Recently, the Board of County Commissioners approved a one-time transfer of $40,000 of reserves to the Veterans Transit Services programs in order to keep the popular veterans shuttle running through the end of the fiscal year in June.
Even with these additional costs, the amount being spent to offer veterans transportation to doctor’s appointments isn’t unreasonable. However it brings to the forefront that the commissioners must have a serious discussion sooner than later about what exactly they want the veterans shuttle to be and what services it should provide lest they continue to be surprised by exceeding budgeted expenditures.
The Board of Carroll County Commissioners approved transferring $40,000 of reserve funding to the Veterans Transit Services after the Dept. of Public Works explained to them Thursday the program’s FY19 funds were not sufficient to provide the services.
By Jennifer Turiano
Jan 17, 2019 | 2:45 PM
The veterans shuttle program was an initiative spearheaded by the county in 2012, using what was then known at Carroll Area Transit Services to provide free rides for military veterans to appointments at Veterans Affairs hospitals, primarily in Baltimore and Frederick. Over the years, ridership has continued to expand, as has the number of locations the shuttles will travel, including as far as Martinsburg, West Virginia.
Public Works Director Jeff Castonguay told the commissioners the shuttle now brings veterans to 11 locations, which include some VA facilities for specialized care. The shuttle also provides door-to-door pick-up services for those living in more rural parts of the county. These additional services required earlier start-times; later end-times; and, occasionally, additional vans to meet appointment times, Castonguay said. All of this adds up. Overall, hours are up 37 percent this fiscal year for the previous fiscal year ending June 30, 2018.
There is seemingly no danger of the shuttle ceasing to operate, but the transfer was necessary because the contract states total payment for the services shall not exceed the county’s annual budget allocation, which this year was $102,000.
Multiple commissioners referred to the transfer as a “Band-Aid.” The larger issue is whether the county should respond to, and thus pay for, every demand for service or strictly stick to the budget and offer the services it budgets for. It’s not an easy choice to make, especially when talking about people who have bravely sacrificed to serve in our military for our country’s freedoms and making sure they have transportation necessary to use health benefits they have earned.
Certainly, the veterans shuttle is an incredibly popular program and a service unique to Carroll County that its leaders would love to remain successful, but we can’t think of too many other cases where the commissioners would commit to fulfilling every ask from the people who use those services.
Returning to civilian life after serving in the military can be complicated, but Carroll County has resources for its veterans to make that process a little bit easier. Here are the biggest issues facing the county’s veteran population and ways to work on resolving them.
The commissioners indicated a plan to consult with the Veterans Advisory Committee and we would ask those individuals to consider what would be reasonable to assist the greatest number of veterans living in Carroll. With more than six years of data to draw upon since Carroll began offering the shuttle, it would make sense to use that information to determine core hours and stops. It then might be worth considering whether veterans who need more personalized shuttle services such as door-to-door pick-up or trips beyond the most popular VA facilities would be willing to pay a nominal fee to help offset those costs, not entirely unlike the deviated or demand response routes offered by the county’s Ride With Us service.
We would also love to see the program expand to a more regional service, as Commissioner Ed Rothstein suggested. Perhaps Rothstein, himself a veteran, could use his connections made when he was the commander at Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County, to get those talks started and moving in the right direction.