A proposal to merge the Missouri State Water Patrol with the Highway Patrol is making waves in the House.
Both agencies are currently under the Department of Public Safety. At a committee meeting for HB 2417, DPS spokeswoman Andrea Spillars said the proposal could save the state as much as $2 to $3 million annually, eliminating duplication of facilities and related incidentals. She says it could also allow water patrolmen to become more efficient in the winter months by working on the streets or in gaming enforcement for the Highway Patrol.
“One of the reasons for doing this is to give us the ability, the flexibility, to use them efficiently in the wintertime. So if they were not accruing enough overtime in the summer where they would need to take leave in the winter time, yes, they would be assigned where needed,” Spillars said.
Meantime, former Water Patrol Commissioner Rad Talburt also testified at the hearing. He says most of the patrol’s 90-man crew is still at work in the winter responding to calls on any state waterway as well as doing administrative or community education work. He says the merger would likely cost the state as much as it intends to save in training, since the DPS also thinks highway patrolmen could help on the water in the summer to cut down on the Water Patrol’s overtime.
“They’re just as busy in the summertime as we are so the thought of bringing them over in the summertime to cover shifts; not a lot of thought was put into this,” Talburt said.
Talburt also says former administrations had considered a similar merger and decided against it after studies showed savings would be minimal and service would be affected.
If passed, this merger would go into effect January 1st, 2011. The House committee plans to discuss the bill again sometime next week.
Meantime, the Senate is also considering a proposal to cut the Water Patrol’s budget by roughly $320,000. Patrol spokesman Charles Huff says the proposal would eliminate their 10 civilian positions which handle most of the financial tasks for the agency, including payroll, purchasing, and tracking bills. He says that would also complicate matters if the merger were approved, as the budget cut could go into effect as early as July 1st, leaving the agency in limbo for 6 months until the merger would go into effect.