State wants more money from Sussex to maintain police coverage

 

GEORGETOWN — The state of Delaware is asking Sussex County to pull rank on its long-standing agreement with the county for additional state police coverage in Sussex.

The state has asked Sussex County to ante up more money — about $678,000 — to retain minimum staffing levels at 187 troopers. In the current FY17 budget, Sussex County provided $2.2 million for 44 additional troopers assigned in Sussex.

For 2018, things have changed.

“We were contacted by the state in recent months and asked to reconsider the arrangement and really to enter a new agreement with the state as it relates to the trooper coverage,” said Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson at the May 16 budget presentation.

“Before our contract had a fifth-year trooper class salary cap. So, we didn’t pay for lieutenants, sergeants and people like that,” said Sussex County Finance Director Gina Jennings. “They are saying if you had a 22 (member) work force you wouldn’t just have troopers. You would also have to pay for lieutenants and sergeants …”

Under the state proposal, Sussex County would:

• assume 100 percent of costs of 22 troopers;

• pay for patrol shift differential;

• pay “special pays” for troopers with additional duties such as canine or special operations;

• pay overtime for the 22 troopers.

Gina Jennings

“We would be paying shift differential, which we were excluded from. That increases our contract another $42,000,” said Ms. Jennings. “We would have ‘special pays’ that troopers are assigned. That’s $39,000. We used to never have to pay overtime but obviously troopers do work overtime. That would increase $169,000.”

Under the proposal, the county would continue to provide funding for four fully-operational patrol vehicles.

The county/state agreement for additional troopers dates to the early 1990s. Over time the arrangement has reached the point where the county and state were providing half of funding for 44 or full 22 troopers.

Additional funding requested by the state is budgeted in the county’s proposed FY18 spending plan, requiring a dip into the savings bucket.

“We are making a recommendation in this budget to put in the full 22 at their request at $2.9 million,” Ms. Jennings said. “In order to support this this year, we will be using savings to support this increase. Before this brought to our attention, we knew what our contract costs should have been for this fiscal year 2018. That cost would have been close to $2.3 million. The increased cost in the way that they are looking at redoing this would cost us (an additional) $678,000.”

“We are recommending that we fulfill this request with the state but this will require us to pay additional funds,” said Mr. Lawson.

County councilman Rob Arlett, R-Frankford, is not a happy camper.

“That is of great concern to me,” he said. “The fact that they are asking us to increase 30 percent, which is a pretty significant number to the tune of $670,000 … without having one additional patrolman to the road is a challenge. In the end, yes, we have to work together. We will continue to partner with them. But it’s their responsibility.”

Mr. Lawson said the agreement calls for minimum staffing of 187 troopers in Sussex County. In recent months that trend has hovered around 192, said Mr. Lawson, noting the number does fluctuate.

The $2.3 million the county had anticipated would only cover about 17 additional troopers, not 22, Ms. Jennings projected.

“Has the Delaware State Police said if we do not pass additional dollars that they will reduce the police force in this county? Have they said that?” Mr. Arlett inquired.

“No, they have not,” said Mr. Lawson.

“So right now, they have come to us with a request and nothing more than that,” said Mr. Arlett.

“I would say that is accurate,” said Mr. Lawson.

“I think we need to have more dialogue as it relates to that. This county has grown population-wise very significantly over the last 5 to 10 years,” said Mr. Arlett, adding that growth means additional revenues for the state. “And I am not so sure we are getting the increase of protection as it relates to that increase in population. It’s not the Delaware State Police; it’s the legislature and governor. I’m not sure where it’s going to go. When someone comes to you and asks for a 30-percent increase with no additional (manpower) … it’s problematic.”

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