ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins County Commission gave its final approval Monday evening to make an additional $30,000 contribution to Hawkins County EMS to help offset expenses created by overtime.
The funds will prevent HCEMS from potentially having to park one of its six 24/7 ambulances.
However, some commissioners said they would like to see the ambulance service eliminate some of its spending as well, such as employee Christmas bonuses, which HCEMS Director Jason Murrell estimated cost $10,000 last year.
Murrell said his board has notified employees that Christmas bonuses may be canceled this year.
Another suggestion was for HCEMS to consider reducing employee health insurance costs by requiring an employee match. Currently HCEMS pays 100 percent of employee health insurance.
Why does HCEMS need the money?
Murrell has stated repeatedly that an EMT shortage has left his department understaffed, which means he’s been paying more overtime and other associated costs. He said he has cut overtime this year as much as possible.
Historically the commission has contributed $60,000 toward ambulance service in the county. Before Church Hill EMS folded in August of 2016, both services were receiving $30,000 annually, but HCEMS didn’t receive an increase when it took over the CHEMS territory.
“We need to fund the EMS right now,” said said County Mayor Melville Bailey. “The year before last, we did $60,000. Church Hill was there. In fairness to Hawkins County (EMS) ... they should have the $60,000 because they’re covering the whole county.”
Where will the funding come from?
As had been recommended by the Budget Committee last week, the commission voted 12-5-1 in favor of an amendment to fund the $30,000 HCEMS contribution from a $39,000 telecommunications tax recently received from the state.
That tax had been withheld while the state considered new legislation on that tax allocation.
There was quite a bit of discussion prior to the vote on that amendment regarding wheel tax revenue and the $10 portion of last year’s $40 wheel tax increase that is supposed to fund the county’s $530,000 in public safety contributions.
Some commissioners wanted clarification about how that $10 is allocated, and some were not satisfied with the explanation.
Budget Committee Chairman Stacy Vaughan explained that revenue generated by the $10 is intended to replace the $530,000 budgeted from the general fund to cover the cost of public safety contributions.
However, because collection of the $40 increase started three months into the fiscal year, the county is more than $700,000 behind the $2.1 million projection for new revenue that the wheel tax increase was expected to generate.
Vaughan said the entire $40 increase will be needed to cover 2017-18 expenditures.
How did commissioners vote?
Among those who voted against the amendment were commissioners Dwight Carter, B.D. Cradic, Fred Castle, Danny Alvis and Rick Brewer. Jeff Barrett abstained.
A second amendment to pay the extra $30,000 to HCEMS in two installments on April 1 and May 1, instead of in four installments, was approved 16-1-1 with Carter opposed and Barrett abstaining.
The final resolution was approved 15-3 with Carter, Barrett and Alvis voting no.