Beaufort News

Solicitor, public defender go begging to local governments for funding

Port Royal officials haven't decided if they'll grant funding requests from 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone and Chief Public Defender Gene Hood.

Stone and Hood made separate presentations Saturday during a Port Royal Town Council retreat to ask for money to cushion the blow of state budget cuts expected to cost their offices hundreds of thousands of dollars in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Earlier this month, Hilton Head Island Town Council rejected Stone's request for $30,000 and Hood's request for $10,000. The town said it might consider a $50,000 pledge to Stone's office next fiscal year.

The town of Bluffton has pledged $30,000 to Stone.

Stone asked the Port Royal Council to set aside $10,000 to help fund a three-lawyer unit created to rapidly prosecute career criminals in Beaufort County. The program was created in November with funding from Beaufort County and the town of Bluffton, but Stone told the council he will need the help of all of the county's municipalities to make the team a permanent fixture.

Hood asked Port Royal for $5,000 for indigent defense. Money for public defense was so tight, the S.C. Commission for Indigent Defense earlier this year cut off for a short time payment to court-appointed attorneys.

Hood said his request is proportionate to the number of cases tried by attorneys in Port Royal Municipal Court and each municipality in Beaufort County will be asked to pay something for the service.

Town Councilman Joe Lee said he thought both programs were worthy causes and will be given due consideration during budget workshops next month. The town's budget is about $4 million.

"For me, that's a quality of life issue and as the town council, we are foremost concerned with the quality of life of our residents," he said. "We'd like to be able to accommodate him, but we're just not far enough along to know where we are for next year with our revenues. His program does deserve serious discussion."

Town Manager Van Willis said he thinks the town will be able to contribute some money to both offices but isn't sure how much.

Staff writer Marti Covington contributed to this report.