Panel de­fers am­bu­lance ser­vice re­quest

Cost ex­ceeds what county bud­geted for it by $38,000

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - TOM SISSOM

BENTONVILLE — Of­fi­cials heard Tues­day am­bu­lance ser­vice in north­east­ern Ben­ton County will cost about $38,000 more than the $95,000 the county bud­geted for 2017.

The Fi­nance Com­mit­tee asked Brenda Guen­ther, comp­trol­ler, work with the North­east Ben­ton County Fire Depart­ment to doc­u­ment the depart­ment’s bud­get, ex­penses and an­tic­i­pated rev­enues for the re­main­der of the year and re­port back to the jus­tices of the peace.

“It would be nice to get us all on the same sheet of mu­sic,” said Mike McKen­zie, jus­tice of the peace for District 1, which in­cludes much of the area around Garfield cov­ered by the NEBCO Fire Depart­ment’s am­bu­lance ser­vice.

Fire Chief Rob Taylor told the com­mit­tee the depart­ment is us­ing the $95,000 al­lot­ted to it by the county to op­er­ate a sec­ond am­bu­lance. Taylor said the money re­ceived from mem­ber­ship dues as­sessed to res­i­dents sup­ports the rest of the depart­ment’s op­er­a­tions.

“Run­ning that am­bu­lance ser­vice cost us about $523,000 a year,” Taylor said. “The $95,000 from the county goes to run the sec­ond am­bu­lance.”

Taylor said the sec­ond am­bu­lance fills a crit­i­cal role for NEBCO and sur­round­ing ar­eas. If the depart­ment’s pri­mary am­bu­lance is sent on a call, he said, the area is with­out cov­er­age if the sec­ond am­bu­lance isn’t avail­able. Taylor said the sec­ond am­bu­lance is in ser­vice four days each week.

“An am­bu­lance trans­fer up there is about two hours long,” Taylor said. “So that area up there, if we have an am­bu­lance in ser­vice, they’re with­out cov­er­age for that two hours. It’s crit­i­cal that we try to keep that sec­ond am­bu­lance in ser­vice on days when we can.”

Joel Jones, jus­tice of the peace for District 7, said he wants to see more de­tailed in­for­ma­tion on the is­sue and sup­ported McKen­zie’s sug­ges­tion to de­lay con­sid­er­a­tion of the re­quest while Guen­ther works with the NEBCO of­fi­cials.

“I like Mike’s idea, that we get to­gether and try to fig­ure this thing out,” Jones said.

The com­mit­tee en­dorsed NEBCO’s ap­pli­ca­tion for a state grant to help pay for a new fire boat to serve on Beaver Lake. Ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion pro­vided to the com­mit­tee, the depart­ment has raised about $238,000 of the cost of the boat, es­ti­mated at about $346,000. Taylor said the new boat will have fire­fight­ing and med­i­cal emer­gency ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

“It will be an am­bu­lance on the wa­ter,” Taylor said.

Guen­ther said the grant is made avail­able through the Arkansas Ru­ral Com­mu­nity Grant Pro­gram, which has a pool of about $600,000 avail­able for grants. The com­mit­tee ap­proved send­ing the grant to the Com­mit­tee of the Whole. A sim­i­lar grant ap­pli­ca­tion, for $15,000 for a fire boat for the High­way 94 East Fire Depart­ment, was also sent to the Com­mit­tee of the Whole.

Also Tues­day, County Judge Barry Moehring and Barb Lud­wig, hu­man re­sources ad­min­is­tra­tor, re­viewed a num­ber of per­son­nel and wage changes for sev­eral de­part­ments. Moehring stressed the changes in de­part­ments un­der his bud­get “are bud­get neu­tral or less” for the rest of 2016 and the costs shouldn’t in­crease for 2018. Lud­wig said the costs of all of the changes are cov­ered in the 2017 bud­get.

“The net to­tal sav­ings is $105,877,” Lud­wig said.

The pro­posed changes were for­warded to the Com­mit­tee of the Whole which is set to meet at 6 p.m. Thurs­day in the Quo­rum Court­room in the County Ad­min­is­tra­tion Build­ing.

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