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Carroll commissioners make changes to veteran's shuttle pick-up options, explore ways to cut costs

Veterans who use Carroll County’s shuttle service to get to appointments to VA hospitals in the region may now have to use Carroll Transit Service to get to pick-up locations rather than receive door-to-door service.

The change, effective Wednesday, Feb. 6, came out of a discussion Tuesday between the Board of County Commissioners; and the Department of Public Works, Citizens Services and other county agencies regarding the climbing costs associated with the Carroll County Veteran’s Shuttle.

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The shuttle, which first began with a $25,000 budget in 2012, has grown to the point where it will now request $230,000 for its upcoming fiscal year 2020 budget to operate and provides services for more than 300 veterans. With one of its only rules being not to refuse any veteran, though, the county has been concerned with the program’s sustainability.

Just last month, the Department of Public Works requested an additional $40,000 to supplement the program’s $102,000 FY2019 budget to keep the shuttle running through June.

At first, the program charged about $7 per ride to take veterans to Veterans Administration medical facilities in the region — like Baltimore, Fort Detrick in Frederick and Martinsburg, West Virginia — to offset costs.

“But that stopped when commissioners became aware we were charging them,” Transportation Grants Coordinator Stacy Nash explained at the Feb. 5 meeting.

One decision the group made Tuesday was to begin using the Carroll Transit System to bring veterans to designated veteran’s shuttle pick-up locations instead of picking up each individual veteran at home to reduce hours and costs, CTS Director of Operations Crystal Winebrenner said.

When the veterans call in to schedule pick-ups from home for their appointments, Winebrenner said she will personally explain to them whether they are getting picked up by the veteran’s shuttle or CTS so they can get adjusted to the change.

“That way they’re not confused,” she said, “because they’re pretty set in their ways — just like any transit user in the county.”

Then the numbers will be calculated to see what the savings are, Winebrenner added.

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, said the CTS switch could be free at first, and if CTS needs revenue from the veterans in the future the passengers could purchase discounted coupon booklets.

County Administrator Roberta Windham suggested tracking it for the next month or two and bringing results back to the commissioners.

This was the only immediate change made Tuesday, but other options for reducing the cost of the veteran’s shuttle were discussed.

State funding and reimbursements

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said another solution could be to ask for reimbursement or funding from the state for the shuttle, because it is the only one of its kind in the region.

“It would be nice to get some kind of buy-in from the state, or don’t they even know we’re doing it?” he said. “It certainly wouldn’t hurt to ask whoever: Look, we’re doing this. Are reimbursement programs available?”

Windham said that the state is aware.

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Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, said the Veterans Advisory Council looked into reimbursements about three years ago, but that the reimbursement goes to the veterans themselves.

“I'm a real strong advocate of always trying to connect the end user to the expense,” said Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4. “Nothing is truly free, and if we could get some kind of reimbursement from the federal government, even if it’s a nominal fee to the veterans, I don’t feel guilty about it. There should be some sort of connection, some sort of financial connection from the end user to the expenses.”

He said any assistance could help the shuttle moving forward.

Potential partnerships

Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, said he believes that the key to finding a solution will be to identify the problem the county is trying to solve, and stick to it.

“It’s to allow for our veterans in our community that don’t have the means to get the care necessary, and that is at the VA,” he said. “Now the VA is also changing their processes and allowing for veterans to go to other locations outside the VA. Are we prepared to service those veterans that are now going to private physicians that may be closer? Are we looking to service the VA centers and hospitals or are we there to service our veterans? We are there to service our veterans.”

Rothstein, a retired Army colonel, said that in doing so, Carroll’s service is going to grow and a partnership with other counties to create a regional shuttle service could be an answer.

“I do believe we need to talk to the state and region more,” Rothstein said. “I do believe Howard County is stepping up finally in looking at how to service their veterans — and they have a large veteran community also — we should look into how we could partner. I don’t know, logistics-wise, how difficult it would be to look at a regional approach but it’s worth looking at.”

Veterans must be prequalified to use the veteran’s shuttle. To register or for general questions, the county Bureau of Aging & Disabilities can be reached by phone at 410-386-3800.

Once veterans are prequalified they must schedule their appointment trip at least two days in advance by calling CTS at 410-363-0622.

More information on CTS, its Trailblazer shuttle and its door-to-door services — including contact information for additional questions, scheduling door-to-door reservations and deviations — can be found on the Carroll Transit System website, www.carrolltransitsystem.com.

Carroll Transit System can also be reached by phone at: 410-363-0622 from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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