OKLAHOMA CITY, OK (KSWO)– The state Department of Public Safety will close its McAlester office two days a week, starting October 4, and local legislators contend it will cause a hardship for area residents. The DPS office at Poteau will be closed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, effective October 3.
State Rep. Donnie Condit said he spoke to Public Safety Commissioner Michael Thompson about the matter "and the commissioner explained that due to budget cuts his agency had no choice."
The DPS's appropriation from the Legislature was cut 11.88% earlier this year: from $100.3 million in Fiscal Year 2016 to $89 million for Fiscal Year 2017. The agency's overall funding level –including accounts financed from traffic tickets and from driver license fees, which were increased in 2013 – is about $170 million annually, ledgers indicate.
The McAlester DPs office "is understaffed already," said Condit. "Closing on Tuesdays and Thursdays will force area citizens to either wait to obtain a driver's license, or drive to another town that has a DPS office to get a license on a Tuesday or Thursday."
"The Republican-controlled Legislature and the Republican Governor have concentrated so much on cutting taxes and giving away tax credits that the Legislature cannot meet the needs of public safety," Condit said. "I have said before and still maintain that some people demand smaller government. Well, you're getting it. How do you like it?"
The Department of Public Safety "should continue to provide the services they're supposed to provide," Rep. Brian Renegar asserted. "If they run out of money in, say, January or February, ask the Legislature for a supplemental appropriation. That's what Corrections does."
DPS officials are locking the doors of some offices a few days a week "to keep from furloughing Highway Patrol troopers," said Renegar. "But they shouldn't be doing either one. I don't think this is the smaller state government that Oklahomans had in mind. It's about time for us in the Legislature to start taking a long, hard look at all of those lucrative tax credits and other tax giveaways that aren't producing any jobs nor any tax receipts for the state treasury."
Commissioner Thompson has requested a $12 million supplemental appropriation in order to maintain the DPS at a standstill level. The agency needs approximately 950 troopers to be at full strength, OHP Chief Rick Adams said; the OHP now has about 810 troopers.
Because of fiscal constraints, the commissioner said, the OHP will not have a trooper academy this year. The academies are where new troopers are trained to replace those who retire or die in the line of duty. One-quarter of Oklahoma's troopers are eligible to retire right now.
The DPS has imposed a hiring freeze and has not replaced more than two dozen outgoing employees. The agency has downsized by offering voluntary buyouts to 50 employees, of whom 32 accepted, Adams said. The DPS suspended the upgrade of a new radio system and delayed renovation of the department's computer and technology network, and driver's license testing could be affected.