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Editorial: Get on same page regarding veterans shelter/center

There seems to be some disconnect among the Board of County Commissioners and a nonprofit that formed in order to carry out a vision of a veterans homeless shelter and resource center at a county facility when it comes to the cost of running it.

Last week, the commissioners expressed support for the effort but also concerns that there may be expectations that funding from county government would be available to cover a portion of operating costs or that the county would be responsible for taking over the operation were the nonprofit to fail. Commissioners also noted they thought that being a resource center, not a shelter, was the primary focus when initially pitched, wondering out loud if there are enough homeless veterans in Carroll to warrant the amount of space being planned.

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If nothing else, the conversation among the commissioners makes clear it would probably be wise for the commissioners and members of the Carroll County Veterans Independence Project to get back together and make sure they are on the same page when it comes to the expectations — and obligations — of each other.

In previous discussions — including just last month, a few days before Veterans Day, when the leaders from the nonprofit CCVIP went before the board of commissioners to seek approval to move forward with sending an application to the Department of Health and Human Services — there was no talk about funding coming from county government.

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The Board of County Commissioners expressed support, but also concerns in regard the future of the former U.S. Army Reserve Center this week.

CCVIP officials intend to turn the 13,000-square-foot former U.S. Army Reserve Center on Malcolm Drive into a homeless shelter, with individual rooms for 20 veterans and group rooms for an additional four families. The venue will also house laundry and kitchen facilities as well as educational opportunities, including those that are skill-based, Ed Cramer, a CCVIP board member, told us in November. Approval is needed from HHS to use it as a homeless shelter and resource center first. Once granted, the county would then rent the facility to the nonprofit for a nominal fee. But while the commissioners are providing capital resources in the form of the building, the four in attendance last week made clear they have no intentions of providing day-to-day funding or money to complete necessary renovations.

Leaders of the effort have made no bones about the potential costs. According to the CCVIP website, the board of directors developed a capital project budget of $4.5 million — that’s $1.5 million for abatement, $2.6 million for construction and renovations and $400,000 for furnishings and equipment. It also notes an annual operations budget of about $500,000.

The group is working with the county’s delegation to Annapolis for a $250,000 bond bill, as well as seeking funding from the governor’s office and reaching out to philanthropic groups such as the Kalhert, Weinberg and Fisher foundations, to help pay for these costs. It is the bond bill that appears to be causing the most concern for county commissioners. If CCVIP were to move forward with its plans and the nonprofit fails, it would likely fall to the county to either repay the state or continue operations of the facility, said County Administrator Roberta Windham.

County budgets are already stretched thin and, while CCVIP is aiming to do some noble work, it could present a financial challenge for the commissioners. Changing their mind about providing the facility, however, which would relieve county government of any obligation, would effectively kill the project.

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There should be no expectation of day-to-day funding by the county commissioners for the veterans center; however, as elected officials have time and time again stated the importance of taking care of Carroll residents who have served our country, the board should perhaps consider putting aside a few dollars as part of future budgets to keep the center running should the nonprofit encounter a financial shortfall or unforeseen circumstance.

In the meantime, having the commissioners and CCVIP board members outlining their expectations of each other should quell any future concerns about this project.

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