By John Celock
Looking to address a “severe trooper shortage” in the state, a Kansas legislative committee has approved a plan to provide a pay raise for state troopers.
The state House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee this week approved a budget plan that moves around approximately $3 million in existing state funds to provide a pay raise for the Kansas Highway Patrol. The Highway Patrol has been battling a shortage of troopers in the state, with more retirements in line. The plan was developed by Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee Chairman J.R. Claeys (R-Salina).
“We are facing a severe trooper shortage in Kansas, with just six graduates from the Salina academy in the last class,” Claeys told The Celock Report. “We are down about 100 troopers and have over 50 eligible for retirement. You can see how that trend line can’t continue.”
Claeys said that under the plan approved by his committee funds will come from existing funds in the Kansas Highway Patrol including state forfeiture funds. He said the plan will address the trooper shortage and provide for steady raises over the course of a trooper’s career with the Highway Patrol.
“The funding level for the new pay scale is just under $3 million and results in raises of five to 10 percent in a scale that takes into account rank and years of service within the rank,” Claeys said. “Working through the ranks at an appealing level of pay will help both recruitment and retention as troopers see a long-term career path within the Kansas Highway Patrol.”
He noted that troopers need to know that they are valued by lawmakers.
“We want more career-minded applicants for the academy in Salina and for our current troopers to see that we value their service and want them to continue to move through the ranks as they advance in their career with the patrol,” Claeys said.
Lt. Josh Kellerman, a spokesman for the Kansas Highway Patrol, told The Celock Report the agency is in the process of working to develop a “strategic pay plan” in order to address the trooper shortage in the state. He noted that the starting salary for troopers has not been the issue but rather long term salaries. Currently the starting salary for state troopers in Kansas is $20.53 an hour.
Kellerman said that after five years with the Highway Patrol, a trooper receives a five percent pay raise to $23.78 an hour and that a trooper can stay at this salary for the remainder of their career. He noted that this is causing troopers to consider early retirements or move to other police departments in the state.
“That’s what we’re trying to address and get that incentive to keep your senior guys around,” Kellerman said. “We don’t want people to leave the agency.”
As part of the plan, Kellerman said the agency is studying pay scales for police and sheriff’s departments around the state and neighboring state police agencies.
Kellerman said the Highway Patrol’s main goal is to create a competitive pay scale for state troopers as part of the strategic pay plan.
“If we can get a good pay plan in place and be more competitive with the larger police and sheriff’s agencies,” he said. “We are battling over the same people.”
Claey’s plan has been endorsed by the State Troopers Association, which said it will help fund a new pay scale for the Highway Patrol. In addition it would benefit recruitment and retention of troopers.
“I think it is a great idea to establish a career ladder of some sort for law enforcement professionals,” Troopers Association executive vice president Steve Kearney told The Celock Report. “This type of pay plan put predictability in and make trooper pay more competitive with similarly sized agencies around the state. There are folks the highway patrol has to compete with for applicants.”
Kearney echoed Claeys’ concerns about the size of trooper classes.
“Kansas Highway Patrol and the troopers are viewed by the public as the elite law enforcement agency in the state,” he said. “The slow falling behind in pay has caused them to fall behind in the needed number of applicants to fill out a trooper class.”
Kearney noted that the Troopers Association is also in the process of advocating for a bill to allow troopers to retire but remain in the Highway Patrol for an additional three to five years to promote experience. He said under the plan, a deferred retirement options program or DROP account, would be created for the officer where they would have their retirement payments for that period deposited. After the extra years worked, troopers would be given those DROP funds and start their pensions. He said the plan is modeled after one used in Omaha, Neb., but noted they are used by a number of police departments.
Kearney said the plan would address the retirement aspect of the Highway Patrol in much the same way the pay raise will address recruitment and retention.
“It is a front end back end approach,” he said.
The DROP account bill is scheduled for a hearing in front of the House Pensions and Benefits Committee next week.
The budget plan from the public safety budget panel now heads to the House Appropriations Committee for consideration as part of an overall budget plan. Claeys’ proposal would then face several more steps before becoming law.
Claeys said that he’s confident of the pay raise’s chances of remaining in the budget as the process continues. He noted that the state is facing issues with the shortage and there is a need for troopers to know they are valued in the state.
“Since this uses no new state dollars, and addresses a situation that is quickly becoming urgent, it is likely the authorization for the pay scale will stand throughout the budget process,” Claeys said. “We are losing troopers to retirement.”