Archive for Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Kansas title fee increase suggested to fund more patrol officers

January 13, 2016

The Kansas Highway Patrol and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation are searching for ways to recruit and pay more troopers and investigators despite narrow budgets.

On Monday, Patrol Superintendent Mark Bruce suggested the state's vehicle title fee be increased to $17.50 from $10 and earmarking the money to hire 75 more patrol troopers, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported. KBI Director Kirk Thompson said his agency has not formed a plan to increase its budget but is trying to fill 20 job openings for criminal investigators and keep its forensic scientists.

"It's a matter of being able to accomplish our mission and provide services most of the public expects," Thompson said. "We are in a position to take fewer and fewer requests for assistance. We have turned down a significant number of cases."

State leaders are trying to find $175 million to $190 million in revenue increases or spending reductions to balance the current and next fiscal year budgets.

"We're having trouble hiring highway patrol," Gov. Sam Brownback said. "We've got a salary package. We need to increase it."

KBI had money in its budget to add five agents in the past year but it's been difficult to recruit experienced officers with the necessary investigative background, Thompson said.

Meanwhile, the highway patrol had 501 troopers in 2006 before the number dropped to 419 because of salaries that weren't competitive, morale issues, several retirements and weak recruiting. In recent years, the state adopted salary and retirement programs to retain veteran troopers.

"Overall effectiveness of the patrol in performing our mission and our ability to support the local law enforcement community in Kansas has been negatively impacted," Bruce said in a letter to legislators.

Forty Kansas counties have two troopers, 30 counties have one and 35 have none, with the lowest numbers in western counties.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said the Kansas Department of Corrections and the state hospitals in Larned and Osawatomie have similar staffing problems. He blamed Brownback and Republican lawmakers for tax policies that have caused the current budget shortfall.

Giving more state funds to these agencies may not be a feasible solution, said Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita.

"We have a lot of needs or demands and we're not growing at the rate we need to in population and jobs," he said.


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