State police layoffs stem from $5.8 million budget shortfall, commissioner says

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comAugust 26, 2013 

PHOTO BY LES WILLIAMS, KSP PUBLIC AFFAIRS

Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer confirmed Monday that the agency had laid off 20 troopers as a result of a projected $5.8 million budget shortfall.

Brewer said the troopers laid off Friday were involved in the Trooper R program, which brought veteran troopers out of retirement and back on patrol for up to five years on an annual contract. The troopers who were laid off had signed new contracts July 1, Brewer said.

He said he started the Trooper R program, which state lawmakers approved in 2009, to save the state money. The retired troopers were rehired at a starting salary, and there were no training costs associated with hiring them.

Eight of 16 Kentucky State Police posts were affected by Friday's layoffs. Five troopers were laid off at Hazard, four at London, three at Frankfort, two each at Ashland, Harlan and Elizabethtown and one each at the Bowling Green and Pikeville posts, Brewer said.

"In late May or early June, we began to do some forecasting on our budget for fiscal year 2014," which runs July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2014, said Brewer.

In late July, state police officials realized there was a projected $5.8 million shortfall for fiscal year 2014. The overall annual budget is $184 million.

"There weren't many options on the table," Brewer said, noting that more than 90 percent of the state police budget consists of salaries and benefits, vehicles and fuel.

The layoffs will save $1.25 million, said Brewer.

The Trooper R program had been "a big boost" for Kentucky State Police because of severe manpower shortages, he said. Even before Friday's layoffs, Kentucky State Police suffered from a manpower shortage of about 100 troopers, he said.

Laying off those in the Trooper R program was "really a tough decision for me because that was my program. I came up with that idea years ago and worked hard to get that bill passed, but unfortunately that's the shape we are in," Brewer said.

Asked why the troopers' contracts were renewed July 1 if the layoffs were looming, Brewer said that was "a good question, one that anybody with good common sense and logic would go to. Obviously we had not completely figured what our projected deficit was by July 1.

"The timing was very unfortunate. I guess a cleaner way to do it would have been just not to renew those contracts in June. Unfortunately, by the time our projections came through ... we were into the new fiscal year."

Brewer said the shortfall was caused by an increased retirement contribution that has more than doubled during the past five years, federal funding which been cut from $31 million five years ago to $14.8 million, and fuel costs that had increased $900,000 from the previous year.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, voiced his concerns last week after lawmakers heard testimony about Kentucky State Police's budget problems.

In response to the layoffs, Stumbo said Monday, "We're always concerned to see that the Kentucky State Police is properly funded, and we're willing to work with them when next year's legislative session begins."

Meanwhile, Brewer said he did not anticipate additional layoffs in the traditional sense, but the agency would use less temporary help to enter data into the sex offender registry and other databases. That reduction represents savings of $200,000, he said.

However, Brewer said, "That may cause us some administrative backlog in some areas where traditionally we haven't had that."

Brewer said he hoped finances would improve and the Trooper R program could be resurrected, but "we don't know when that will be."

The commissioner said Monday that the number of officers will be shored up when 62 cadets graduate from the state police academy in November.

"We will feel a crunch for several weeks until we get these new troopers out on the road. We'll cover that as best as we can," he said.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.

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