Solicitor asks for more money from Beaufort County

cconley@islandpacket.comMarch 20, 2013 

Duffie Stone

Beaufort County's top prosecutor is asking for an extra $152,000 to help fund the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office through June 30.

Solicitor Duffie Stone also plans to request $600,000 more from the county in the 2013-14 budget year, which begins July 1.

Stone wants the money to hire four new attorneys, two of whom would focus solely on prosecuting the county's worst offenders. Two others would prosecute lesser offenses, such as drunken driving, domestic violence and misdemeanors.

After losing two attorneys in the past year to private practice, he also wants flexibility to pay higher salaries to attract and retain top lawyers.

"The highest paid Beaufort County lawyer is at about $65,000 right now," he said. "That is not a career path."

Stone didn't say how much he would like to raise his prosecutors' pay, but he noted some in upstate counties start at about $60,000 a year.

Additional funding also is required for adult and juvenile diversion and crime-prevention programs paid for by federal grants that recently expired, he said. Grants worth $472,000 to the solicitor's office have ended within the past nine months.

This year, the county allocated about $800,000 to the solicitor's office, or about $66,000 a month, according to county chief financial officer David Starkey.

Stone's request would raise the county's share to $117,000 a month, or $1.4 million a year -- an increase of about 75 percent.

Stone made his case this week to County Council's Finance Committee, telling members that his two attorneys working on the Career Criminal Unit are juggling 150 active cases each. Members of the Community Team have about 250 cases at any given time.

The 14th Circuit includes Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton, Colleton and Allendale counties. Beaufort County, Stone said, generates about 55 percent of the circuit's case load.

Stone envisions an additional senior attorney for both northern and southern Beaufort County, creating two-person teams that prosecute criminals facing multiple felony charges that carry long prison sentences. Keeping lawyers focused on one part of the county allows for greater expertise and local knowledge, he said.

The committee agreed to consider the $152,000 request at an upcoming meeting of the full council.

Councilman Stu Rodman, chairman of the Finance Committee, said the requests come during a difficult budget year, likely to be made worse by the county's property-value reassessment and federal budget cuts.

In addition, the Beaufort County Public Defender's Office also is expected to ask for more money before the current budget year ends.

The 14th Circuit includes Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton, Colleton and Allendale counties.

Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.

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