Solitictor's call for aid gets mixed results

BEAUFORT -- Anticipating a smaller budget for the upcoming fiscal year, 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone is asking local municipalities to help him keep repeat offenders off their streets.

So far, his request has produced mixed results.

"It's important that we understand the vital importance of public safety," Stone said. "Everything we do has to come in second to public safety. If all the municipalities and towns pitch in just a little, we can make it through this together."

If approved in its current form, the state budget cuts $3.3 million from prosecution and public defense across South Carolina's 14 judicial circuits. That translates to $200,000 less for Stone, who prosecutes cases in the state's only five-county circuit.

The cut could mean the end of Stone's newly created career-criminal team, a three-lawyer unit designed to quickly prosecute repeat violent offenders in Beaufort County. The team carries an annual price tag of $264,450, the collective salary of the three assistant solicitors.

"We've had a good year with the career criminal team," he said. "We've seen our 90-day jail number fall from 124 in November to 62 right now."

Stone said the unit serves two goals: "It allows us to quickly prosecute the worst of the worst, and reduces overcrowding in the jails by reducing the number of people in there more than 90 days."

Beaufort County is sending the solicitor's office $187,000, and the town of Bluffton has pledged $30,000.

Other municipalities, however, have resisted Stone's requests for funding for this fiscal year.

Hilton Head Island Town Council rejected last week Stone's request for $30,000 and a request from Public Defender Gene Hood for $10,000 to tide over his office through its fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Hilton Head Mayor Tom Peeples said funding both offices is the responsibility of state and county government.

Hilton Head didn't completely shut the door on Stone -- town officials said they might consider a $50,000 pledge next fiscal year.

Stone plans to meet with the Port Royal Town Council this weekend and soon will appear before the Beaufort City Council, which turned down Hood's funding request earlier this month.

Daniel Brownstein of The Island Packet contributed to this report.