The director of the State Crime Laboratory told a legislative committee that the lab is still mired with staff retention challenges that hamper productivity and cost the state money.
“I cannot compete with the salaries,” John Byrd, appointed director in June, said of the disparity between what the state pays lab scientists and what other employers offer for similar work.
In a slideshow to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety on Thursday, Byrd called attrition and comparably low pay the “biggest challenge” to his outfit. A recent report from a working group of judges and district attorneys on ways to reduce a testing backlog at the state lab spotlighted the salary problem, calling it a “grave concern.”
Updated figures cited in the report showed that 36 scientists – or nearly 30 percent of the lab’s case team – who left the lab between January 2010 and Oct. 31 gave “better employment” as a reason for leaving. While the state is spending less on salaries, losing trained scientists costs a significant amount of money, officials told the oversight committee.
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With selection, hiring, training, pay and other efforts factored in per position, the state lost an estimated $4.1 million with those 36 departed scientists, a figure the working group’s report called “stunning.”
This year, Rep. Ted Davis, a Republican from Wilmington, and Rep. Justin Burr, a Republican from Albemarle, filed a bill to increase the salaries of forensic scientists, supervisors and managers at the state lab by 10 percent, but it didn’t make it into the budget.