Harrison County supervisors discuss tight financial picture

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A budget request from the public defender sparked a lively debate about county finances and pay raises at Monday morning's Harrison County Board of Supervisors meeting.

Public Defender Glen Rishel told supervisors he saved $33,000 when he hired two new lawyers to replace two more experienced attorneys who recently resigned to make more money in private practice.

"And I wanted to use that money to grant some raises to some folks who haven't had one in quite awhile," he told board members.

Supervisors quickly reminded him that county employees haven't had a raise in six years.

"It's not just one department. It's the county as a whole. And the fact we have already dipped into our reserve once already, and we're not even halfway through the year yet," said Supervisor Connie Rockco.

Supervisor Marlin Lander said the fiscal belt-tightening is likely to continue.

"We're going to have that issue in July. We've got some additional costs coming and I doubt it very seriously if we're going to have any revenue increases," said Supervisor Marlin Ladner.

Board President William Martin, himself a former public defender, acknowledged the pay disparity that exists between assistant public defenders and assistant DAs.

"And they're looking across the aisle at an assistant district attorney who probably has a smaller case load and that assistant district attorney is making $15,000 or $20,000 more than them, then they don't feel they're being treated right," said Supervisor Martin.

"Right now, in this scenario, the way it's presented, this board has consistently said, 'No.'" said Supervisor Windy Swetman.

"I've going to do whatever you tell me to do. I'm going to do my job. And I'm going to insist all the people that work for us do their jobs. And they will. They might moan and groan, but they're going to do it," said Rishel.

Supervisors turned down the request, advising attorney Rishel to bring it up again during July's budget talks.

Funding for the public defender's office comes from the county's general fund.

Glen Rishel says he's looking into possible alternative funding sources, including adding a court fee to misdemeanor or felony offenders.

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