Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Opinion

August 28, 2013

Tough choices

State police cannot avoid impact of latest budget cuts

ASHLAND — Faced with a projected budget shortfall of $5.8 million because of a combination rising costs, the Kentucky State Police has eliminated 20 uniformed positions  held by contractual employees known as Trooper Rs. The cuts will directly impact eight of the 16 KSP Posts, including Post 14 in Ashland, which is losing two positions.   

KSP Commissioner Rodney Brewer informed the officers and commanders Friday, calling it “a very painful day.”

In addition to the uniformed officers, other contractual temporary employees, mostly in records departments including some who work on applications for concealed carry weapon licenses, will see their hours reduced or terminated. Brewer said the agency hopes to save at least $200,000 in those records departments.

The KSP’s required contribution to the employee retirement plan — a necessary move to address Kentucky’s woefully underfunded state employee pension system — has doubled over the past five years, said Brewer. At the same time, federal funding to the agency has dropped from about $31 million a year to $14.8 million.

In an effort to save jobs, KSP has reduced its fuel consumption by 11.5 percent and reduced its mileage by 3.5 million miles during the state’s budget crunch, Brewer said, but escalating fuel costs nonetheless forced the KSP to spend $900,000 more on fuel last year than the year before. Think of how much more fuel costs would have increased without the reduction in miles traveled.

Brewer said the state budget office “has worked with us every way they can, and I don’t envy them their jobs, but as you know 90 percent of our budget is personnel and fuel. There were only so many options.”

Brewer said  the option of terminating the contracts with the Trooper Rs, veteran state police officers who came back on one-year contracts, is especially painful. The program was his idea and it saves the agency training costs of new officers while providing veteran officers for duty. Most troopers are still young enough to be physically able to do the job when they reach retirement age, and you can’t put a price tag on the value of the experience veteran troopers have. Just like the gifted teacher who retires, you just can’t replace a veteran trooper with a rookie without an impact.

KSP is attempting to minimize the staff reductions. However, it seems likely that there will be fewer troopers patrolling the state’s highways and it may take a bit longer for individuals to get such things as accident reports and for employers to get background checks from the KSP. While many counties like Boyd have professional police and sheriff’s departments, in many small, rural counties, the KSP provides the only professionally trained law enforcement officers.  The role of the KSP in these counties is huge.

Fortunately, the impact of the cutbacks will be temporary for the 904-officer uniformed KSP force because a 62-cadet class of new officers is scheduled to graduate in November. Brewer said the eliminated positions at each post will be filled by new officers after November.

The state budget has been cut $1.6 billion over the past five years. During each round of budget cuts, Gov. Steve Beshear said he wanted to minimize cuts to public safety and education, forcing even larger budget reductions to other agencies. Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson said Friday public safety “has always been one of the governor’s top priorities, and therefore he has consistently fought to protect the Kentucky State Police budget as much as possible.”

During the most recent round of budget cuts most agencies’ budgets were cut 8 percent while KSP was reduced by only 2 percent.

“Because of the recession, there are no easy options left to reduce the expenditures,” Richardson said. “The steps being taken to balance the budget are a result of discussions and recommendations from the Kentucky State Police and the Justice Cabinet.”

Richardson said the administration will continue to work closely with KSP to ensure public safety. One hopes so.

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