The Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen is considering not entering into an interlocal agreement with Unicoi County for ambulance services. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The future of ambulance services in Unicoi County has been a question on the minds of local officials for many months. Currently, the county is being sued over the Unicoi County Commission’s decision to give MedicOne Medical Response the contract to provide ambulance services to the county from April 2019 through April 2023.

For many years, the Town of Erwin has entered into an interlocal agreement with Unicoi County to use the ambulance provider selected by the county to provide ambulance services to the citizens of the town. However, this could change.

On Monday, Feb. 25, the Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen held a work session and meeting at Town Hall to decide whether or not the town would be entering into that interlocal agreement once again.

“If we choose not to sign this interlocal agreement we have options,” Mayor Doris Hensley said.

According to Hensley, Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy has offered to allow Washington County Emergency Medical Services to serve the Town of Erwin. Hensley also said that Grandy is in talks with Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable to create a regional ambulance service that would be available to serve Erwin.

Hensley expressed concern about MedicOne being able to have enough EMTs to serve Erwin.

Hensley took exception to some of the wording in the contract the county has with MedicOne.

“It says here that they will have at least the minimum personnel,” Hensley said. “What is the minimum personnel and who determines the minimum?”.

Hensley also questioned the amount of time that MedicOne would have to fix a vehicle that is in need of repair.

“The contract says they have 15 days to fix it,” Hensley said.  “I thought that was a long time to have a vehicle down.”

According to Hensley’s reading of the contract, MedicOne would still make money if they are penalized when they are understaffed or underequipped.

“It says (MedicOne) will be penalized $500 when they don’t have the staff or vehicles to serve us, but the county is paying them $625 a day, they will still be making money,” Hensley said.

Some Town of Erwin officials were hesitant to abandon the idea of signing the interlocal agreement again.

“I’m a little worried going down that road with nothing in writing from Washington County,” Vice Mayor Mark Lafever said.

Lafever and Alderman Michael Baker expressed concern about the effects for Unicoi County. Hensley expressed concern for Unicoi County, but said she had to think about what was best for the municipality she serves.

“We are responsible for the citizens of Erwin,” Hensley said.

Lafever suggested tabling the BMA’s decision on the interlocal agreement to buy the town more time to get more information in writing from Washington County

The board voted unanimously to table the vote on an interlocal agreement with Unicoi County for ambulance service within Erwin corporate limits. No further meetings were planned as of The Erwin Record’s press deadline, but it was announced by Hensley that they could call a special meeting once town officials have more information in writing from Washington County.

• • •

The next order of business during the regularly scheduled meeting of the BMA on Monday was to approve a rebid for the landscaping project and reconstruction at The Gathering Place as part of the Tourism Enhancement Grant.

During the Dec. 17 BMA meeting, it was announced that the lone bid for the project came in at $75,135 and was made by Earth Effects, LLC. The amount is roughly $6,000 more than the Tourism Enhancement Grant would cover. At that time, Hensley had suggested the budget be adjusted for the overage. The design was supposed to be the same as the park has looked in the past, but would consist of steel structures. The Gathering Place has been stripped down to the soil currently, but is being bid to be rebuilt to the same dimensions with more sturdy seating and an irrigation system.

According to the Town of Erwin’s City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff, the project had to be sent out for rebid due to the Earth Effects reportedly not having the proper contractor license.

“Any bid that is $25,000 or greater is required to have a licensed contractor to bid on the project,” Rosenoff told The Erwin Record.

Earth Effects, LLC, is a landscaping business owned by Chase Willis and John Day. Day recently filed a lawsuit against the Unicoi County Commission and the Unicoi County Mayor’s Office over the bidding of the contract for Unicoi County’s ambulance service. The lawsuit questions, among other things, if the bidding process was competitive since there was only one bidder.

On Monday, it was announced that the town again received only one bid for the landscaping project at the Gathering Place.

“We received one bid with Horton Enterprises for $77,020,” Rosenoff said.

Lafever made a motion to approve Horton’s bid. The motion was seconded by Alderman Gary Chandler. The board voted unanimously to accept the bid from Horton Enterprises.

• • •

Also on Monday, representatives from Valley Beautiful Antique Mall and Village Treasures addressed the board to express the need to renew the $1,256.64 yearly expense to keep the current Antique District interstate signage up at exit 37 for another year.

“We get a lot of foot traffic downtown from that sign,” Valley Beautiful Antique Mall co-owner Joey Lewis said.

A motion was made by Lafever to approve the Antique District interstate sign and Chandler seconded the motion to keep the sign up. The board voted unanimously to approve the Antique District interstate sign.

Also on Monday, Lindsey Harris, PE representing S&ME, Inc, was on hand to address the board regarding the bidders for the Second Street Industrial Site Project on Monday.

The Second Street Industrial Site Project is a project that enables the property at the former Morgan Insulation site to be pad ready to attract business. King General, Inc. will be in charge of grading and drainage at the site. The $323,938.80 will be covered by the $500,000 grant that the town received from the ECD Site Development Grant. The ECD Site Development Grant required a five percent match from the town.

“We received three bids and they all had the necessary qualifications,” Harris said.

King General Inc. came in with the lowest bid at $323,938.80. Lafever made a motion to approve King General Inc.’s bid and Chandler seconded the motion. The board voted to accept King General Inc.’s bid unanimously.

Also on Monday, the board unanimously approved of closing a section of Gay Street from the corner of Main Avenue to First Tennessee Bank as part of the Unicoi County Middle School eighth grade banquet at The Bramble, Friday, May 17, from 5-11 p.m.

In the final order of business Mayor Hensley thanked all those that worked during the recent storms.

“I want to thank the police officers and firefighters who braved the weather this past weekend to serve the community,” Hensley said.