The Knox County Commission approved a five-year, $60 million contract for Rural/Metro ambulance services on initial review Monday, and continued talks on a service center for jail inmates with mental health issues.
The contract will be up for final approval at the commission's regular meeting Dec. 17.
"We're very excited to serve another five years," said Rob Webb, division general manager for Rural/Metro in Knox County.
The ambulance contract's approval was contested recently by competitor American Medical Response in a process that Knox County Purchasing Director Hugh Holt shot down last week.
The appeal raised questions over potential conflicts of interest that commissioners addressed Monday. Commissioners also discussed the process used to select Rural/Metro.
One issue raised by a protest letter from AMR was response times, with a claim that AMR's would be quicker than Rural/Metro's responses.
Holt and others said a penalty fee is levied on the contract holder for long response times.
Rural/Metro was fined $67,000 this past year in related response- time penalties.
In an attempt to be more strict on response times, the length of the reporting time is being changed, according to Commissioner Richard Briggs.
"There was a 15-day look-back period," he said. "It's going to be a 30-day period."
The change, Briggs said, will present a clearer picture of response times.
Commissioners approved the initial review of the contract, 10-0. Commissioner Amy Broyles was not present.
"I don't see any evidence that there was any wrongdoing or any activity that would cause us, that would cause me, not to vote on this contract," Commissioner Mike Hammond said.
In other business, Knox County Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones spoke to commissioners about meeting with Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and forming a joint committee with commissioners and City Council members to build a service center for jail inmates with mental health issues.
Those inmates who are repeat offenders and have mental health issues would be able to go to the service center, Jones said, and receive treatment instead of perpetually being in jail.
He said state, city and county officials are ready to talk and possibly spend money to build a 12-bed facility and fund its operation to rehabilitate those minor offenders with addictions or mental health problems.
County Commission Chairman Tony Norman said he'd contact Knoxville Vice Mayor Nick Pavlis to meet.
"To set something up in February," Norman said.
(c) 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.