A Beaufort County Council committee voted Wednesday to scrap an extra $125,000 allocation for the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office, an increase that a majority on council previously supported.
The Finance Committee's 3-2 vote to eliminate those funds comes two weeks after Solicitor Duffie Stone made surprise cuts to his Beaufort County office and attributed them to "budgetary restraints."
Stone, who was not at the meeting, said in a phone interview that he never asked for the $125,000 allocation. He said the council's decision won't result in additional cuts.
"The budget year starts July 1. I went and I made the cuts to make sure we had a balanced budget because that's how I think you should run a business," Stone said. He added that he can't plan for money "that (he) might get."
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Stone sought $1.4 million from Beaufort County for the budget year that began July 1.
County Council awarded his office $1.06 million, which is $100,000 more than last year.
However, the office loses about $466,000 in state and federal grants that expired within the past year.
The full council gave preliminary support for a $125,000 allocation June 24.
Stone notified county officials in a July 26 letter that he was eliminating three prosecutor positions and suspending the "mob law" investigation on St. Helena Island. All three positions were vacant and to be filled later this year.
He also announced that an office in northern Beaufort County had been closed and consolidated with the main office in Bluffton. Stone said similar cuts were made to offices in Colleton County.
The letter apparently did not sit well with some County Council members, and at least one councilman wondered if the timing was "political." Others also appeared annoyed that the county was asked to make up for expired grants.
"I have a big problem with this kind of increase," said Councilman Bill McBride. "We cannot continue to make up every dollar of grant money that disappears."
Councilman Rick Caporale, who voted to preserve the allocation, said nobody on council knows for certain whether the solicitor's budget requests are valid, without additional research and information.
"Can anyone around this table know if these (cuts) are wise choices ... or if they are, God forbid, political choices being made as part of a negotiation to make sure we arrive at a decision that's favorable to the solicitor?" Caporale said.
Others were reluctant to approve the $125,000 this year unless they were ready to approve it next year, as well. State law prevents the council from cutting the allocation for elected officials below the previous year's budget.
Stone has said that many of his attorneys, who are paid less than their counterparts elsewhere in South Carolina, have left for private practice. He sought additional money, in part, to offer higher salaries, Councilman Stu Rodman has said.
But Councilman Tabor Vaux, a former assistant solicitor under Stone, wondered whether salaries prompted the departures.
"I left a year ago. My wife left a month ago. Neither one of us left because of salaries," said Vaux, now an associate at Vaux and Marscher. His wife left the office after she was appointed a magistrate by the state Senate.
During the meeting, Vaux said that of the 15 or so attorneys who left within the past four years, he wasn't aware of more than three who left because of pay.
Rodman, the committee chairman, then interrupted Vaux to call for a vote.
Councilmen Jerry Stewart, Bill McBride and Brian Flewelling voted to eliminate the allocation. Caporale and Rodman voted against the cut.
The council pledged to revisit the issue later in the year.
The vote won't affect supplemental allocations for Beaufort Memorial Hospital, the University of South Carolina Beaufort, the Technical College of the Lowcountry and the Hilton Head Island Recreation Center. A second of three votes on the $400,000 budget amendment for those four entities is scheduled for Aug. 12.
Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.