The number of state troopers on South Carolina roads is down dramatically from just five years ago because of budget cuts.
Highway Patrol officials say the lack of funding for more troopers hurts public safety.
In 2008, Highway Patrol had 967 state troopers on the road in the state. Today, that's down nearly 200, to 768.
In the Troop 5 area that includes Horry and Florence counties, the number of troopers went from 151 to 131 during that period.
A spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety says getting funding for more troopers is critical.
"The bottom line is that this is a public safety issue," said Sherri Iacobelli, communications director for the DPS. "More troopers means more drunk drivers taken off our highways and a faster response time when people call *HP."
A budget recently passed by the South Carolina Senate includes $1.8 million to hire new troopers, but the House budget includes no new money for troopers.
Iocabelli says there are 90 trooper vacancies right now
and if Highway Patrol gets the funding it needs, it could cut that number in half and maybe keep growing from there.
"We're looking to get back to where we were before budget cuts began around 2008."
But while the funding debate goes on, Iacobelli says it keeps getting harder to retain good troopers, who often leave for better-paying jobs.
South Carolina troopers have a starting salary of $29,910 for trainees, compared to $32,418 in Georgia and $34,000 in North Carolina. The only state in the Southeast with a lower starting salary for state troopers is Mississippi, at $28,224.
"We want to be able to give these troopers step pay increases as they move from one level to the other, because it's important to keep them within the Highway Patrol, once they're trained," Iacobelli said.
Greg Hembree of Horry County says he thinks there's general agreement in the statehouse that the number of troopers needs to go up, it's just a matter of degree.
But he says time's running out to come up with an agreement between the two houses on funding. The legislative session ends June 6.
State budget cuts slow troopers response time http://www.carolinalive.com/news/story.aspx?id=547462