Money woes are forcing state government to forgo a State Police cadet class for the fifth year in a row.
State Police Col. Mike Edmonson told legislators Wednesday that the money does not exist in the proposed budget to train new troopers in the fiscal year that starts July 1.
“I certainly want to have another academy,” Edmonson said during a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee.
The committee is taking an agency-by-agency look at Gov. Bobby Jindal’s $24.7 billion proposed state operating budget. The Jindal administration built the budget around a $1.3 billion shortfall in the amount of money needed to keep state government services at their current levels.
The Louisiana Department of Public Safety, which includes State Police, is slated to receive $378 million in funding in the upcoming fiscal year. The funding level would be a nearly 15 percent drop from the current budget year, partly because of the evaporation of BP oil disaster dollars.
The agency generates money from driver’s license and other motorist fees as well as from state fire marshal inspection fees.
State Rep. Charles “Bubba” Chaney, R-Rayville, asked Edmonson where the state stands on the number of troopers assigned to patrol versus a few years ago.
Edmonson said patrol strength stood at 650 in the 2008-2009 fiscal year and now stands at 575. Overall, he said, trooper positions dropped from 1,124 in February 2009 to 960 today.
“Are we thinking about going forward with another academy? I know it’s been several years since we’ve had an academy,” Chaney said.
Edmonson said he could hold a “bare bones” academy for $200,000. Adding graduates of a 50-person class to his agency’s payroll would cost $3.7 million, he said.
The committee’s chairman, state Rep. Jim Fannin, warned legislators that the revenue outlook is far from sunny.
“I wish I could tell you we’re at the end, but we’re not at the bottom yet,” said Fannin, D-Jonesboro.
Edmonson said his dilemma with holding a cadet class and hiring the graduates is the possibility of then having to lay off the new hires because of state revenue problems.
“If I’m going to take cuts, it’s within personnel. It’s difficult to have a class and hire people and then have to lay them off at some point if those cuts continue,” he said.
Edmonson said he is working closely with sheriffs and hiring back retired employees at a savings to ensure the public’s safety. He said sheriffs have his cellphone number and use it.
Edmonson told legislators that they do need to look at finding the funding to hold a cadet class in 2015.
“Certainly (I) would like to have a cadet class at some point,” he said. “The comfort level I have right now is that we are meeting our needs on the highway.”
In the meantime, Edmonson said, his employees are doing more with less and saving money where they can.
For the recent Super Bowl in New Orleans, 268 troopers worked nine days. The expense was less than $112,000 because the troopers stayed at a military barracks and a seminary instead of booking hotel rooms, Edmonson said. For Mardi Gras, the city of New Orleans picked up lodging expenses for the troopers who helped with security, he said.