Without an increase in pay for crime lab scientists, Kentucky State Police may not be able to hire or retain enough technicians to keep up with surging workloads caused by the state’s drug crisis, state lawmakers were told Tuesday.
Laura Sudkamp, assistant director of the KSP Central Laboratory in Frankfort, told the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee that she understands money is tight but salaries at the state’s six KSP crime labs are “woefully inadequate.”
Without relief, she said, crime labs may not have enough workers to handle every case, especially those dealing with Kentucky’s exploding drug crisis, sexual assaults and public intoxication.
The labs handled 26,724 drug cases last year, up from 19,900 in 2013, she said.
Meanwhile, Sudkamp said, lab workers have not had a pay increase in years and Kentucky offers the lowest entry-level salaries among neighboring states. Kentucky’s entry-level salary is $32,042, compared to the high of $50,134 in Ohio.
Kentucky has 139 positions for crime lab scientists but only 126 in the state’s six labs are filled, said Sudkamp.
“It’s been difficult to compete with other states that pay much more in attracting new scientists,” she said.
Lab technicians are expected to have at least a bachelor of science degree in chemistry.
Jamie Hilliard told lawmakers he has worked as a KSP forensic scientist for 14 years and his salary is $48,500.
Captain Derek Grant said the scientists “always come through” for state police and any financial help would be appreciated.
Members of the Senate committee seemed sympathetic.
Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, asked how much money would be needed to help the scientists.
Lt. Col. Chad White said state police submitted a budget request to provide a training stipend of $4,000 per scientist at a cost of a little less than $1 million.
Sudkamp said the stipend would not apply to an employee’s pension and that salaries eventually will have to be adjusted.
Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, said training stipends will not solve the problem.
KSP would need an extra $2 million a year to raise salaries, Sudkamp said.
The Senate committee is working on its proposed version of the state’s two-year budget.
Gov. Matt Bevin and the state House already have made public their budget plans. They proposed spending an extra $8 million over the next two years for new state police vehicles and offered funding for state police to replace old rifles and install a modern statewide communication system. But they were silent on pay for state police crime lab scientists.
Lawmakers have until April 14 to come up with a state budget.