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story.lead_photo.caption A map showing some Benton County unincorporated fire districts

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.

Rural ambulance service

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.

Source: Staff report

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 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."

NW News on 10/13/2017

Print Headline: County chooses new ambulance service

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