New transportation contract could cost taxpayers thousands more

Butler County’s Veteran Service Commission already spends more than any other county in Ohio to transport veterans to medical appointments. Last week, the agency asked Butler County Commissioners to double their transportation budget with an additional $200,000 so they could bid out a new contract because the Butler County Regional Transportation Authority declined to renew the existing transportation contract.

The BCRTA declined to renew because the agency has been losing money transporting the county’s vets to the Cincinnati Veteran Affairs Medical Center, said Carla Lakatos, the transportation agency’s director. The BCRTA currently contracts with the veterans agency to transport veterans to medical appointments for roughly $290,000 annually.

Last year the agency offered up a change to the contractual agreement, at the same price, to transport veterans in groups to the Cincinnati VA, instead of going door-to-door to pick up single riders, to keep costs in line.

Officials from both agencies met to work out a new deal, according to emails obtained by the Journal-News.

“We need for you to request in writing the changes we talked about,” the Veteran Service Commission Assistant Director Anna O’Neil wrote in an email titled, “Changes Discussed,” on Aug. 21, 2012. “As they are ‘clerical changes,’ and not changing the substance of the contract, we can just keep it simple.”

Lakatos said she thought the new contract was ready for ink.

“When we met with them, we were under the impression that we all agreed,” Lakatos said.

But emails from last October show the new deal suddenly turned sour. The Veteran Service Commission’s Director, Curt McPherson, turned down the BCRTA’s offer, citing legal concerns and proposed changes that “would have had a major impact in making the bid award” to the BCRTA.

“If we would have went with what BCRTA recommended, it would have been financially to their benefit,” McPherson said in an interview with the Journal-News.

In an email last year to a BCRTA official, he warned that they needed to continue door-to-door service until the contract expires in March, and they should have known they would need to provide such service when they bid on the transportation contract in 2010.

“Your comments expressed on the telephone stating BCRTA is a ‘bus company’ not a ‘cab service’ was inappropriate,” McPherson wrote to BCRTA officials. “It is fully expected that the original terms of the agreement be followed.”

Butler County BCRTA officials notified McPherson in September that they didn’t plan to renew the contract, and now the veterans service commission is seeking bids on a new contract that could cost taxpayers thousands of dollars more.

McPherson responded with an email that the commission was “deeply disappointed” the contract wouldn’t be renewed.

Lakatos said her agency could have worked out a new deal without going through the competitive bidding process that involves private agencies. Government agencies are allowed to negotiate new or existing contracts without opening the process up for bid, under Ohio state law.

“Legally, it’s my understanding that we could negotiate public to public,” Lakatos said. “I was hoping that we could work everything out.”

McPherson said other county agencies, such as Jobs and Family Services, have opened up transportation contracts for competitive bidding, despite the BCRTA’s presence.

The BCRTA, along with five other private companies, has registered to bid on the new, three-year transportation contract.

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