Budgeted raises will help retain social workers, state police for Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, officials tell lawmakers

02/18/2016 05:52 PM

FRANKFORT — The Justice and Public Safety Cabinet went under the budgetary microscope on Thursday, with officials highlighting some needs that have been addressed by Gov. Matt Bevin in his proposed spending plan.

Public safety is an area in which Bevin has proposed increasing spending in his $21.8 billion biennial budget.

Among the areas within the cabinet that will benefit from the governor’s spending plan include $12 million more for substance abuse treatment and prevention in anti-heroin legislation passed last year; increasing law enforcement incentive pay from $3,100 per year to $4,000 annually; appropriating $4.6 million to alleviate the backlog of some 3,000 untested sexual assault kits; $6.3 million to hire 44 new public defenders to decrease average caseloads from 514 per public defender to 395; and raises for Kentucky State Police, social workers and corrections workers.

The salary adjustments were of particular interest in testimony before the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Justice and Judiciary, with presenters noting how higher pay will help them retain their workforces.

LaDonna Koebel, an assistant general counsel in the cabinet, said social workers in the Department of Juvenile Justice have completely turned over since 2009. Social workers in the department start at $19,045 salaries, with a slight pay increase once they clear the probationary period.

“If you go to, say, 2011, I believe the number was somewhere around 80 percent,” Koebel told lawmakers. “Obviously the people who’ve been hired in the previous year, there are lower turnover rates, but even those I believe are somewhere around 63 percent.”

“It’s tough to keep people,” she added.

But the impact of those departures isn’t exactly known, at least in terms of recidivism.

Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley, a former state representative, said that the state does not track juvenile recidivism numbers at present, but those numbers will be available in the years ahead thanks to juvenile justice reforms passed in 2014.

“Because of Senate Bill 200 we will begin tracking recidivism rates,” he said. “We don’t have any numbers now because, again, it was just implemented this summer, but we will have those answers for you. That, to me, was again something I could not fathom, that we don’t track re-offense rates for these juveniles.”

KSP Commissioner Rodney Brewer addressed salary needs in his agency, saying experienced troopers have opted to retire younger since the state has granted minimal pay raises in recent budgets.

He said he expects to graduate between 60 and 65 new troopers in this year’s cadet class in response to a question from Rep. Martha Jane King, D-Lewisburg, who said she had heard 60 KSP troopers plan to retire this year.

KSP has 870 troopers on the force, down about 125.

“I think what we’ve seen is kind of a unique storm over the last several years with pay raises being flatlined and not getting those,” Brewer told lawmakers. “Older, more experienced troopers obviously are trying to build their high three years toward their retirement, so when those aren’t built anymore you tend to have people leave maybe a little earlier than what they would to pursue other job opportunities, so that kind of builds on itself.”

“I guess the good news aside from having newer employees with lower salaries, obviously a little less experienced, but we have fewer and fewer people each year that can retire, if that makes sense,” he continued. “So we’re becoming a very, very young agency.”

The search may be on for his replacement, but Brewer laid out a multi-year vision to replace KSP’s communications system. Such a technological upgrade was included in the agency’s budget request, he said.

That network would include infrastructure improvements in areas like radios, towers and dispatch equipment, and Brewer said the system could be created so all state and some local law enforcement agencies can utilize it. In 10 to 15 years, Brewer said he could see the need for a statewide dispatching service.

“It’s a long-term solution,” he said. “It’s not something I think we can write a check for tomorrow.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.


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