unanimously to approve a resolution requesting that the State of Tennessee provide a regional inpatient treatment center for the eight county region.

During a March 8 meeting of the Unicoi County Inmate Revenue Committee, area judges suggested the commission reach out to other representatives to create a regional inpatient drug and alcohol treatment center. The idea came as a cost cutting measure for area jails.

“Eighty-five percent of the docket is drug-related and it costs half to keep a person in a rehab facility as opposed to jail,” Judge Lisa Rice said during the March 8 meeting.

Judge Stacy Street suggested that the counties of Northeast Tennessee get together and push for a regional intensive drug rehab facility.

“Judge Rice and myself have pushed Congressman Phil Roe and Senator Lamar Alexander to commit to opening a regional facility,” Street said during the March 8 meeting. “It’s time they put their money where their mouth is on this issue.”

At the time, Street suggested that area county commissions could push the state to find funding for a regional intensive inpatient rehab facility. Street backed up his comments by stating that he would send drug addicts to the rehab.

“I would love nothing more than for everyone that has a drug problem, to sentence them to a drug rehab,” Street said at the March 8 meeting.

Also on Monday, the commission approved to accept a grant from the Tennessee Department of Health from “Access to Health through Healthy Built Environment” for $20,000 to be used for a Natural Playground at the Pinnacle Tower Trailhead off Exit 32.

In a final order of business, Evely and Thomas recognized Kortney Bailey as Miss Unicoi County.