Tonya Papanikolas ReportingMost people complain they don't get paid enough. But for many state workers, the issue is forcing them to take other jobs.
Anyone who works for the Department of Public Safety faces this issue -- that includes employees of the Utah Highway Patrol and the State Crime Lab. Every year the department goes to the state legislature and asks for employee pay raises. In the last three years, they've only received one, leaving the employees and the department in a bind.
At the Utah Highway Patrol, a trooper's entry level salary is $30,000. You might think it's just a starting point, but the truth is, a trooper who's been with UHP ten years only makes an average of 90-cents more than someone who's worked there two years. That doesn't offer much incentive to stick with the job.
Sgt. John H. Jones, Utah Highway Patrol: “We just had two officers go to West Jordan, and the only reason they left there was because they could make three or four dollars more an hour. So you see, that's really unacceptable."
The state does pay money to train troopers, but that actually adds to the problem. The Highway Patrol spends $75,000 on training for a new employee. And at least $125,000 for a SWAT team member. But after that financial investment, many employees learn of the bleak financial future ahead and want to take their newfound skills elsewhere.
Sgt. John Jones: We have a real crisis on our hands. We've had it for several years."
Workers at the state crime lab face the same low pay scale. It's forced a 25-percent turnover rate this year. And these workers have highly specialized skills. It takes a couple years for someone to learn how to conduct DNA tests. And it costs a quarter of a million dollars to become certified in document analysis. So losing workers is hard on the department.
Wade Breur, Department of Public Safety: “Now we have to put somebody in there, bring them in at entry level, get them up to speed and up to training to fill that position and it takes time and a lot of money."
That's money the departments wish they could put towards salaries and keep people around.
The Department of Public Safety is trying to find new ways to approach the legislature. During the next session part of the department, including UHP, will ask for 2.6 million dollars. They plan to create a pay scale with money going to the more veteran workers. That way the younger ones will have something to look forward to. The crime lab is trying to develop a similar proposal.