By mid-July, drivers on Montana roads might notice a few
more Highway Patrol cruisers as a result of a bill signed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
The new law gives the patrol more money to put additional
officers out on the road and pay higher salaries to keep them from defecting to
The number of uniformed patrol officers in the state has
declined by 6 percent in the past 30 years to just over 200 while Montana’s
population grew 32 percent, The Associated Press reported.
Low pay and long hours were cited as the main reasons many
officers left the force.
Sponsored by Rep. Larry Jent, D-Bozeman, the new law – previously HB35
– alters the source for patrol salaries from the state’s fuel tax to a new
vehicle tag fee. Supporters of the effort want fuel tax money earmarked for
The new law is expected to generate an estimated $6.5
million each year by adding a $5 fee to motor vehicle registrations. About $3.4
million of that would be used in fiscal year 2007 to increase patrol salaries
and to hire 20 more officers to increase the patrol’s presence on Montana
highways, with the rest going for as many as 50 new officers in coming years.
It opens up as many as 19 positions within the patrol this
year by removing a state mandate requiring the agency to leave jobs unfilled to
stay within its budget, The AP reported.
The raises will be based on the average starting pay for
deputy sheriffs in the eight counties where the bulk of the officers are
stationed. The new law also makes patrol salaries part of the governor’s
budget, meaning they won’t have to be renewed every year like other state