$450,000 In Road Dept Cuts Approved To Fund EMS Service

bentoncountyroadept

Benton County leaders finalized a vote Thursday night to cut $450,000 from the road department’s budget to fund ambulance service to rural areas of the county.

Quorum Court members approved the financial move nine days after the county’s finance committee initially proposed the idea and voted to send it to the Quorum Court.

The money comes out of the Benton County Road Department’s asphalt budget, still leaving $2.2 million in the asphalt fund, Quorum Court members said Thursday. An additional $250,000 is still being sought to completely fund the continuation of ambulance service to unincorporated areas.

The money redirected from the road department may cause the county’s road construction schedule to be altered.

“People in the county want, deserve and should have ambulance service, but they also want their roads fixed,” said Benton County Judge Bob Clinard told 5NEWS before the Quorum Court passed the measure.

Clinard said taking money away from the road department will impact the number of roads that will be paved.

“That would not have been my choice,” Clinard said. “I would rather have seen them take the remainder of this year out of reserves until we determine a permanent solution.”

Benton County Public Safety Administrator Marshall Watson said county officials are pleased with the plan because it allows the county to keep its reserve funds untouched while providing a service wanted by many county residents.

Watson said the Public Safety Committee will brainstorm on a permanent solution, though.

“We’ll basically re-evaluate the entire process and start from scratch,” Watson said when the finance committee approved the measure. “Do we continue to utilize existing providers? Do we look at a county run EMS agency or some alternative such as a private or non-profit ambulance agency? We’ll also be looking at funding mechanisms to sustain that in the long-term interest.”

Watson estimates that by 2015, county ambulances will respond to about 2,100 calls and transport about 1,700 patients to the hospital.

Voters rejected a measure earlier this month 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.

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 had passed a resolution to discontinue service to unincorporated parts of Benton County if the reimbursement is not met.

If the public vote had passed, Clinard said the annual fee would have gone into effect this year.

5 comments

  • john

    Can’t have your cake and eat it at the same time.

    It is one or the other.

    Maybe the area hospitals can contribute into a fund to help pay for the rural ambulance services.

    Maybe the county can sell yearly ambulance memberships for $49 per household and that would allow for like $100 max bill each, for the first 5 calls in any calendar year. $100 per call/service.

    Maybe they can gain corporate sponsorship from the many businesses located in Benton county.

    Maybe a federal program exist that provides grants to help fund a rural ambulance service.

    I’d look at all the options on the table and even look beyond the table for any unthought of solutions.

    Surly rural Benton county isn’t the first and only area in the USA to encounter these types of funding crisis’ for the rural populations.

    A way has to exist.

  • Shirl

    Every fire station in the city has a ambulance. Why not take a few of them and place them at rural fire stations. Or better yet, a private ambulance company to serve both the city and the county. The cities that are going to cut service to the rural ares that don’t pay, will reconsider when someone dies because they didn’t answer a call and they get sued.

  • wageslave

    the roads here are just a bunch of pig trails anyway. this is arkansas. the money that is suppose to be for improving things usually goes into a redneck politician’s pockets. this state is disgusting. i bet they could manage to build a new jail if needed.

  • txkreddog

    Aren’t you folks in Beton County so glad your “leaders” know so much better than you how to spend your tax dollars? Put it on the ballot and let the voters decide. Those receiving the service should pay for it, not everyone else. As with all of us, if we don’t vote them out, we deserve what we get.

  • Phil

    Sad, very Sad.
    The people voted for a sales tax to improve the roads.
    The people voted against paying for ambulance service.
    The Quorum Court, knowing what is better for us than we do, voted to rob $450,000 from the road improvements and give it to the ambulance service, and by the way, that is just this year, what about next year.
    I would expect this kind of treatment out of Washington DC, but not at the local level.

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