Budget Belt Tightening Starts With Sheriff's Department

Harrison County Sheriff George Payne asked the county supervisors to add about a $1.5 million to his $15.6 million budget. After the county supervisors crunched all the numbers, the sheriff will get $69,000 more to spend next year.

"I was worried we were going to take a cut," Payne said. "Public safety has to be our number one priority in this county. You can have the best streetlights and the best sidewalks, but if they're unsafe to be on, you don't have anything."

The board wants to give citizens a tax break by trimming a million or two off the budget. The sheriff's slice is one of the biggest. It makes up 40 percent of the general fund.

"Public safety is a priority, and I think if you look over the last couple of years, you'll see that we have increased his budget and we've done it with a pretty sizeable amount of money," Board of Supervisors President Larry Benefield said. "But yes, it is a message to all our departments that it's time for the taxpayer to receive some rebate back from their hard-earned dollars."

District Three Supervisor Marlin Ladner reminded the board that the sheriff's budget has continued to go up.

"Since we took office in the year 2000, if we grant the sheriff his request this year that would be over a 17-percent increase. No other departments or no other governmental entities are getting that much of an increase," Ladner said.

Now that Payne isn't getting the increase he wanted, he says he'll find other funding sources. Despite the belt tightening, Payne says he's proud that he's saving tax dollars.

"We feel like we've saved over a million dollars over the last year in our food services, medical and things of that nature. We can show we've saved over a million dollars," Payne said.

And he says that savings will continue in these times of slimmer budgets.