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County pursues part-time drivers, shuttle service as possible options for veterans

Douglas County Commissioners are looking into two possible solutions for the driver program that transports veterans to medical appointments — part-time driver positions and a shuttle service.

Veterans have been upset with the county since commissioners cut a $40-a-day stipend for volunteer drivers for the Veteran Service Office. The commission made the cuts in September and they took effect Jan. 1. (See related story.)

Although it was not on the agenda released before the Tuesday, Feb. 20, regular board meeting, commissioners approved looking into establishing a position for part-time drivers. They will have the position evaluated by a private firm to figure out the job description and where it would land on the county's pay scale.

County Board Chairman Owen Miller said he hopes to have the information back prior to the March 6 board meeting so that the commissioners can take action on it. The board did not actually approve hiring part-time drivers, but only approved having the job valued and graded.

In addition, Miller informed the other commissioners that he contacted Executive Express, a shuttle service with garages in Alexandria, and that the company could give rides to veterans for appointments at the St. Cloud Veterans Affairs Clinic. However, the shuttle service would not be able to transport veterans to and from appointments that are in the Twin Cities or Fargo.

Miller said the company offered a "significant discount" and would charge $67 round trip per veteran. If a veteran would need a companion for the appointment, the companion would ride at no extra charge.

"We still need to work out more of the details," Miller said. "But it gives a tremendous opportunity to the veterans."

The county would pay the $67 fee for the veterans to use Executive Express to get to their doctor appointments in St. Cloud. There would be no charge to the veterans.

Commissioner Charlie Meyer said he feels Executive Express is a great alternative and made the motion to continue looking into the service, but said to hand the assignment over to the Veterans Service Office assistant, Rhonda Fuchs, who has been in the position for about two weeks. Fuchs introduced herself to the commissioners at Tuesday's meeting.

Miller noted that in 2017, there were 145 rides provided to area veterans. Of those rides, 53 were to the Twin Cities, while the other 92 were to St. Cloud. Miller also noted that with Executive Express, veterans would still have to find a ride to the Perkins restaurant in Alexandria, which is the pickup and drop-off site for the company. Executive Express drivers do not pick up people at their homes, as the volunteers have done.

The commissioners approved working with Executive Express to come up with some type of agreement.

"It has some merit for us and offers more convenience to our veterans," Miller said.

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. Besides writing articles for the Echo Press, she has a blog, “Newspaper Girl on the Run.” Celeste is on a continuous healthy living journey and loves to teach bootcamp fitness classes and run. She has participated in nearly 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon (13.1 mile) distances.

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