Loren Thomas, chairman of the Unicoi County Commission, addressed the Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Alderman on Monday, March 11. Town officials are reportedly considering not entering into an interlocal agreement with Unicoi County to use MedicOne as the ambulance service provider for the town. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

In a brief meeting of the Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday, March 11, the town officials heard from Unicoi County Commission Chair Loren Thomas and Unicoi County Commission Vice Chair Jamie Harris in regards to the county ambulance service.

Thomas asked if the interlocal agreement, which is a collaborative contract between public bodies aiming to provide more efficient, less costly public services, was on the agenda for Monday’s meeting. In response, Mayor Doris Hensley stated it was not.

“We were waiting for a joint meeting to discuss the matter,” Hensley added.

“I’m not here to give opinions or to negotiate the interlocal agreement, I just wanted to give you some facts,” Thomas said.

Thomas, whose wife Cathy is employed by MedicOne, addressed the board to dispel rumors about MedicOne’s response times and the potential use of Washington County EMS in Unicoi County.

“There has been a lot of negative media and articles in regards to response times,” Thomas said.

According to the stats provided by Thomas, the national average for EMS to respond to a fatal car crash is 15 minutes and 19 seconds. MedicOne’s 2018 average response time was 13 minutes and 44 seconds for all calls, that includes emergency and non-emergency calls. Thomas also reported that for the last 180 days, MedicOne’s average response time was down to 11 minutes and 44 seconds. Medic -One’s 2018 average response time for emergency calls only was listed on MedicOne’s tracking software at 11 minutes and 53 seconds. The average emergency call response time for MedicOne for the last 180 days is down to 11 minutes and 19 seconds, according to MedicOne’s analytic tracking software, called EOS.

Thomas stated that the third MedicOne ambulance that has been running 12 hours a day has contributed to better response times. MedicOne has been running a third part-time ambulance in preparation for the new contract

The contract Unicoi County entered into with MedicOne, which is slated to begin April 1, calls for three ambulances instead of two, which is what the previous contract called for. The ambulances will all be Type 1 ambulances which allow for enough room for up to two people. Two of the ambulances will be staffed 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The third ambulance will run on a 12-hour shift for 7 days a week.

The new contract also includes a $225,000 annual subsidy to be paid by the county to the company, which has provided ambulance services in Unicoi County for the past eight years. The county’s previous contract with MedicOne, which is set to expire when the new one begins, included an annual subsidy of $132,000. The contract runs from April 2019 until April 2023.

“We have a stronger contract in place now,” Thomas said.

The interlocal agreement between Unicoi County and the Town of Erwin would need to be signed by the Town of Erwin to share in the services of the counties ambulance service carrier. During the Feb. 27 Erwin BMA meeting and work session, Hensley was hesitant to sign another interlocal agreement.

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

According to Hensley during the Feb. 27 meeting, Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy had offered to allow Washington County Emergency Medical Services to serve the Town of Erwin. According to Hensley, Grandy is in talks with Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable to create a regional ambulance service that would be available to serve Erwin.

Also on Feb. 27, Erwin Vice Mayor Mark 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.

On Monday, Thomas also addressed a potential agreement between the Town of Erwin and Washington County EMS.

“I received an email on Friday, March 8, from (Washington County-Johnson City EMS Chief Executive Director) Dan Wheeley that stated that we have never been contacted about providing services for the Town of Erwin or Unicoi County,” Thomas said.

According to the email sent out to the Board of Directors for Washington County EMS from Wheeley, there have been no talks between Washington County EMS and the Town of Erwin or Unicoi County. In the email, all requests for interviews were being directed to Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy.

As of The Erwin Record’s deadline, no meeting was scheduled between Unicoi County and the Town of Erwin to discuss the interlocal agreement.

According to Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely, he has reached out to Town of Erwin City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff to set up a meeting for the two municipalities to discuss the interlocal agreement.

“We were contacted and I should know more soon about an agreeable date and time,” Rosenoff said.

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In other business, the board voted unanimously to close Union Street from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on March 30 to celebrate the ribbon cutting of Erwin Outdoor Supply.

Erwin Vice Mayor and Erwin Outdoor Supply co-owner Mark Lafever recused himself from voting. According to Erwin Outdoor Supply’s press release, Survivor contestant Gavin Whitson will appear, brand representatives will be on hand, food trucks will be onsite, giveaway and more will take place at that time.

“We will have vendors and food trucks throughout the street,” Lafever said. “We made sure that the neighbors and Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson were OK with this.”

In the last order of business, the BMA unanimously approved an ordinance to rezone property located at 434 Union St. from R-1 (Low Density) residential district to R-1A (Single Family) residential district within the corporate limits of Erwin, on first reading.

The original request for this rezoning was made during the Erwin Planning Commission meeting on Feb. 27. Property owner Joseph “Scott” Metcalf asked the commission for a residential zoning change at 434 Union St. The motion to approve was made by Alderman Gary Chandler and was seconded by Alderman Michael Baker.

Metcalf was requesting to break up the property into separate lots. The land in question is commonly known in Erwin as the “garden lot.” In the past, Chandler and former alderman Virgil Moore tended a community garden at the site. Hensley made the motion and Griffith seconded the motion to rezone the lot during the Feb. 27 meeting. The Erwin Planning Commission approved the request unanimously.

For the request to be finalized, it must receive a second reading as well as a public hearing.

“The public hearing will be Monday, April 8, followed by the second reading,” Rosenoff said.