By John Celock
A Kansas legislative committee has recommended to start the process that could lead to a two percent pay hike for corrections officers in the state.
The state House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee voted earlier this week to request that the House Appropriations Committee conduct a review to find $1,918,214 in the state general fund to provide the pay hike. The move comes as concerns have been expressed about the correction officers pay scale in the state and trouble in recruiting and retaining officers.
“Someone who is choosing a job in Ellsworth, Kansas can easily make more working at Great Plains Manufacturing than they can working at the Ellsworth Correctional Facility,” House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee Chairman J.R. Claeys told The Celock Report. “The requirements for working at ECF are more rigorous than a factory job. We are trying to address the issue of having significant shortages, particularly in the western part of the state.”
Kansas correctional officers make $13.61 an hour, according to Rebecca Proctor, the executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, the union representing corrections officers. She said the figure has Kansas officers just above the bottom 10 percent of correction officer pay in the country. She noted that many correctional officers will start in the state system and gain a few years experience and then leave for another prison system at a higher pay.
Proctor noted that in the Kansas City metro area, state correctional officers have often left for higher paying jobs at the federal prison in Leavenworth. Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee Vice Chairman Russ Jennings (R-Lakin) noted that officers in the northeastern part of the state have also left for for-profit prisons in the area that pay a higher wage. Claeys noted that officers could also leave for neighboring states that pay more or for county jails that have a higher salary.
“Part of the idea is to help recruit and retain. On the retention side, the people who have done this work for a number of years have not seen a raise for six or seven years,” Jennings told The Celock Report.
Under the plan, the budget committee asked the Appropriations Committee to hold discussions on the plan in April when the final budget package is developed. During this period the committee could find the almost $2 million to fund the pay raise by reviewing the entire state budget. Claeys said this could include finding money in state fee funds or moving from other parts of the budget. Jennings said the public safety budget panel’s vote will at least place the issue of correction officer pay on the table for discussion.
“What we recommended that this be included in the omnibus. It is putting it on the radar of the Appropriations Committee,” Jennings said. “When all other budgets are settled we think this is an important consideration. This is putting it on the radar.
Proctor said that while she sees the budget committee’s move as positive more needs to be done on the issue of correction officer pay. She said she wants to see lawmakers place more money into the pay plan.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” she told The Celock Report.
Proctor also said that lawmakers need to focus more on state employee pay, noting that staffers in other departments represented by her group have not received pay hikes, including the Kansas Department of Transportation. KDOT’s budget also falls under the Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee.
KOSE had been pushing the pay hike for the Corrections and Transportation Department’s, along with state hospital workers, in a Twitter discussion earlier this week over the KHP pay hike plan. At the time the union said that other workers needed raises and that lawmakers should “fund raises for all.” Proctor reiterated to The Celock Report that raises were needed for more state employees across the board.
This is the second pay raise to be recommended by the Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee this year. Earlier this year the panel recommended a 10 percent pay hike for state troopers. The plan, developed by Claeys and KHP officials, would fund a new salary scale for troopers in the state in order to boost pay for troopers after several years on the job.
Kansas is down 100 troopers statewide, with 27 counties not having a trooper based in it. The KHP training facility in Salina has seen lower classes, due in part to the low pay scale in the agency and more retirements are expected this year. The KHP pay hike, which has been approved by the House Appropriations Committee, will be funded from existing parts of the state budget, including the asset forfeiture fund.
While the public safety budget panel had recommended the KHP pay hike as part of the KHP budget, the corrections officer pay hike is to launch an Appropriations Committee discussion and review to find the funds in other areas of the budget.
Claeys noted that one concern for members of his committee has been the low unemployment in the western part of the state, which also hurt recruiting at the Department of Corrections. He said that with low unemployment and higher pay in other jobs, DOC will need to also recruit population to fill the jobs. He noted a pay raise could make a job at the Ellsworth Correctional Facility more attractive to residents in nearby Salina.
Corrections Department spokesman Jeremy Barclay told The Celock Report that the agency is in support of Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R) budget proposal, noting that it has been “generous” to the agency. Brownback’s proposal does not include a pay hike for corrections officers. Barclay said the proposed pay hike is a new development and the department will review it. He noted that the agency has been having discussions involving a two percent pay hike for officers and would review the entire budget.
Barclay said the department would support the final budget plan that Brownback signs into law.
“At the end of the day Secretary Ray Roberts and the Department of Corrections will support the governor’s budget in whatever form that is. It is generous to us,” Barclay said. “We are on a trajectory right now. The two percent across the board raise we have had discussions on it. At this point in time this is such a new development we have to look into it.”
Claeys stressed that his panel wanted to launch the discussion on this issue and addressing staffing in the Department of Corrections.
“It is intended to address issues with staffing and remaining competitive with surrounding states,” he said. “The committee felt it was wise to have a discussion on this issue and correctional officer shortages and remaining competitive.”