Sheriff's Cuts Expected To Be Deep

What was a $17 million budget for the Harrison County Sheriff's Department, pre-Katrina, now stands at around $14 million. County supervisors say they don't talk to Sheriff Payne about his budget. They say they've been told by sheriff's employees that the law enforcement training academy, inmate labor programs, and some corrections officer jobs are on the chopping block.

"He's the law enforcement guy not us. We deal with money, he deals with law enforcement. We hope and pray that he doesn't have to jeapordize any law enforcement issues certainly," District 2 Supervisor Larry Benefield said.

Supervisor Bobby Eleuterius is worried if jail officers are let go, the county will be held in contempt. A federal court order requires a certain number of officers to be on duty inside the jail.

"Hopefully the sheriff's attorney can go to the Justice Department and, because of this disaster, give us some relief in this area until we get back on our feet. We did our darndest to make those necessary hirings and now because of our budget cuts, we're in a fix."

Eleuterius said he would hate to see inmate work programs also disappear.

"It would also affect many jobs. When we need to do more, we'll be doing less. Inmate labor has always been very beneficial to us in this county."

Still, the supervisors said sacrifices have to be made in order to survive what's expected to be lean years ahead.

"The sheriff is elected to run his law enforcement in his budget. We don't want to cut anybody's budget, but the bottom line is, when you're broke, you're broke," Benefield said.

Sheriff George Payne wouldn't talk specific cuts.

"We're going to have to make tough decisions. We can only pray for relief from Congress. I'm not going to get specific and scare people when I'm still holding out for Congress," he said.

Congress is expected to pass an emergency hurricane relief package before breaking for Christmas. Some of the money would go to law enforcement agencies in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.