Roane County residents could soon have to pay a new fee to support its ambulance services.

Roane County EMS currently staffs three ambulances across the county at all times under funding from a 40-year-old levy, patient billing and local hospitals through emergency transports, EMS Director Jody Ratliff said.

Due to COVID-19, Roane General Hospital is eliminating its emergency transportation between hospitals, and the funding that provides the department will end in July.

Calhoun EMS is struggling to keep one ambulance fully staffed, with ambulances reportedly needing constant repair and needing replaced.

Generally staffing ambulances with trained personnel has become a problem in the Mountain State.

Roane EMS is currently able to answer all of its 911 calls, but Ratliff said the loss of revenue would likely limit its capacity to two ambulances and reduce response capability.

"We want to be able to provide the best care we can provide to Roane County citizens," Ratliff said. "That’s what we are here for, and to be able to do that and keep up with all of the calls, we need three trucks."

To help keep Roane residents fully protected, Ratliff has proposed separating EMS from the current levy shared with the county's six fire departments and create a separate fee in the form of an ordinance or additional levy.

"Unfortunately, if we don’t get this, this is going to put us in a very, very hard position," Ratliff said. "We can get about 58 or 59 percent of what we bill (insurance companies) for, but it’s that other part of it that we need to be able to keep the funding going to make sure that third truck stays on the road."

The new fee would be approximately $50 per household per year, Ratliff said. He is working with the County Commission to introduce the fee to help fund the department as soon as possible.

"We want any person who lays down in one of those ambulances to know they have got the best care, the best trucks and the best service that we as commissioners can provide them," County Commissioner Randy Whited said.

He would prefer the fee is introduced as a levy so people have a chance to vote on it, but said citizens have always supported levies for critical services.

"We are having this town hall meeting on June 25 at 6 p.m. for people to come out and voice their opinion and see what they think so that the people of Roane County are well informed," Whited said.

The new fee will also have new benefits for Roane County residents, Ratliff said. It will include "zero balance billing" so anyone who pays the fee will not be sent a bill for an ambulance service. The patient's insurance company will be billed, and the ambulance fee will cover the rest of the expenses.

"My point of view is that a vote yes from the County Commission is a vote to save lives in Roane County," Ratliff said.