Grainger County will soon replace an aging ambulance fleet thanks to action by the county commission Monday night.

The commission approved an emergency purchase of four new ambulances and four cardiac monitors for the Grainger County EMS. Funds will come through a $600,000 capital outlay note, costing $85,000 a year for eight years.

Four new ambulances will cost $398,000 with the four cardiac monitors priced at $66,600.

Shortly after his approval as the new EMS director, Mardy Bowen addressed the commission on the pressing needs of the service’s fleet.

“The situation isn’t getting any better, it’s getting a lot worse,” Bowen said. “We have ambulances sitting at a shop in Knoxville that the costs will be astronomical to fix.”

Bowen said that on that particular unit, it has torn up three times in a week and a half. While borrowing ambulances from other services, one of those ambulances from Jefferson County had rear wheel repairs performed at a cost of $600. Another ambulance has a vibration on it to the point that it cannot go more than 35 miles per hour.

Another unit has been in a Knoxville repair shop which cost almost $5,000. Two days after getting the ambulance back, the transmission was not shifting correctly and the ambulance would not start. One of the two alternators had stopped working.

“We really need four ambulances,” Bowen said. “We currently have two trucks that we’re able to keep on the road right now.”

Even before taking over as EMS Director, Bowen had been researching ambulances and costs. Bowen found some Chevrolet gasoline engine ambulances in Jefferson, North Carolina, with a 36,000 mile three-year powertrain warranty for $398,000, or around $99,642 each. They could be ready for delivery within a month.

Some commissioners asked Bowen if he could find maintenance records on the current ambulances. Bowen responded that he couldn’t find any records.

Also, stretchers on the ambulances need replacement, according to Bowen.

“You don’t have to have power stretchers, but manual stretchers, because of the general public getting heavier, are a lot harder on our crew,” Bowen said. “The stretchers do need to be revamped within a serviceable time frame, around seven years. We have a couple of stretchers that are about 20 years old. Most of the stretchers we have are up to 10 years old. We have one that we can keep to put on one of the trucks to backup.”

The stretchers can be rebuilt cheaper by a company than the county doing it themselves, according to Bowen. He said that Stretchers Are Us replaces the hydraulics and lines involved on each stretcher and resells them.

“They do this all of the time. They put new motors, hydraulic lines and steel wheels, everything about them is brand new,” Bowen said.

“I agree that we do need this,” Commissioner Becky Johnson said. “We have got to have this. This is a lot of money. Also, are we going to pay for this?”

County Mayor Mike Byrd said that the recent tax increase “stopped the bleeding” in the county’s debt service fund.

“If we borrow $600,000 at $85,000 a year, in 2021 we’ll be in the red again around $63,000,” Byrd said. “We’ll be in the red $43,000 in 2021. In 2022, we’ll be in the black again and increasing our debt service fund.”

Commissioner Larry Johnson made the motion to purchase the ambulances and cardiac monitors, with Leon Spoon seconding. The purchase passed 13-0, with commissioners Andy Cameron and Justin Epperson absent.

Bowen promised the commission to put the new ambulances on a maintenance schedule and to keep the legislative body informed of any concerns.

A $1 per tire tipping fee will begin to be charged starting Jan. 1 at Grainger County Landfill. Solid Waste Director Ed McBee said that it costs $850 to dispose of a 53-foot trailer load of tires, around 800 tires.

“When we based this on $1 a tire, we’ll get so much back from the state from the tire disposal fee,” McBee said. “We sent out 122 tons worth of tires last year or 8,114 tires per month. It takes 71 passenger vehicle tires to make a ton.”

Several members of the EMS board were appointed, including Jill Cabbage to replace Doug Smith, Dewayne Irwin to replace Scott Satterfield, the reappointment of Andy Cameron and Bob Coffey to the board.

In other board appointments, JoAnn Shipe and Charlie McGaha were reappointed to the library board, while Bill Games, Tandy Nicely and Luke Stratton were appointed to the Grainger County Beer Board.

A 2004 GMC C-4500 ambulance involved in a wreck will be put up for auction.