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1:50 PM Tue, Sept. 25th

DPS starts charging police departments for lab fees

Prescott Police Department received a notice that it owes $92,000 to the Arizona Department of Public Safety - much to its surprise.

That is nothing compared to the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office sticker shock.

"We owe $209,000," said Dwight D'Eveyln, media relations coordinator. "This came as a complete surprise to us."

"The governor mandated this year that the DPS crime lab can charge fees for services rendered," said Lt. Ken Morley, Prescott Police. "We do not have our own lab here in the county so we send our evidence to either Flagstaff or Phoenix."

The situation began on July 1, when the Arizona state budget cut $7.8 million from the DPS crime lab.

"The legislative bill, which did not pass until the last week of June, allows us to charge fees for crime lab services to make up that $7.8 million," explained Georgene Ramming, chief criminal justice support for the Arizona Department of Public Safety. "We reviewed all options to make this as least painful as possible."

The result is DPS pro-rated its fee schedule to come up with $7.8 million, which is 56 percent of the crime lab budget.

"It is not an ideal situation, but we have to make up the deficit in the state budget where DPS took a cut," Ramming said.

The surprise to Prescott Police is that DPS back-billed the department for the fiscal year encompassing July 1, 2007 to June 30 2008.

"We didn't budget for this because we didn't know it was coming," Morley said. "Eventually, we will pay it, but we will have to move things around in our budget. Right now I don't know where it will come from."

The department is requesting an itemized bill from DPS to see how much evidence it sent and to match that up with the DPS fee schedule.

D'Evelyn said that the sheriff's office is in the same boat.

"We will be requesting an explanation for justification of this amount," he said. "We are scrambling to figure out how to pay this. It hit us hard because we use the lab all the time. We may have to explore other options. This has caught a lot of agencies off-guard."

Evidence ranges from blood kits, specimens from date rape, latent prints, biological screening and DNA to document examination such as handwriting, samples and controlled substances.

"For example, we charge $87 for a blood alcohol content case and $2,370 for a DNA case processing," Ramming said. "We will be distributing an individual fee schedule."

Morley said the department does have another option when it comes to processing crime lab evidence.

"We also work with the Rocky Mountain Information Network, which can help us lessen the financial burden," he said. "They are cheaper, but have a longer turnaround time."

His main concern about budgeting for the DPS crime lab is not knowing what or how much the police department will be sending to them during any given year.

"We need to research this," Morley said.

Ramming said that DPS is looking for alternative funding sources for its shortfall, but she is almost certain that as of Sept. 26, local law enforcement agencies will be receiving their bill for crime lab services rendered. DPS will be offering different methods of payment including quarterly, semi-annually and annually.

"Our intent is not to impact public safety," she stressed. "If an agency can't pay, we will still find a way to process their case and deal with the funding later. And no, we will not be charging interest."

Attempts to contact the Prescott Valley Police Department and the Chino Valley Police Department were unsuccessful.

Contact the reporter at jtwaddell@prescottaz.com