Carroll commissioners approve $40K to keep veterans shuttle running

The Board of Carroll County Commissioners approved transferring $40,000 of reserve funding to the Veterans Transit Services after the Department of Public Works explained Thursday the program’s Fiscal Year 2019 funds were not sufficient to provide the services.

The program, which has a budget of $102,000 this year, provides transportation services for Carroll County veterans to approved Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics — mainly in Baltimore, Fort Detrick in Frederick and Martinsburg, West Virginia — and has been steadily growing, Public Works Director Jeff Castonguay said Jan. 17.


From the 2017 fiscal year to the 2018 fiscal year, hours have increased 37 percent, he said, and ridership for FY19 continues to increase in both hours and rider needs — like door-to-door pick-up services and visits to different VA facilities for specialized care.

“This requires earlier start times and later end times or additional vans in order to meet their appointment times as the veterans live in rural parts of our county,” Castonguay said. “We have up to 11 locations where we bring out vets for service.

“Our contract states total payment to the contractor shall not exceed the approved annual county budget allocation, so this transfer is necessary for continuation of service,” he said.

The commissioners approved the budget transfer, but not without discussing the need to budget and plan better what services the county will provide regarding veterans transportation.

“I am a strong advocate for the programs we are running in Carroll County and the community, taking care of our veterans, including the shuttle service,” said Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5. “I do have a concern that we are putting Band-Aids on … a much longer, long-term issue.

“So we’ve got to look at: where do we want to go with these programs? And then work very diligently to budget appropriately to meet those demands — as opposed to coming in for these type of Band-Aids.”

But Ted Zaleski, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told commissioners the budget that was originally decided for the program this year did not miscalculate the program’s needs.

“This was budgeted appropriately for the services that had been planned for,” Zaleski said. “What’s changed is the level of service.

“It will be important for us to either say we are going to fill whatever demand is out there and understand the implications, or decide how much we are wiling to spend and set what demand does that allow us to respond to.”

One suggestion Rothstein made — as other counties do not provide the service and Carroll’s transportation services go across the state — was to build a regional partnership for additional resources.

Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, agreed with much of what Rothstein said and recommended the ideas go back to the Veterans Advisory Council.

“The Mad Dog shuttle is a series of vans we put into place, and we never envisioned the magnitude it would go to,” he said.

“This is a Band-Aid approach,” Weaver said, “and we have to take this back to the Veterans Council and discuss it, just to get perspective on it, to take it to the next level.”

Castonguay told commissioners that there will also be a budget work session planned so that the county can figure out how to proceed once this fiscal year ends.


“It’s a wonderful service,” he said, “and we have been very successful for it; the veterans are very appreciative of the trips, of the rides for their doctor’s appointments. But we do not want to say no to a single veteran.

“We’re at a point now, with the growth happening over the past couple years of the program, different things need to be put into place,” Castonguay said. “Full-time drivers set to this program, looking at vehicle capacity, looking at and discussing: Is there a cap to the number of riders per day that we can service? Or do we have to make sure we have contingency vehicles and staff available? So, come next year when we have a budget amount we can put a growth contingency in.”