BENTON COUNTY (KFSM) – Benton County voters will have two options to vote on to determine what to do about the uncertainty surrounding rural ambulance service.
The Benton County Quorum Court on Tuesday night approved a measure to place the two options on the Nov. 4 ballot. One option would charge each unincorporated Benton County home $40 per year to ensure ambulances can service their areas in 2015. The other option would raise the county’s millage rate two-tenths of a mill for all residents, including those in city limits, according to county officials.
The millage increase would average about $4 to every $100,000 of appraised property, county officials said.
The decision comes after county administrators spent months trying to determine which option would be best for the November ballot. Voters may approve both options, neither or just one of them, said Benton County Judge Bob Clinard.
Spending to cover rural ambulance service costs for this year was already approved by county officials earlier this year. The Quorum Court cut $450,000 from the road department’s budget. The county also carried over $236,000 from last year’s funds to help pay down the ambulance costs. The additional $257,000 taken out of Benton County’s reserve fund brought the total cost for rural ambulance service in 2014 to $942,000.
Clinard said county administrators estimate rural emergency medical service will cost the county $1,050,000 in 2015 and $1.2 million in 2016.
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. No cities ended up cutting rural residents out of ambulance service.
The county has about $11 million in reserve money, Clinard said.