BENTON COUNTY (KFSM) – Benton County voters on Tuesday night (Nov. 4) approved a measure that would raise property taxes to pay for ambulance service to rural areas of the county for 2015.
The two-tenths mill increase would amount to a $4 per month increase on a $100,000 home. The measure passed 33,845 votes (58 percent) to 24,480 (42 percent).
A separate item on the ballot asked voters whether they would be in favor of instead levying a $40 per-household fee on those affected by ambulance service to unincorporated areas. That measure failed 5,612 votes (51 percent) to 5,313 (49 percent).
The Benton County Quorum Court discussed both items as possibilities earlier this year while trying to solve how to pay for ambulance services to unincorporated areas in the county. After several meetings and public input sessions, officials decided to place both items on the ballot and let voters decide which one---if any---they wanted to approve.
Benton County Judge Bob Clinard said county administrators estimate rural emergency medical service will cost the county $1,050,000 in 2015 and $1.2 million in 2016.
"This millage increase is going to make an ambulance available for any place in Benton County," Clinard said. "That millage increase will bring in about $800,000 a year to the county."
The Rogers Fire Department provides ambulance services to Benton County. Captain Shawn Treat said their services are vital to those who live in rural areas.
"Essentially everything you would find in an [emergency room], you would find in the back of one of the ambulances," Treat said. "We run out into the county three or four times a shift. Without our services, they would not have a way to get to the hospital."
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.
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).