By Jesse Wood
Feb. 4, 2014. The Watauga County Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed to purchase 13 acres in Vilas for $102,000 on Tuesday to house an ambulance station that will decrease the response time to emergencies in Western Watauga.
Along with the offer to Leslie M. Humphreys, the commissioners set aside an additional $48,000 for due diligence of the property that is located near the intersection of U.S. 421 and U.S. 321. The due diligence period expires in 90 days, and the county can back out of the purchase in the meantime.
The county began looking for property last summer after the commissioners agreed to fund an additional 12-hour ambulance crew with Watauga Medics starting Jan. 1, 2014. The additional crew will cost nearly $170,000, according to County Manager Deron Geouque.
In May, Geouque mentioned that it would take at least a year to select a site, purchase the property and build a base. During the budget retreats, Watauga Medics Director Craig Sullivan added that the additional crew wouldn’t increase response times in Western Watauga unless an additional base was constructed.
The average EMS response time for the fire districts in Western Watauga such as Beaver Dam, Zionville, Cove Creek and Shawneehaw is the slowest in the county. Those consolidated districts represent 17 percent of the calls with an average response time of 18 minutes and 20 seconds, according to info provided in budget retreat packets last year. Individual responses to more isolated areas in the Western portion of the county can take up to 30 minutes or longer from stations closest to Boone
On Tuesday, County Manager Deron Geouque said the general area was determined after conversations with Sullivan confirmed Vilas would be the “best location” to affect response times in the Western part of the county while also aptly serving Boone, which represents 50 percent of all EMS calls.
Chair Nathan Miller noted that while 13 acres is much more than is needed for the ambulance station, Humphreys wouldn’t agree to parcel off her property.
“We could attempt to sell [the remainder] once we get what we need. We don’t need that much land, so we’ll probably split it off,” Miller said, adding that the purchase price per acre was a “pretty good deal.”