Council approves $152K increase for Solicitor's Office

cconley@islandpacket.comMay 6, 2013 

Beaufort County Public Works Director Eddie Bellamy and Council Chairman Paul Sommerville mark the start of Public Works Week. Bellamy also recognized more than a dozen people who work in the department who also attended the meeting.

BY CASEY CONLEY

Beaufort County Council on Monday approved a $152,000 mid-year budget increase for the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office.

The extra money helps plug a $300,000 hole in the agency's budget that opened after several grants expired. Staffing turnover and internal cuts also helped close the shortfall for the budget year ending June 30.

The measure was approved 9-2, despite a blistering comment from Councilman Steve Baer.

"This is out-of-cycle funding long after our fiscal year 2013 budget closed," he said, noting that the increase effectively binds council members' hands during the upcoming 2014 budget discussion. "It is inappropriate to treat this as a special case without allowing all the other worthy causes an equal chance at the apple."

Councilman Bill McBride, who also dissented, agreed with Baer.

Stone, whose office will receive $952,000 from the county this year including the increase approved Monday, plans to ask for $1.4 million in the 2014 budget, which takes effect July 1.

He wants the money to hire four new attorneys, two of whom would prosecute the county's worst offenders. He also wants to raise the salary scale to keep top-level prosecutors from leaving for higher-paying jobs. The highest-paid Beaufort County attorney in the office makes about $65,000 a year.

The money also will ensure adult and juvenile diversion and crime-prevention programs that were funded by the now-expired grants can continue. It also might pay for digital evidence-sharing upgrades.

Stone said after the vote that he appreciates the council's support and makes no assumptions about funding for the 2014 budget.

The council will begin debating the full 2014 budget plan in the coming weeks.

Although he voted for the extra funding, Councilman Rick Caporale bemoaned a lack of information when weighing budget requests from outside agencies.

"When it comes to the solicitor, I think I am voting more on trust than on knowledge of what is actually going on in his office," Caporale said.

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

In other action, the council:

  • Held a first reading on possible incentives for an undisclosed company considering a move or expansion in Beaufort County. Terms of the deal code named Project Robot, which are being developed with the state, were not disclosed. A final vote is not expected until next month at the soonest.

  • Approved a $19,575 monthly contract with Hargray Communications for a fiber optic line enabling the county's planned E-911 upgrades. The deal could still face scrutiny, however, as CenturyLink officials indicated their company might appeal the contract award. If that happens, the matter likely would return to the council for a final decision.

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