Harrison Co. Sheriff: Jail security taking a step back

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Harrison County's sheriff says he's tired of a budget that goes up and down more than a roller coaster. Sheriff Melvin Brisolara said on Monday he will ask the Board of Supervisors to immediately approve more money for salaries.

The Sheriff's Department has 365 employees go to work each day. The sheriff says money is so tight right now he can't be sure he can to keep them all employed.

"The board wanted us to cut back. I can't cut back $1.3 million," said Sheriff Brisolara. "I need $430,000 more to try to maintain the personnel that I have today. And doing that I'm still down 31 positions."

Sheriff Brisolara said this fiscal year he's working with an $18 million budget. Over the years, he said, the purse strings continue to be drawn a little tighter.

"There's got to be a point to where we finally decide and say okay, this is the level of enforcement that we want to maintain in Harrison County," the sheriff said. "Set a budget and let's try to stay with that every year. Might not increase, it but at least let's stay with what we have. "

Back in 2008, Sheriff Brisolara said supervisors approved the hiring of 30 correctional officers to improve jail security. With budget cuts, Brisolara said half of those positions have gone away.

"I'm comfortable with the security in the jail. But is it where I really want it? No," Sheriff Brisolara said. "When we got where we were in 2010, we were really comfortable in the security level where it was. We were making Justice comfortable with the way it was, but now we're just stepping back again."

The sheriff said he's already scaled back on house arrest and non-essential staff. WLOX talked with supervisors Windy Swetman and Marlin Ladner. Both said they are waiting to hear the sheriff's presentation and justifications for needing more money before making a judgement.

Meanwhile, the sheriff believes he knows why some supervisors may be reluctant to give his department more money.  Sheriff Brisolara said because of budget cuts over the years, drug forfeiture money is being used more often to pay for everything from squad cars to uniforms. How that money is spent is out of supervisors' hands.

"I think the problem we have here is, the board knows, we report to the board how much money is in that account. And I think it's just a deal to where they have a problem with the sheriff being able to control where that money goes."

The sheriff said in his $18 million budget, $16 million is for salaries and the rest is for operational costs. He says there is no way the Sheriff's Department can operate on $2 million, so drug forfeiture money is vital.

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