Increase in stipends from training funds for law enforcement, firefighters backed by Brown, others

11/12/2015 07:45 PM

FRANKFORT — The outgoing secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet offered his support for higher incentive pay for law enforcement officers Thursday as lawmakers approved a study of police and firefighter program funds.

The Program Review and Investigations Committee heard the results of a study on the Kentucky Law Enforcement Foundation Program Fund and Kentucky Firefighter Foundation Program Fund, which pay police and firefighters annual training incentive pay of $3,100 annually per officer.

The plans, which are funded by a 1.8 percent insurance premium surcharge that totaled $102.9 million in fiscal year 2014, also help fund the Department of Criminal Justice Training, Criminal Justice Council, volunteer fire department aid and loan programs, and firefighter training facility grants.

The law enforcement fund received $60.6 million in surcharge receipts last fiscal year with $6.1 million carried forward from the previous year, according to the report. Expenses totaled $48 million, with $30.8 million going to incentive pay, figures presented Thursday show. For firefighters, that fund’s share of the insurance surcharge totaled $42.3 million with a $20.7 million carryforward last fiscal year, when expenditures totaled $35.3 million, according to the report.

Although he did not give a concrete figure, Justice and Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown said he would like to see the incentive pay for officers increased and the number of those eligible expanded.

He said transfers from the programs to the state’s general fund have totaled $100 million in recent budget cycles, with $17.5 million transferred from the law enforcement fund and $9.4 million transferred from the firefighters fund in fiscal year 2014, according to the report.

“However the General Assembly chooses to deal with these funds coming out of the funding source, I believe three things: that the fund should be sacrosanct for the purposes that it’s used for, at least to the point of a reasonable reserve; that all of the officers who are certified should be included in it; and that the stipend for those officers needs to go up,” Brown said, noting Kentucky requires more law enforcement training than any other state in the U.S.

The Program Review and Investigations Committee report found that 329 officers in other areas like fish and wildlife, school resource and parks must meet the same criteria as those eligible for the law enforcement incentive from KLEFPF but cannot receive such pay under current law.

Incentives for those officers would total more than $1 million if they were included in the program, figures presented Thursday show.

State Rep. Denny Butler, D-Louisville, said he would push for an increase in incentive pay for officers in the upcoming legislative session, although he too did not commit to a dollar-figure increase. He suggested an audit would show the fund could handle increased payments, saying that would likely push skeptical lawmakers to support the measure.

That’s been a sticking point in past sessions, he said. Butler co-sponsored House Bill 208 this session, which would have increased supplement payments to local governments offering the incentive to police and firefighters to $4,000 per officer in 2016 and $4,500 per officer in 2018.

“The fund is increasing, and we’re just having trouble finding out what’s in those funds,” Butler told Pure Politics. “To say that the lack of transparency’s there would be an understatement.”

Butler said he had yet to discuss an audit with Auditor-elect Mike Harmon and estimated such a review would take between 60 and 90 days — a tight deadline for the upcoming 60-day session that begins Jan. 5.

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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