Benton County officials Thursday night voted to fund rural ambulance services, two days after voters soundly rejected an annual fee that would have funded ambulances making calls to unincorporated areas.
Members of the Benton County finance committee said they do not yet know how they will fund the continuation of rural ambulance service, but assured county residents they will find a way. Committee members said they would fund the full $796,339, the amount needed to continue service.
"We are going to have to find a place to cut to find that additional money," said Tom Allen, finance committee chair.
The measure now goes to the Benton County Quorum Court, which will vote whether to affirm the committee's decision.
Meanwhile, service to unincorporated parts of the county will not be interrupted, the committee members said Thursday.
Voters rejected a measure Tuesday night that would have levied an $85 annual fee on about 20,000 rural residents of Benton County to pay for service calls to unincorporated areas. The measure failed 2,346 votes (67 percent) to 1,134 (33 percent).
Some emergency crews had warned they could have to cut off some rural areas if the proposed ambulance fee did 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 said 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.
Emergency crews in Siloam Springs, one of the seven providers in the county, said before the vote that they were prepared to cease EMS services to unincorporated areas, according to the city.
The city's Board of Directors passed a resolution to discontinue service to unincorporated parts of Benton County if the reimbursement is not met.
If the vote had passed, Clinard said the annual fee would have gone into effect this year.