Benton County leaders on Tuesday night approved spending $257,000 out of the county’s reserve fund to reimburse cities for rural ambulance service.
The proposal was forwarded to the Benton County Committee of the Whole after it passed the county’s finance committee last week. Committee members voted 10-3 at their regularly-scheduled meeting Tuesday night to approve the appropriation.
The amount brings the total cost of servicing rural areas of Benton County to $942,000. The amount approved Tuesday night is the last of the money needed to reimburse local fire departments for ambulance service in 2014.
Judge Bob Clinard said county leaders also agreed to replenish the county’s reserve fund in the future to make up for the amount of money that will be taken out to pay for rural EMS service.
Quorum Court members last month approved cutting $450,000 from the road department’s budget to help pay for rural ambulance service. The county also carried over $236,000 from last year’s funds to help pay down the ambulance costs, Clinard said.
The county is working out deals with local cities’ emergency crews to reimburse them for servicing rural areas outside of their city coverage. The Springdale City Council on March 25 approved a $68,744 deal with the county, a day after Bella Vista city leaders approved a similar contract with the county for $10,000.
Voters rejected a measure in February 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. Clinard said the cost for rural ambulance services in Benton County could reach $1.2 million by 2016.
The county has about $11 million in reserve money, Clinard said.