County, Mercy reach agree­ment

Am­bu­lance ser­vice to cover Ben­ton County’s east­ern part Ru­ral am­bu­lance ser­vice

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

BEN­TONVILLE — Ben­ton County has reached an agree­ment with Mercy Emer­gency Med­i­cal Ser­vices for am­bu­lance ser­vice in most of the east­ern part of the county.

County Judge Barry Moehring told the Quo­rum Court’s Bud­get Com­mit­tee on Thurs­day that Mercy has been cho­sen to pro­vide am­bu­lance ser­vice and air am­bu­lance ser­vice to the un­in­cor­po­rated part of the county east of Rogers and south of Beaver Lake. The Rogers Fire Depart­ment has cov­ered much of that area for years, with Mercy cover­ing the south­east­ern cor­ner of the county.

Moehring said the county re­ceived two re­sponses to its re­quest for pro­pos­als and Mercy pre­sented the best of­fer. Mercy will part­ner with the Beaver Lake Fire Depart­ment to upgrade the am­bu­lance ser­vice that the fire depart­ment re­cently started from ba­sic life sup­port to ad­vanced life sup­port. Mercy also will op­er­ate a sec­ond am­bu­lance in the ser­vice area at a lo­ca­tion yet to be de­ter­mined. Mercy will pro­vide the first-call air am­bu­lance ser­vice to the area.

Robert McGowen, the county’s emer­gency ser­vices ad­min­is­tra­tor, said the pro­posal from Mercy will ac­com­plish the four goals the county had when it made the re­quest for pro­pos­als: have one con­tract for the area, pro­vide ad­vanced life sup­port ser­vice, of­fer air am­bu­lance ser­vice and lower the county’s cost.

Mercy’s pro­posal will pro­vide ser­vice to the en­tire area at a cost of about $546,000 in 2018. In 2017, the county Ben­ton County con­tracts with six cities — Bella Vista, Ben­tonville, Gravette, Pea Ridge, Rogers and Siloam Springs — along with the North­east Ben­ton County Fire Depart­ment and Mercy Health Sys­tem to pro­vide ru­ral am­bu­lance ser­vice. The am­bu­lance providers were paid about $1.8 mil­lion in 2016. was pay­ing the Rogers Fire Depart­ment about $352,000 for ser­vice east of the city and pay­ing Mercy $466,000 for the south­east­ern cor­ner of the county. By com­bin­ing the ser­vice area, McGowen said, Mercy will have a greater call vol­ume to rely on, so it was able to lower the cost to the county. Over­all, McGowen said, the county will save about $284,000 next year.

Ben­ton County has worked with mu­nic­i­pal fire de­part­ments, the North­east Ben­ton County Fire Depart­ment and Mercy to pro­vide ru­ral am­bu­lance ser­vice. In 2017 the ser­vice cost about $1.8 mil­lion. A voter-ap­proved emer­gency med­i­cal ser­vices mill­age pro­vided about $875,000 for am­bu­lance ser­vice in 2017. A vol­un­tary am­bu­lance mill­age pro­vided an­other $257,000, and the county’s gen­eral fund was tapped for the re­main­ing $672,000.

“I think this is great for the county,” McGowen said. “We’re able to re­duce the costs that have been con­tin­u­ally go­ing up.”

Jus­tice of the peace Mike McKen­zie, whose district in­cludes some of the area in­cluded in the ser­vice area, sup­ported the pro­posal.

“I ap­plaud you guys for do­ing this,” McKen­zie said. “It’s go­ing to be great to have an ALS am­bu­lance out there closer to the peo­ple.”

The com­mit­tee also re­viewed the 2018 bud­get re­quest for the Sher­iff’s Of­fice and Jail. The op­er­at­ing bud­gets for both the Sher­iff’s Of­fice and Jail came in with mod­est in­creases, less than 3 per­cent in each case, but Sher­iff Shawn Hol­loway pre­sented the jus­tices of the peace with re­quests for 18 new em­ploy­ees with a cost of nearly $1 mil­lion and cap­i­tal re­quests for ve­hi­cles and equip­ment. Hol­loway said it would be dif­fi­cult for him to pri­or­i­tize his re­quests or choose one over an­other.

“There are dan­gers on both sides,” he said of the needs for eight jail­ers and eight deputies. Hol­loway is also ask­ing for two trans­port deputies. “I see both ways. I worry about the guys on both sides.”

The jus­tices of the peace took no ac­tion Thurs­day. Tom Allen, com­mit­tee chair­man, said that will come af­ter the com­mit­tee has re­viewed all of the bud­get re­quests.

Joel Jones, jus­tice of the peace, said the Quo­rum Court will have to make choices on what to in­clude in the 2018 bud­get and what to leave out. He said the county is ex­pect­ing about $4 mil­lion more in rev­enue than in pro­jected op­er­at­ing costs, but that doesn’t cover re­quests for raises, new per­son­nel and cap­i­tal projects, plus set­ting aside money for elec­tion equip­ment, a new ra­dio sys­tem for the county’s emer­gency ser­vice, the planned new courts build­ing and other needs.

“That $4 mil­lion sit­ting out there, we’ve got some money to work with,” Jones said. “But we’ve got more than that in re­quests.”

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