WICHITA COUNTY, TX (KAUZ) - Law enforcement agencies across Texas are scrambling to find extra funding after the Texas Department of Public Safety announced it is about to start charging for crime lab work.
With it being a free service, city and county officials in Texoma said they have no idea how much it will cost and did not plan for it since they did not see this coming. With budget deadlines quickly approaching, many of those agencies said they wish the news would have come sooner.
"It hit us by surprise there is no doubt about that," said Sgt. Harold McClure, with the Wichita Falls Police Department.
He said they just learned about the new lab fees that will start September 1, to test critical evidence needed in drug, DWI, sexual assault and even murder cases.
"You're talking about high profile cases, cases that you're not going to want to cut corners on," said Sgt. McClure. "This is evidence that has to be collected, evidence that has to be tested."
Tests that use to be free, but as a result of cuts made by Texas lawmakers, DPS is now required to charge in an effort to make up $11.5 million in state cuts.
Sgt. McClure said one thing that is not going to change is how they do their job.
"It's not a matter of cutting corners, we're still going to investigate the way we're supposed to," said Sgt. McClure. "We're still going to gather evidence like we are supposed."
He said now the police department must figure out how they are going to budget the cost to have these samples tested.
"We're still in the early stages obviously trying to figure out how many samples have we submitted this year, previous years, to find out how much we are actually going to be looking at," Sgt. McClure.
Wichita Falls Mayor Stephen Santellana said any extra funds will have an impact on the city's budget but it is something that must be done.
He adds the timing makes it difficult, and the outcome could mean cuts somewhere else in the police department's budget.
Sgt. McClure said a little bit of a heads up by the state would have been nice.
"Because then we could have gone to the city with maybe a different budget," Sgt. McClure.
He said this is hitting law enforcement agencies across the board, and they are all trying to figure out the best way to deal with it.
A claim Wichita County Judge Woody Gossom backed up.
"I'm really disappointed there wasn't a warning to us all earlier saying there is going to be fees for this," said Judge Gossom.
"Right now I don't have any idea on how much to draw on, we have to look and see how many cases are made by Wichita County Sheriff's Office and the drug enforcement division," said Judge Gossom.
Judge Gossom said the county's budget year does not start until January 1. So any testing come September 1 will have to come out of this year's budget.
He said the county is fortunate to have money in reserve and a contingency fund.
"We can do this, but it's not going to be done without some pain," said Judge Gossom. "I don't know if anybody's crystal ball saw this coming, but we will work on it. That's what our job is."
The Young County Judge John Bullock also commented on the upcoming change. He said state legislators are not funding what they are responsible for and are passing it on to local governments.
Judge Bullock said this is not going to impact how prosecutors do their jobs, it is just going to be a cost for tax payers or budget cuts in other areas.
A DNA test conducted by DPS will cost law enforcement agencies $550 dollars per case, other lab fees start at $75 dollars.
DPS said it will provide each department a voucher using state revenue which it can apply to some services. The value of vouchers has not been finalized.