EMS Director Jason Murrell said that due to cost increases, attributed mainly to overtime and associated workman’s comp expenses, he may have to shut down one of his six 24/7 ambulances if the funding isn’t approved.
The agency has provided ambulance service to all of Hawkins County since Church Hill EMS folded in August of 2016.
Up to that point, both ambulance services were receiving a $30,000 annual contribution from Hawkins County’s general fund.
Although Hawkins County EMS took over the territory that had previously been covered by Church Hill EMS, its contribution level stayed at $30,000 annually.
During discussion of the wheel tax earlier in the meeting, Commissioner Michael Herrell stated he would present a resolution halting any new spending.
Budget Committee Chairman Stacy Vaughan said he was pulling the EMS contribution resolution in light of the possible spending freeze and the fact that the wheel tax is generating well below projected revenue for the current fiscal year.
Vaughan said he will forward the resolution to the Public Safety Committee to recommend a possible solution. The Safety Committee meets Thursday at 8 a.m. at the county mayor’s office.
“It’s hard to cut new spending and then approve new spending all at the same time,” Vaughan said.
Herrell asked Murrell what Hawkins EMS did with the $30,000 it received from the county for 2017-18.
“Our $30,000 goes to payroll expenses, it goes to, fuel, it goes to maintenance on the trucks, it goes to dispatch fees, GPS on the ambulances, insurance,” Murrell said. “It goes to an endless amount of things that $30,000 has to be divided up into.”
Murrell said overtime expenses pile up because there’s a shortage of EMTs nationwide and his department has trouble hiring new employees. He said the service is currently four employees short.
At the end of January, he received a $20,000 workman’s comp bill, and another $30,000 workman’s comp bill is expected to arrive in March.
Herrell asked if it would be possible for Central dispatch to stop charging for dispatching a little more than $2 per call, which would amount to an estimated $30,000 annually.
Hawkins 911 Director Gay Murrell noted that it is illegal to dispatch for free to a private agency, such as Hawkins County EMS, and the state told Hawkins 911 to start billing.
Murrell said he couldn’t do his own dispatching for less than $30,000.
The Safety Committee is expected to make a recommendation on the funding request to the Budget Committee. That recommendation will be discussed at the March 19 Budget Committee meeting and possibly again at the March 26 commission meeting.
EMS should not be confused with the Hawkins County Rescue Squad and Church Hill Rescue Squad, which are comprised of volunteers and respond to emergencies much like volunteer fire departments do.