Voters To Decide Fate Of Ambulance Service To Rural Benton County

As some Benton County voters get ready to decide whether to fund local ambulance services, emergency crews are warning they could have to cut off some rural areas if the proposed ambulance fee does not pass.

There are seven service providers that provide ambulance services to the unincorporated parts of Benton County. Arkansas state laws say cities can provide services outside of their city limits if there is a contract in place for them to be reimbursed. Over the past three years, the county has paid some money to the cities, but city officials say it’s just not enough to keep the rural service going.

Benton County Judge Bob Clinard said the cost for rural ambulance services in Benton County could reach $1.2 million by 2016. Clinard said to reimburse city providers for the availability of ambulance services, households in unincorporated areas will have to pay an annual $85 fee. Clinard said the fee is based on the estimate for 2016.

About 19,500 unincorporated households will decide whether or not to support the permanent funding mechanism on Feb. 11. Travis Key said he does not support the fee.

“I think it’s ridiculous when we spend all of our tax money in the towns and we do all of our shopping in the towns,” he said. “They already get money from us. I think it’s ridiculous to  impose another tax on top of that.”

Josh Mann said he believes residents in rural areas should pay for EMS services.

“It makes sense to me for them to get their money from the homeowners instead of the state,” he said.

If the vote fails, Siloam Springs, one of the seven providers in the county, is prepared to cease EMS services, according to the city.

The Board of Directors passed a resolution to discontinue service to unincorporated parts of Benton County if the reimbursement is not met. Some residents said that’s just not right.

“That puts people in a tough spot, especially emergency services,” said Key. “I mean are you going to really let somebody sit out there and bleed to death in a ditch? I don’t agree with that at all.”

If the vote passes, Clinard said the annual fee would go into effect this year. People would have until Oct. 15 to pay it.

5 comments

  • Carol Davis-Sonnier (@glory_and_grace)

    February 8, 2014
    RE: PROPOSED AMBULANCE SERVICE FEE TO UNINCORPORATED AREAS OF BENTON COUNTY, ARKANSAS
    AN OPEN LETTER TO BENTON COUNTY JUDGE CLINARD, THE BENTON COUNTY QUORUM COURT, THE CITY AMBULANCE SERVICES OF SILOAM SPRINGS, ROGERS, BENTONVILLE, AND THE RESIDENTS OF BENTON COUNTY, ARKANSAS:
    As residents of the “unincorporated areas of Benton County”, we’re being told we either agree to an $85.00 fee that grants us nothing but the privilege of being able to call for an ambulance if needed.
    The figures are arbitrary, and apparently no one, including our County Judge, knows what the figures will be until presented with a bill to pay. The “contracts” with these cities don’t appear to be contracts at all, but instead open-ended ‘the County will pay what you bill us’ arrangements.
    I will vote against this “fee”. There are numerous reasons why:
    “To address this issue long term, the County commissioned a study to determine the options available.” (Judge Clinard’s January 2014 letter to County Residents )
    • Our Benton County government thought nothing of spending $29,900.00 of our tax dollars for an outside consulting firm (Ludwig LLC Group) to tell us all something that should have been easily ascertained by the man hours of one or two County office personnel. The cost of that study is more than most County employees make in a year. Each city’s ambulance service certainly has records regarding how many calls were outside the city limits. But yet taxpayer dollars were spent on an outside ‘commissioned study’ that involved nothing more than researching and compiling existing records, and doing the math. http://www.co.benton.ar.us/Media/Publication/Committees/Meeting/Meeting_20110920_0530%20PM_Public%20Safety_Misc.pdf (page 21) September 2011

    Siloam Springs’ EMS has openly stated they’re “prepared to cease services outside the city” if this “fee” does not pass with the voters.
    • Do you know of any legitimate business which would willingly give up hundreds of thousands of dollars of its annual revenue because it couldn’t impose a additional fee on a certain category of customers? I don’t… with the apparent exception of Siloam Springs, Rogers and Bentonville, Arkansas.
    • That’s not a “scare tactic”, it’s a threat to human life.
    • There are no more manpower hours required to work calls outside the city limits than to work calls on city streets.

    “The election concerns an $85.00 annual fee to be imposed beginning in 2014 to assure ambulance service remains available in the unincorporated areas of Benton County…. If approved, the fee will be added to real estate tax bills and will be payable between April and October 15th each year along with real estate taxes.”
    “Because of the ongoing drain on County resources, the Quorum Court undertook the task of determining a mechanism which would provice certainty with regard to the funding for this service. In September 2013, an ordinance was approved assessing the annual $85.00 fee.”
    • This is being called a “fee”, not a tax that must be presented to the voters. But yet if approved this one time, it will be added to our property tax bill each year, and the Quorum Court won’t have to go to the voters again when they see fit to raise the “fee”.
    • “…ongoing drain on County resources…” : Benton County reaps the benefits of sales tax dollars spent by outside sources visiting Crystal Bridges Museum and Pinnacle Promenade, War Eagle and other Crafts Fairs, the FLW Fishing Tournament, and of course the huge Wal-Mart shindig every year. EVERY Benton County resident pours tax dollars into this County. Additionally, we’re blessed because of the many Washington, Madison and Carroll County residents who spend money shopping in our County, as do residents of NE Oklahoma and SW Missouri.
    • To state that our County’s resources are experiencing an “ongoing drain” reflects not our need for ambulance service in unincorporated areas, but the proclivity of County officials to spend tax dollars unwisely.
    • Every resident of “unincorporated areas of Benton County” spends our tax dollars inside the cities that provide these services to us.
    • Additionally, every resident pays for 911 service each and every month. I can think of one time in 14 years that I’ve called 911, and it was not for an ambulance.
    “This resulted in initial subsidies totaling $100,000.00 in 2011, followed by $150,000.00 and $300,000.00 for 2012 and 2013, respectively. …The cost for 2014 is just over $950,000.00, and the costs are expected to rise to approximately $1.2 million by 2016 and then level off.”
    • Who on earth would contract with any city, entity or company with such an open-ended, blank line contract?
    • Where are the records backing up these amounts, the increases, and the projections? Who has seen the budgeting behind these figures?
    • How on earth can the costs increase $650,000.00 in ONE year, then an ADDITIONAL $550,000.00 projected increase the following year? For Benton County, Arkansas? Benton County Judge Clinard, the Quorum Court and these cities’ EMS departments must think we’re blubbering mindless fools.
    • HOW can we be expected to trust the costs will “level off” after 2016? What logic is that? Continual exorbitant increases for 5 years in a row, just to be told they’ll “level off”? No, I don’t believe that. We’ll be hit with an increase every single year on our tax statements.
    The answer here is so very simple, and may need to start with our State Legislature. Every business involving transportation charges a fuel surcharge or mileage charge. Insurance companies and individuals are accustomed to paying mileage and/or fuel surcharges. Each city’s ambulance service should charge a fuel surcharge and/or mileage charge for those times they’re called out of the city limits.
    Sincerely,

    Carol Sonnier
    “unincorporated Benton County” resident

  • Shawn

    Private business is private business, they will charge what they want to charge. And the ones that aren’t are not bound by law to do anything that will negatively impact their budgets. Schools take 79.3% of all county taxes, the cities 9.5%, the county is 9.2%, the county roads 1.3%, and the odds and ends like Fire & EMS is .7%. People are grumping a whole lot over about 7 dollars a month to ensure that medical can get to you. Is it perfect, hell no. But sometimes you got to work with what you got. I say pass this now to stop gap the problem, then help vote in a county ran system. Either way you look at it it’s gonna cost money.

  • joesumone

    $85 x 19,500 households = $1,657,500

    Clinard said it is estimated to cost $1,200,000 by 2016.

    $1,657,500 – $1,200,00 = $457,000

    Where does (whom does) the extra money go to? This goes into effect this year, if passed.

    $1,200,000 / 19,500 households = $61.54 / household

    Who came up with this particular fee (tax) amount?

    • Carol Davis-Sonnier (@glory_and_grace)

      No one seems to know…. it’s apparently based solely on what each city’s EMS department decides to bill the County, and the County has been paying it. They talk about a “contract”, but I’ve never seen a contract that could fluctuate from $100,000 to $1,200,000 in 5 years with nothing extra to show for it. If we didn’t pay city sales tax when we go into town to shop, and pay every single month for the 911 fee, I may be able to understand a small fee. I DO NOT understand a County government that works on such blank check contracts. There’s no oversight for these services, and we’re just expected to pay it. Period. With no guarantee that it won’t increase yearly.

  • L. Key

    So, when the city mayors venture into the county are are involved in an accident; do you think they will be transported by ambulance to the hospital? It’s amazing to me that as soon as the local governments want more money they start threatening everyone’s emergency services. Do you remember when they wanted to raise the sales tax? Yep, it was going to affect the police and fire departments – mass cuts and layoffs were sure to happen – services would diminish! Oh wait, I guess it’s just my word – it’s not like there are any actual news reports with the threats that were thrown around back then.

    Hmmmm, one wonders what back room deal was struck to make this deal happen?

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