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Rural ambulance service

Benton County has budgeted about $1.5 million for rural ambulance service in 2018. The county expects to receive about $931,000 this year from a 0.2 mill dedicated property tax approved by voters for ambulance service. Another $317,000 is expected from the voluntary millage. The remainder, about $262,000, will come from the general fund revenue.

Source: Staff report

— Benton County is close to a new three-year contract to provide ambulance service to the rural areas in the west side of the county.

The Committee of the Whole heard an update on ambulance service Tuesday from County Judge Barry Moehring. He said the proposal with Northwest Health System being considered would cost $292,000 per year over three years. Northwest Health System's ambulance service would cover all of the rural areas on the west side of the county except for the Siloam Springs Fire District in the southwestern corner.

"We're in negotiations," Moehring said. "We don't have anything signed yet."

The county would have an agreement with Siloam Springs to cover a smaller area than it now covers. The new agreement would cost the county about $141,000 per year, compared to the $429,000 it pays for a larger area.

The agreement with Gravette would end, and its ambulance service would serve the city only. The county has a $194,670 contract with Gravette to cover the northwestern part of the county.

Overall, Moehring said, costs would be reduced about $195,000 per year under the new agreements.

The county has been negotiating with Northwest Health System since May to be the sole ambulance provider for the area covered by Siloam Springs and Gravette. Both cities said they were interested in continuing the arrangement but not in expanding areas of service.

Moehring said the county is trying to lower its cost. It has budgeted about $1.5 million in 2018 for rural ambulance service. That's down from about $1.8 million in 2017. The savings were possible by an agreement with Mercy Emergency Medical Services for ambulance service to two areas in eastern Benton County, including the area served by Rogers' Fire Department for about $352,000. With the larger service area having a higher call volume, Mercy was able to reduce its overall cost, according to the county.

Moehring said having a single provider for the west side could provide similar savings.

It was reported at Gentry's Sept. 10 council meeting by Jay Williams, Gentry's city attorney, that the ambulance contract would result in considerable per-capita cost savings for Gentry and would include the benefit of having an ambulance housed in the city of Gentry — Gentry is currently served by ambulances housed in Siloam Springs.

Mobile Command Unit

The justices of the peace also discussed selling the county's mobile command unit.

Moehring and Robert McGowen, emergency services administrator, told the Finance Committee last week the 12-year-old vehicle is rarely used and costly to maintain. The vehicle was paid for in part with grants from the federal Department of Homeland Security and the Walmart Foundation.

Sheriff Shawn Holloway said his office wants to have the capabilities of the command unit but acknowledged it's too large for some circumstances.

The county paid $366,109 for the vehicle in 2007, according to Brenda Guenther, county comptroller. The county did some upgrades in 2013 costing about $54,000.

The vehicle has built-in radio, satellite and telephone data and voice communication systems. It also has a weather-monitoring system and a 42-foot mast with cameras. It also has a conference room with seating for seven people.

It's been deployed four times since November 2016, when it was used in a search for a missing woman near Siloam Springs, McGowen said. It was used in the same area in another search for the same woman in February 2017 and in July 2017 near Decatur in another search for a missing woman.

It also was parked near the War Eagle Craft Fair for use as a radio repeater.

Otherwise, McGowen said, the vehicle has been used at various events as a cooling station and for "show and tell" school outings.

The county had the vehicle appraised as part of the process for selling or disposing of property, Guenther said. The vehicle was appraised at $120,000. The county advertised the unit and received a $240,000 bid from Polk County, Mo.

New Radio System

The committee also authorized spending $3.75 million for a radio system for the Sheriff's Office, jail and other departments, with a promise to consider more money to help smaller fire and police departments buy new radios. The proposal will go to the Quorum Court at its Sept. 27 meeting.

The county would buy consoles for the dispatch center, along with mobile radios for vehicles, portable radios for individuals and pagers for the rural fire departments. Benton County also would buy mobile radios and portable radios for city fire departments using county fire apparatus.

The new radios wouldn't cover all of the needs of fire and police departments in the smaller cities. The smaller cities would need to buy all new radios and equipment to be compatible with the new system. Each new mobile radio costs about $1,295, according to information presented to the Quorum Court. Each portable radio costs about $995. Pagers cost about $695 each.

Holloway offered to spend about $200,000 on radios for the smaller departments. The additional money would be from the Sheriff's Office communication fund and the SSI fund, which receives money for inmates in the jail receiving Social Security benefits. He said both funds are restricted but can be used to buy equipment.

Representatives from Motorola, the company providing the radio system, have said the county and smaller departments would be able to buy additional radios at the initial price for at least three years.

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