Knox County seniors may soon get a new senior center and better access to transportation thanks to county dollars.
Commissioners voted Monday to allocate $500,000 of their budget surplus to better serving seniors and disabled people who need rides to therapy or doctor's appointments.
They also earmarked $300,000 to find a location and draft a design for a new senior center in the Karns area of Northwest Knox County.
Commission Amy Broyles' original proposal for senior transportation funding would have awarded the majority of the money to Knox County CAC, which already provides rides for seniors and the disabled.
But commission followed the law director's advice to invite other operators to bid on the contract, a move that Broyles urged against in the interest of expediency.
County Purchasing Director Hugh Hugh Holt said getting the information from interested service providers and drafting a contract will likely take four to six weeks.
CAC Executive Director Barbara Kelly says no matter who provides the service, it's a great boost for home-bound seniors.
"For people who need to recover from a stroke and need to go therapy, for people who are trying to recover their function after they've had a heart attack. To be able to say 'yes' when somebody calls and says 'can I be transported to my therapy?', is just a wonderful outcome of today's activity at commission," said Kelly.
Kelly says CAC already provides 800 round trips a day but most of those seats are paid for by private entities, such as Tennova.
She estimates that only about 20 seats are available daily for people who want to go to other healthcare appointments or run errands.
And she says they routinely turn away about twenty people daily who want to schedule recurring transportation for visits such as physical therapy.
CAC Director of the Office On Aging Barbara Monty estimates each round trip they provide costs about $18.
Some commissioner says they want to see if another company can beat that.
The money will come from the county's budget surplus.
Caldwell strongly cautioned commissioners against using the surplus for reoccurring expenses.
He says most of the extra money is attributed to one time boosts, such as an unexpected fuel savings from the sheriff's office.
His office is also projecting lower than expected sales and property tax numbers.
After today Caldwell says commissioners have spent all but $2.2 million of the budget surplus.
That money will go in to the general fund, which he estimates to be at around $45 million.
Here's how they voted:
Ed Shouse: yes, Mike Hammond: yes, Mike Brown: yes, Dave Wright: no, R. Larry Smith: no, Brad Anders: yes, Jeff Ownby: pass, Amy Broyles: yes, Sam McKenzie: yes, Tony Norman: yes.