Committee approves CCRS bailout
Published 8:38 am Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Members of the Carter County Budget Committee approved a one-time “bailout” for the Carter County Rescue Squad on Monday evening, but only if the agency agreed to keep the substations in Roan Mountain and Hampton open while both groups work toward a permanent solution.
In a split decision of 5-3, committee members voted to allocate $160,000 from the county’s fund balance with the stipulations that the two substations remain open and that a joint task force be created from the Carter County Commission, Elizabethton City Council and representatives from the Rescue Squad to work together on financial issues to better prepare for next fiscal year.
The motion for the proposal was made by Committee Chairwoman Sonja Culler, who turned the gavel over to Vice-Chairman Buford Peters before making the motion. Committee member Ross Garland provided the second for Culler’s motion. When it came to a vote, Culler and Garland were joined by members Nancy Brown, John Lewis and L.C. Tester in supporting the motion. Members Peters, Ronnie Trivett and Robert Carroll voted against the allocation.
Prior to the vote, the committee asked CCRS Director Terry Arnold if the Rescue Squad’s board of directors would agree to keep the sub-stations open with the additional funding. Arnold told the group he would have to call the board members so the committee took a break from debating the proposal to allow Arnold time to contact his board members.
When he returned to the meeting, Arnold informed the committee the CCRS board would agree to the stipulations. “We’ve called all the board members and it was unanimous to keep the stations open and go ahead and do this,” Arnold said.
The budget committee on Monday began much like the public hearing on the county’s budget did last week, with many residents making impassioned pleas to the Rescue Squad and to the Commission to do what they could to keep the substations open in Roan Mountain and Hampton.
County residents, members of the Commission and even County Mayor Leon Humphrey voiced their opinions on additional funding for the Rescue Squad.
Humphrey provided committee members with copies of minutes from budget meetings in 2013 and played video footage of a commission meeting which he said showed the County had entered into a four-year contract with the Rescue Squad to provide emergency medical services with an allocation of $170,000 from the County.
“If you take it on the surface it doesn’t appear they want to work with us,” Humphrey said of the agency’s announcement it would close substations unless they received additional funding. “It is a breach of contract.”
Others who spoke urged the group to think about more than just the bottom line of a budget.
“The money is not as important as the lives are,” Lewis said. “When someone lays dying they don’t care what Mr. Arnold makes in his salary.”
“We don’t need to bicker and call each other names; these lives are what matter,” he added.
While the comments by Lewis and Humphrey each drew applause from portions of the crowded courtroom, the comments of one committee member drew a much different response.
Carroll, who represents the 8th District which includes most of the City of Elizabethton, said his constituents pay twice to support the Rescue Squad – once through their county property taxes and once through their city property taxes. He also pointed out that other remote areas of the county – such as Poga and Watauga – have never had Rescue Squad substations.
“Now, I’m just throwing numbers out here, but if 12 percent of the citizens of Carter County live in Roan Mountain then why should the 88 percent of the rest of the citizens pay for Roan Mountain to have services they don’t have,” Carroll asked.
Members of the crowd began to jeer and yell at Carroll following his remarks and Culler had to call for everyone to quiet down so the meeting could proceed.
Prior to the successful motion by Culler to allocate one-time “bailout” funds to the Rescue Squad, Lewis tried a similar motion without success. Lewis moved to allocate a one-time funding of $300,000 to the Rescue Squad but the motion failed on a vote of 2-6.
Now that the bailout funding has been approved by the Committee, it will be brought before the full Commission where it must be approved before any funds can be allocated. The full Commission is scheduled to meet for their regular August meeting next Monday, August 17, at 6 p.m. at the Carter County Courthouse.