MONCKS CORNER -- The first draft of Berkeley County's budget would rescue the solicitor and public defender from the drastic cuts they had feared.
But it highlights the frustration of local officials scrambling to make up for state budget cuts without raising local taxes.
Solicitor Scarlett Wilson is asking for an extra $143,651 to avoid losing two of the seven assistant solicitors in the Berkeley County office. She's losing grants from the Department of Justice and the state Department of Public Safety.
"We've made a real difference in Judge (Ava) Ayers' criminal domestic violence court, and we've taken control of the (general sessions court) backlog," Wilson said Thursday. "This funding is critical to stemming the tide of the steady increase in warrants that we've seen in the past three years."
Public Defender Ashley Pennington is asking for an extra $115,000. He said he needs more money from the county because the state has cut $139,000 from the Moncks Corner office's budget over the past two years. If the county does not grant his request, he said he will have to close the Berkeley County office for two months or lay off two of the five attorneys.
Both Wilson and Pennington said losing attorneys would mean more inmates sitting in jail and longer waits for victims seeking justice.
County Supervisor Dan Davis, who drafted the proposed budget, said he granted both requests with a measure of frustration.
He said he doesn't want to see either office lose attorneys but doesn't think it's fair that the state keeps passing the buck to counties. The state keeps cutting money to counties yet expects counties to make up for cuts to key services, such as the solicitor and public defender.
"It is a dilemma," Davis said. "At every level we're having to make up those differences. We're freezing positions, and our departments are suffering to make up the slack. We have tightened our belt as tight as we can."
The proposed operating budget is $54.7 million. That's a 2 percent increase from last year.
The budget is up because of the rising costs of health care and retirement benefits and because the county has to hire an extra dozen officers to staff the jail expansion, Finance Director Kace Smith said.
Revenues are expected to increase enough to avoid layoffs or furloughs, although some vacancies will remain frozen, Smith said.
Davis drafted his budget plan last week and is still going over details with department heads. Then it's up to an often-divided council to decide how much to try to change it. Council will start the process with a workshop Tuesday.