Unicoi County Commission in search of land for ambulance station

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Mar 10, 2017 at 7:58 PM

Correction: Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said Thursday he believes county funds received from the sale of Unicoi County Memorial Hospital and designated for community health needs can be used to purchase land for an ambulance station. Building and Grounds Committee members Marie Rice and Jason Harris, who have previously discussed the availability of the funds for the establishment of an ambulance service, did not say the funds could be used to buy land for a station as reported earlier.

ERWIN — Unicoi County commissioners have begun a search for property suitable for construction of a county-owned ambulance station.

In the first meeting of the commission’s Building and Grounds Committee since September, Chairman Gene Wilson reiterated his recommendation for the county to buy land and build its own station.

Wilson, who has previously advocated the construction of a station in meetings of the commission’s Ambulance Committee, said Thursday, “I think it’s a good investment for the county to go ahead with and see, after budget, about maybe building a building.

“It would give us something to negotiate with if MedicOne leaves when the contract is up,” he said.

Committee members Marie Rice and Jason Harris, who chairs the Ambulance Committee, said land for the station could be purchased with funds received from the sale of Unicoi County Memorial Hospital designated for community health needs.

In a discussion of property available near the Tenn. Highway 107 railroad overpass, Harris said the property lies in a floodplain and the cost of raising the land with fill dirt to a level suitable for construction is unknown.

Rice noted the additional cost of filling in the property and encouraged the committee to continue looking at other available sites.

“If that one doesn’t work out, we just need to keep our eye out for another suitable area,” she said

Other sites discussed by the committee include property owned by the town of Erwin near the county recycling center on Industrial Drive and several acres adjoining a home on North Main Avenue at Exit 36 recently leased by MedicOne.

In other business, the committee discussed several improvement projects that have been completed since its September meeting and several others that are still in need of attention.

Mayor Greg Lynch told the committee the roof on the Sheriff’s Department garage that was a point of contention during last year’s budget negotiations with the department has been repaired at a cost of $9,500.

While the roof is still in need of a cap and some drainage equipment for which capital improvement funding was not available, Lynch said Sheriff Mike Hensley is pleased with the repairs.

In August, Hensley sent the county a letter requesting additional funding for the roof’s repair and other Sheriff’s Department needs, that if not met would cause him to take legal action against the county.

The county initiated work on the roof soon after receiving the letter and Hensley subsequently decided not to file suit for additional funding.

Lynch said he had hoped Hensley would attend Thursday’s meeting to lead the committee on a tour of updates recently completed by inmates on the lower level of the jail.

The improvements include new paint, tile and furnishings for a large conference room that Lynch said is available for use by the commission or for expansion of county offices.

In a discussion of a sewer line break that required the jail to be evacuated in September, Lynch said the evacuation and insurance reimbursement for the repairs allowed the county to accomplish several needed updates at the jail, but also revealed another section of “archaic” pipe that will need to be monitored continuously.

On Wilson’s request, Lynch made a list of needed improvements outside the courthouse discussed in September but not yet accomplished.

The list includes repairs to exterior lighting, tree trimming and landscaping, power washing, paint for stair rails and new soffit for the small prisoner visitation building located behind the jail.

Rice said the soffit, which was among the most expensive items on the list, could be replaced at a relatively small cost for a large improvement in the appearance of the building.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at slegg@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.