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Idaho State Police feeling budget pinch

BOISE - Budget cuts at the Idaho State Police are hitting hard, Col. Jerry Russell, ISP chief, warned legislative budget writers this morning.

“We are now well beyond trimming fat and we are cutting into the agency’s bone and muscle,” he said.

Among the ISP’s successes in the past year, he said, was a 97 percent increase in contacts with the motoring public between the hours of 2 and 6 a.m. “With the reduction of funding, it’s likely that those 24-hour patrols will be diminished, in some cases ceased altogether,” he said.

Questioned by Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, about whether ISP is giving up on 24-hour patrol coverage, Russell said no – it’ll just be cut back. “We have an obligation to be out there as much as we can, and some of that will be 24-hour coverage, whenever we can do that,” he said. “The motoring public deserves it.”

He said ISP must provide at least some 24-hour patrols to keep criminals who are running drugs, transporting stolen property or moving stolen livestock from operating with impunity during those hours.

Beyond the crunch on patrol hours, cutbacks in purchasing and supplies are pushing some equipment beyond its recommended lifespan, Russell said. “We have a significant fleet – we need to keep it operational.”

Gov. Butch Otter’s recommended budget for next year for ISP calls for an 8.2 percent cut in state general funds, and a 5.1 percent cut overall. However, it’s one of the few areas where the governor is calling for adding staff, with a proposal for three new positions in forensics.

He’s also recommending most, though not all, of the requested funding to move the department into its newly constructed Region 1 office in Coeur d’Alene, which is expected to be completed in late June; $300,000 for conducting background checks for people with access to vulnerable adults or children in long-term care, a program that earlier was federally funded as a pilot project; and $25,000 to continue a special gang enforcement project with the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Otter also wants to start a five-year shift of funding to cut off highway funds that now go to ISP, and replace them with state general tax funds. That would free up more money for highways, while also freeing ISP from the impacts when gas tax funds fluctuate. Next year’s shift would be $3.2 million, but only if the governor’s transportation package goes through.

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