Value of state-funded patrol must be examined

An editorial from The Journal 

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — At $231 for each time a motorist in distress is helped, a state-funded program certainly is no courtesy to West Virginia taxpayers. State legislators should rethink whether it is the best use of limited budget resources.

Lawmakers at one time discussed eliminating the Courtesy Patrol program, but refrained from doing so. Numbers in a new audit mean they should bring the matter up again.

Courtesy Patrol trucks patrol major highways 16 hours a day, every day of the year. If patrol drivers spot motorists who need help, perhaps because they have run out of fuel, assistance is provided.

It cost the state nearly $3.2 million to have the nonprofit Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia operate the service during the 2014-15 fiscal year. That arrangement has been in effect for several years.

Legislative auditors found demand for the assistance has declined by about 30 percent since 2006. But the cost per stop increased dramatically, from $147 in 2006 to $231 in 2013.

Auditors determined the service could be provided much less expensively. The Division of Highways could provide it for less than $2 million a year.

Costs could be cut substantially by actions including seeking corporate sponsors, auditors pointed out. They noted the State Farm insurance company paid Ohio $3.4 million over four years to help support a similar program.

One concern among some lawmakers is that while the CCCWV is a nonprofit organization, taxpayers’ money is helping fund lavish salaries for some of its executives. Executive Director Robert Martin is paid $349,250 a year, according to a published report.

Some officials question whether the state ought to fund the Courtesy Patrol at all, because it competes with businesses such as tow truck operators. But even those who favor a state-funded service should consider the auditors’ report. Government already engages in too much Cadillac spending for Chevrolet programs.

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