City approves $100,000 to help Rescue Squad
Published 7:59 am Friday, August 14, 2015
The Elizabethton City Council unanimously approved to give $100,000 in reserve funding to the Elizabethton/Carter County Rescue Squad during its regular meeting Thursday.
Councilman Sam Shipley kicked off a lengthy conversation by clarifying that this money would not directly help save the Roan Mountain and Hampton substations. Shipley explained that the money would be used to cover uncollected funds from indigent and other people in the city who neglect to pay bills after using the services provided by the Rescue Squad.
“Under Obamacare, a lot of the insurance companies do not pay like they did in the recent past,” Shipley said.
Carter County Rescue Squad Assistant Director Anthony Roberts and Carter County Rescue Squad Director Terry Arnold did their best to explain how the entity, which is operated under a non-profit model, got in this situation.
“I see in the future that you’re going to lose (the Rescue Squad),” Arnold said. “We’re talking about people’s lives out there. This is nothing to play around with.”
City of Elizabethton Mayor Curt Alexander asked if there were any steps to take to start collecting this money from people who have not or cannot pay.
“This price is going to continue to escalate in the future,” Alexander said. “We need to know what we can do to help you succeed.”
Arnold hopes that a collection agency that has been put in place will increase the amount of money recovered. Anyone who receives a bill for Rescue Squad services may notice that it comes out of Kentucky now, Arnold said. This collection initiative will now make delinquency affect the person’s credit, Arnold said. However, court costs make the collection efforts even harder on the people and the agency, Arnold said.
“We’re at over a million dollars lost last year,” Arnold said. “I’m telling you right now that this is why hospitals are joining hands because the healthcare is putting them there. It’s going to put us there eventually.”
Councilman Jeff Treadway brought up several other options that are available for both government agencies to consider.
“Right now we have a nonprofit entity that is providing outstanding emergency services,” Treadway said. “That’s one model. There are other models out there.”
Treadway brought up the option of contracting with a private transport service. He also mentioned the option for the city to operate their own rescue service.
“I don’t know if it’s time to look at those models,” Treadway said. “This maybe the best model that we’ve got.”
Alexander asked Arnold what it would cost for the city to start its own rescue service.
With a population of roughly 14,000 people, Arnold estimated it would cost nearly $2 million just to start it up.
Arnold expressed the desire to have city and county officials come together to talk about a permanent solution to the issue. Not only does the Rescue Squad need more money to operate, Arnold wants to see his employees receive better and more competitive pay.
“It’s a good idea to look on down the road,” Arnold said. “I can’t do it unless the city and county helps. I’ve pulled everything I can out.”
Councilman Richard Tester chimed in with his perspective on the business model.
“In moving forward in the next 12 months, we really need to evaluate on how we conduct business,” Tester said. “We need to make the proper changes and educate ourselves. We can adjust the business model or come to an agreement in some capacity on how things will run long term.”
Shipley urged the city to be bold in making a decision and working to find a solution.
“The county wanted to wait to see what the city did,” Shipley said. “The city wants to wait to see what the county is going to do. To me, we’re just playing games.”
Alexander seemed genuinely concerned about the future of the Rescue Squad and the importance of decisions to be made in the coming year.
“I just want to make sure we do what we can to keep it successful,” Alexander said. “We didn’t get in this hole in a year so we are not going to get out of it over night.”
In other news, Reedy & Sykes will not move forward with architectural and design phases of the Elizabethton Police Department expansion, which is projected to cost nearly $3 million. The resolution to authorize the agreement was deferred by the Council. After the Council deferred the agenda item in July, a workshop was held Aug. 4 to discuss details about a change made to the plans. The change was to add a second level to the structure to be built in between the existing police department and the Ritchie’s Warehouse building. Elizabethton Police Department Chief Greg Workman said this will allow for future expansion if necessary.
Later in the meeting, the once controversial sign ordinance has now been approved without language restricting human directional signs.
Also, the Council approved Mary Patton Highway as the official name of the recently completed highway currently referred to as the new Gap Creek Road.
For the CDBG water system rehabilitation project, Elizabethton’s Director of Water and Wastewater Johann Coetzee requested the Council approve two contracts with Southern Pipe and Supply and one contract with HD Supply Waterworks. He also made the recommendation that the Council approve standard contracts with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TECD). These recommendations were approved on first reading.