Graham and Swain part ways over Deal’s Gap debateWritten by Bibeka Shrestha
Graham County delivered yet another jolt to the three-month debate over who should provide emergency services to Deal’s Gap, a motorcycle mecca in a satellite portion of Swain County that sees serious wrecks each year.
Graham commissioners voted 3-2 at its latest meeting to stop providing rescue and law enforcement to the Swain County territory starting Jan 1. Graham routinely handled all emergency calls to the remote area as a favor to Swain, but grew tired of providing the service and demanded $80,000 annually from Swain as compensation. Swain refused, however, prompting Graham’s surprise move to end services.
“The negotiations just don’t seem to be going anywhere,” said Graham County Commissioner Steve Odom. “They need to realize that that is their county. If they are genuinely concerned, they’re going to have to get out their checkbook. We can’t continue to do it for nothing.”
Since Swain doesn’t seem eager to pay up, Odom suggests that a part of the $195,000 Swain gets in property taxes from Deal’s Gap be used to set up an EMS substation to ensure quick response times once Swain has to take over the calls. It currently takes Swain from 45-50 minutes to reach the Deal’s Gap area.
At Monday’s county commissioner’s meeting, Swain County Manager Kevin King said the cost of installing such a substation in Deal’s Gap would be “astronomical” considering that there are only 34 homes and businesses in the area. The emergency calls to the area, however, stem from hordes of tourists riding sports cars and motorcycles on the famed twisty roads in the region known as the Hellbender and Tail of the Dragon.
One possible solution is to expedite the setup of a proposed substation in the western part of Swain County, which would cut response times to Deal’s Gap to 35-40 minutes. King said Blount County in Tennessee has comparable response times to similar wrecks on the other side of the state border near Deal’s Gap.
Glenn Jones, chairman of the Swain County Board of Commissioners, said while that response times may not be the best at first, the county would “iron the kinks out” in time.
At the same meeting, Graham County also voted unanimously to end trash pickup services for Deal’s Gap, breaking a $21,000 annual contract with Swain County. While Graham claimed the service actually costs close to $36,000, Jones said he doubts the bill will go over a third of the original $21,000.
Swain County had contracted that service out to Graham since its garbage trucks pass by the Deal’s Gap area anyway. But King said he will now look at how Swain County can take over the garbage pickup services itself.
Swain continues to point out that it responds to calls in the Graham County portion of the Tsali Recreation Area, a popular area for mountain bikers, and provides ambulance transport for Graham residents who end up in Swain’s hospital — both of which balance out Graham’s assistance in Deal’s Gap, Swain claims.
Another unanimous vote from Graham at its last meeting, however, resolved to take over the transport of its residents from Swain County Hospital to other area hospitals.
Meanwhile, Swain County plans to continue providing services in the Tsali area.
During the negotiations, Swain had offered to station an ambulance in Deal’s Gap during heavy traffic weekends and give Graham a discount to house any overflow prisoners in the Swain jail, offering to charge $40 instead of $50 per day. The offer was somewhat self-serving, as Swain would like to lure Graham to house prisoners in its new jail, which is struggling financially.
Odom said Graham County is still open to hearing other offers from Swain before the year’s end.
While Swain County Commissioners have not voted yet on a resolution on Deal’s Gap, no one brought up the idea of renegotiating with Graham at the latest meeting.
“It’s kind of like we’re beating a dead horse,” said Jones. “I think they know and we know, we don’t have $80,000.”