DES MOINES — Iowa’s public safety commissioner said Tuesday his agency is on the rebound.
Larry Noble, who took over the reins of the state’s Department of Public Safety earlier this year, told Gov. Terry Branstad he is in the process of stabilizing the number of state troopers by training new recruits to replace retiring officers and replenishing aging Crown Victoria cruisers with more fuel-efficient Dodge Chargers.
Noble said his agency benefited from a one-time $1 million equipment allocation for the current budget year and has managed to reduce the number of gallons of fuels used by 5 percent in each of the past two fiscal years.
Public Safety budget documents indicated the agency’s general fund budget slipped from $89 million in fiscal 2009 to $77.1 million in fiscal 2011 before working its way back to nearly $87 million for the current fiscal year. The number of sworn peace officers also slipped from 677 in fiscal 2009 to 625 last fiscal year but rebounded to 634 this year with Noble optimistic his agency has a workable system of replenishing outgoing officers with new trainees.
“We are building back in a responsible, planned and disciplined process. We think we’re doing it the right way,” Noble said during a budget hearing Tuesday. “It’s a regular, sustained operation. It’s not something that is feast or famine. In our job, we can’t operate that way.”
Afterward, the Public Safety chief said his budget plan does not call for expanding the ranks of the Iowa State Patrol, which stands at 348 troopers. Critics argue that about 100 more officers should be hired to adequately patrol the state’s highways and respond to emergencies at all hours of the day and night.
“I’m not sure we can add people, but we can replace the ones that retire. That’s what our intent is,” Noble told reporters. “I think that we will sustain coverage.”
The Public Safety budget outline showed a $1.16 million boost for the patrol and lesser boosts for criminal investigation, narcotics enforcement and fire marshal divisions, but Noble said the boosts mostly would cover pay increases. He said about 90 percent of his department’s total resources go for salaries, vehicles, fuel and travel.
In a separate budget hearing Tuesday, Debi Durham, director of the state Economic Development Authority, said economic indicators suggest Iowa’s job creation efforts are headed in the right direction.
Durham said Iowa continues to do well in manufacturing and bioscience sectors with a targeted strategy that has landed significant capital investments.
“We really are moving the needle, so I think we have the resources to be successful,” Durham said, adding “you can feel” the economic momentum in Iowa communities looking at the job postings and opportunities for growth.
She downplayed figures released this week by the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University showing Iowa ranked 46th out of 50 states for job growth in its latest data, down from 14th in the previous year.
“This is only a snapshot in time and does not show the overall trends for Iowa,” she said.
Durham presented a “status quo” budget request that calls for $16.9 million in state incentive money for fiscal 2015.