JEFFERSON CITY — Touted as a way to save money in the long-run, the merger of the Missouri Water Patrol into the Missouri State Highway Patrol appears to have increased costs for the state in the months since the agencies combined in January.
Proponents of the consolidation predicted the move would eventually save about $3 million annually. But a report released by state auditor Tom Schweich's office on Wednesday said the merger appears to have increased costs by $900,000.
According to the audit, the merger has saved about $900,000 by eliminating support staff members, replacing high-ranking water patrol commanders who left the agency with lower-ranking officers and ending a a building lease. But the auditor's office said those savings have been more than offset by about $1.8 million in costs from increased retirement and health care contributions.
Officers who had been with the water patrol were allowed to maintain their existing retirement and health care systems or switch to coverage used by highway troopers. The auditor said the state would pay about $1.7 million more for annual retirement system contributions and about $65,000 more for annual health care system contributions.
In a written response included with the audit, public safety officials said there hadn't been enough time since the two agencies combined to capture all the savings. They also said the audit had not accounted for the expected benefits from overtime reduction.
Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Ron Replogle said in a written statement Wednesday that the consolidation has helped both law enforcement agencies and boosted the number of troopers on Missouri's roads and waterways.
"The merger of the highway and water patrols was designed to provide Missourians with a seamless, fluid patrol force — an efficient, fully integrated team, from the state's highways and roadways to its lakes and rivers," Replogle said. "In just six months, it has already exceeded our expectations in the capabilities demonstrated in response to large scale emergencies and natural disasters."
Replogle said the highway patrol deployed officers from the water patrol division in four-wheel drive vehicles to increase patrols on snowy highways during a blizzard this winter and was able to double the number of boat patrols during flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers by assigning highway patrol troopers to help the water division. He said that after a deadly tornado struck Joplin on May 22, two dozen officers from the water division helped with security and with body recovery and identification.
In addition to the merger's cost, the state audit also raised questions about an inventory of 28 boats in a Jefferson City warehouse that is worth an estimated $250,000. The report said many of the boats have been in storage for more than a year and urged the water patrol division to dispose of boats that are no longer necessary.
Public safety officials said 20 boats were no longer needed and that three or four boats would be disposed of each month to avoid flooding the market. That process is to be completed in December. Officials said eight of the boats could still be useful in responding to floods and other emergencies and that it was likely to make a decision on them early next year.