The Times West Virginian

Opinion

March 28, 2014

Courtesy Patrol ‘too valuable of a program for us to not fund it’

It’s a service West Virginians and visitors to the state appreciate.

West Virginia Courtesy Patrol drivers patrol 25 assigned zones totaling approximately 810 highway miles 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. According to the organization’s website, the drivers “assist stranded motorists, remove hazards from the roadways, provide gas or directions, change flat tires and, in general, enhance safety on our state’s highways. To serve the traveling public, 25 well-marked white F-150s patrol the 25 assigned areas of patrol. The areas consist of eight interstates and five corridors in 30 counties throughout the state.”

The Courtesy Patrol “provides two equally important benefits to the state. First, it reduces the number of individuals on welfare in the state of West Virginia through the employment and continuing education of former welfare recipients as Courtesy Patrol drivers. Secondly, this program benefits the traveling public using our interstate highways and corridors for tourism and local commerce.”

The Courtesy Patrol started out as a 24-hour program but was cut back during Gov. Joe Manchin’s administration to 16 hours from 3 p.m. to 7 a.m., in order to save money. The program currently has an annual budget of $4.7 million through the Courtesy Patrol Fund. All that money comes from lottery funds but has to be appropriated by the state Legislature.

Funding for the future, after the fiscal year ends June 30, must still be worked out following the end of the legislative session this month.

The good news is that state officials say the situation will be resolved.

“When the Legislature passed House Bill 101 during the one-day special session, they made some changes to a few of the lottery funds, and one of those lottery funds is set aside for the Courtesy Patrol, among a whole host of other accounts,” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s deputy chief of staff Jason Pizatella, a Fairmont native, told The (Beckley) Register-Herald last week.

The Courtesy Patrol has been administered by the West Virginia Citizens Conservation Corps, based in Beckley, since 1998.

“The Legislature will need to come back in before the start of the fiscal year (July 1) and appropriate that money for the Courtesy Patrol,” Pizatella added.

“The governor has no intent to not fund the Courtesy Patrol, and the Legislature has no intent to not fund the Courtesy Patrol. It was purely an accounting issue of moving the money that’s set aside from the lottery for the Courtesy Patrol out of a statute and into the budget bill.

“The governor will ask the Legislature to do that before start of the fiscal year on July 1. The Courtesy Patrol is too valuable of a program for us to not fund it.”

The Courtesy Patrol currently employs 80 workers who cover the entire state.

The Tomblin administration has talked about calling a special legislative session this spring to discuss budget issues.

“If it means a special session to get this resolved. I have the utmost respect and confidence that our legislators will do the right thing,” Courtesy Patrol director Jennifer Douglass told Metro News,

“We’ve been out there for almost 16 years, assisted over 280,000 motorists,” she added. “There’s a huge value in having the program.

“They have a presence as far as safety on the highways, security, peace of mind just knowing that help is right around the corner, all the employment opportunities it provides for our state, the tourism-friendly aspect of it.”

We wholeheartedly agree and are confident West Virginia officials will keep their word to fund the Courtesy Patrol for future years.

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