By Nathan Baker
A Carter County committee deadlocked Monday night on a proposal to provide emergency and rescue squad services to thousands of residents, voting to shift responsibility for the decision to another committee despite pleas from other officials urging a swift resolution.
“The sands are falling through the hourglass, folks,” County Mayor Leon Humphrey warned the Carter County Health and Welfare Committee, referring to the looming deadline when the current contract between the county and the Carter County Emergency and Rescue Squad will expire.
“July 1 will be here before we know it, so we’ve got to come out of this gridlock. What is the price of a life?” Humphrey said.
Tasked with analyzing and recommending one of the options offered by the Carter County Emergency and Rescue Squad to the full commission, committee members could not gather enough votes to either approve or reject the two one-year contract scenarios on the table.
Richard Norris, the squad’s attorney, said the commission could approve a one-time payment of $225,000 to fund the nonprofit’s annual search and rescue, prisoner and corpse transport and HazMat response services, or it could agree to pay a la carte, without certainty of which services would be needed throughout the year or how much they would cost.
“For years, the rescue squad did not charge for services; those times have changed,” Norris said. “This county commission over the last couple of years has come out and basically tried to make it known that the rescue squad should not charge. It’s put a mindset in folks that it’s still for free, and it’s not.”
The rescue squad previously asked the commission for a four-year contract.
Since then, the city of Elizabethton approved a four-year contract with the squad, and Norris said the new stability from that agreement allowed the contract terms with the county to be reduced.
Before beginning a lengthy debate of the proposal, the committee members entertained recommendations for approval of the contract from area health professionals.