TALLAHASSEE - Short about 200 troopers and seeking higher salaries to be more competitive with other law-enforcement agencies, the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is backing Gov. Rick Scott's call to boost pay as part of an election-year budget plan.
The department, which includes the Florida Highway Patrol, is proposing a more-than 10 percent increase in starting pay for troopers as part of a legislative budget request.
Susan Carey, the department's chief financial officer, told state Cabinet aides on Wednesday that recruitment and retention has been an issue for years. State law-enforcement officers received a 5 percent pay raise in the budget that took effect July 1, and the new proposal would provide an additional increase in the fiscal year that starts in July 2018.
“With the Legislature, Cabinet and governor's support we were fortunate to have a salary increase for our law enforcement officers in the current fiscal year,” Carey said. “We would like to go further with the new fiscal year.”
Under the proposal, which doesn't have an overall total amount attached, the annual starting pay would go from about $38,000 to $42,000.
Under the plan, a trooper would earn $60,000, based on an “experienced-based incremental pay plan,” after 20 years.
The department is budgeted for 1,974 full time troopers, but lost 203 troopers in 2016.
Part of the failure to retain officers has been linked to other law-enforcement agencies offering higher pay.
“The FHP continues to have difficulty hiring and retaining qualified candidates due to the inability to pay a comparable rate with local and federal law-enforcement agencies,” said the department's budget request, which goes before Scott and the Cabinet next Wednesday. “Consequently, all trained and experienced staff will look for competitive salaries elsewhere. Funds invested in training, uniforms, physicals, and other costs associated with these positions is lost.”
Scott, who is expected to run for U.S. Senate next year, said last month he will ask for $30 million to cover pay raises for state law-enforcement officers for the fiscal year that begins July 2018. Law-enforcement officers are spread across different state agencies.
The raise that took effect last month came as Florida's rookie trooper pay had been deemed the lowest among the 49 states with patrols.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average police officer pay in Florida is $55,050 a year, with the low end of starting salaries at $36,000.
Entry level pay with the Miami-Dade police is $45,074. Jupiter police offer a $49,268 starting salary to officers who are state certified. In Tallahassee, pay starts at $45,192. For Jacksonville Beach, pay starts at $39,395.
The proposal by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, which has a $472.2 million budget for the current fiscal year, was included with $35.5 million in additional requests the agency intends to put before lawmakers during the 2018 legislative session. The session starts in January.
Among the other requests:
--- FHP Academy dorm renovation: $3.4 million.
--- FHP active shooter training building: $2.9 million.
--- DUI centralized database: $1.75 million.
--- FHP dispatch relocation in Orlando: $1.32 million.
--- Hand-held narcotic analyzers: $885,272.
--- Security in driver's license offices: $740,000.
--- Increased operating costs for driver's license offices: $675,910.
--- FHP safety equipment, electric flares: $450,000.