Harrison Co. sheriff on budget cuts: "I'm willing to take the hit"

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - By Steve Phillips – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Harrison County Sheriff Melvin Brisolara is facing some serious budget challenges. The Board of Supervisors voted to cut the Sheriff Department's budget by $1.3 million.

Although layoffs remain a possibility, the sheriff is now looking for other ways to cut back. He says he recognizes that times are tight and his department must make do with less.

The sheriff's budget last year was $19.3; this coming year, he'll have to settle for $18 million.

When supervisors sliced his budget $1.3 million,  the sheriff's initial reaction was: "Layoffs are likely."

"It's always a possibility. You know, that's a big hit. A million dollars is a big hit no matter how you look at it. We might possibly have to do some layoffs, but we're going to try not to," said Sheriff Brisolara, discussing the budget numbers in his office.

"I have faith in the sheriff. I believe he can manage that. And I'm willing to work with him," said Supervisor Windy Swetman.

Supervisor Swetman has a law enforcement background and worked at the sheriff's department for eight years.   He says that $18 million sheriff's budget is fair and realistic.

"We did a lot of research. We looked at the numbers provided to us. We looked at the past history, over the past several years, and where we could make those cuts without eliminating positions," said Swetman.

Plus, Swetman said, the Board of Supervisors is willing to work with the sheriff later in the year, if there's a real need for more revenue.

"Wait 'til we get to the fourth quarter of the fiscal year and working with the sheriff as the board has done, we'll be able to look at how the dollars were spent and make a decision," Swetman explained, "The right decision for all the taxpayers, for all the employees, not one particular entity."

The sheriff says he'll simply have to find ways to absorb the budget cuts. For starters, there are nine open positions in the department that won't be filled. Plus, he'll be looking at some consolidation.

"We have our bailiffs that work at the courthouse for all the judges at the Gulfport courthouse. We also have our transportation division there. Then we have Swetman Security there. I think we can look at those three areas. And look at possibly consolidating that into one," said the sheriff.

The sheriff said since his budget represents more than 33 percent of the total county budget, he's willing to take the hit.

"You've got to live with it. I mean, you've just got to live with it. I've argued these budgets for years. I've got to live with it. And that's just one of the things. I'm not going to give up the quality of law enforcement in Harrison County. If I do have to cut positions, they will not be on the law enforcement side," Sheriff Brisolara said.

Of the roughly 1,000 employees who work for Harrison County, 411 are employed by the sheriff's department.

Some supervisors have criticized the sheriff for giving his workers longevity and education raises at a time when other county employees are going without pay hikes. The sheriff defends those increases, which are paid for with drug forfeiture funds.

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