Letter to the Community

The goal of your Burke County Board of Commissioners is to make Burke the best place to live, work, and raise a family. We take very seriously our responsibility to spend wisely your hard-earned taxpayer dollars. That’s why we have invested heavily in our local hospital, our recreation department, our re and ambulance service and certainly our law enforcement to name a few.

The Burke County Sheriff’s ofce is one of the best funded law enforcement agencies for a county our size in Georgia. If you compare the resources devoted to our Sheriff, they are head and shoulders above other counties. Our combined law enforcement budget is almost $10,000,000. By comparison, in round gures, our neighbors are much less: Jefferson $5,000,000; McDufe $4,500,000; Emanuel $3,000,000; Washington $3,200,000. Per capita, Burke County spends far more than any of those counties on our protection with an amount of $393 per person. The closest to us is McDufe County at $209 per person. Washington County is $159 per person, and Emanuel County is $134 per person.

Not only do we allocate more for your protection, but the amount devoted to law enforcement has greatly increased since Sheriff Williams was elected. He asked for, and we provided, an almost 100% increase in his funding. Before Sheriff Williams was elected in 2016, our budget for law enforcement was about $5,000,000. Today it’s close to $10,000,000.

We are committed to doing our part to keep you safe.

In Georgia it takes cooperation of County ofcials to provide this level of protection. Under our State law, the County Commission is the only one who can pass a budget and levy taxes for law enforcement, and the Sheriff is the only one who has the power to arrest and enforce the law.

We have worked well together for several years to make Burke County a safe place to live.

Unfortunately, Sheriff Williams recently led a lawsuit against the County Commission alleging that our method of working together was not to his liking. As a result, we agreed to let the Sheriff separate his ofce from guidelines the other County ofcials work within regarding pay of employees and various purchases. Although we made these changes, the Sheriff continued with his lawsuit last year against the County asking that we cease our nancial oversight on certain expenditures for his ofce. We determined that Georgia Law required us to have in place those checks and balances for spending, and the Burke County Superior Court agreed. After a trial, Judge Jesse Stone ruled in the Commission’s favor and required the Sheriff to allow the Commission to continue to handle payroll and other employee matters. We maintain Judge Stone’s ruling agreed with Georgia law that basically states two sets of eyes need to be on the checkbook.

Undeterred, the Sheriff has now appealed Judge Stone’s ruling against him to the Georgia Court of Appeals claiming he wants sole oversight over several parts of the checkbook. We think having those two sets of eyes looking over the books is not only a good idea, but required under the law. We hope later this year the Appeals Court agrees with Judge Stone and we put this unfortunate episode of County governance to rest.

However, in the meantime, Sheriff Williams has taken other steps to attempt to end the Commission’s role in nancial oversight. Earlier this year, we learned he did not follow the appropriations process for local supplements received by his ofce. We have asked the Sheriff to rectify this situation and allow those monies to follow the normal course but he has refused. For several years the Waynesboro Housing Authority and Plant Vogtle have paid for extra patrols in their areas. The annual payments have been close to half a million dollars. For the rst time, Sheriff Williams kept this money in bank accounts he opened and did not allow the County to receive the funds and have the expenditures go through the normal process of public hearings and accounting open to the public’s scrutiny. The Board has requested that this year’s supplements totaling some $425,000 be turned over for the required process, but Sheriff Williams has stated “we will not relinquish any funds to the County government.”

In addition, for weeks the Sheriff refused to allow and delayed the County’s ofcial auditor from seeing all the records for tens of thousands of dollars of expenditures he has made over the past several months. Even now that the Sheriff has given some records, total transparency is lacking as we are still waiting on receipts and other information on spending.

The Commission has asked the Sheriff to cooperate in opening up the books on this account, but he has been slow to respond and still has not fully done so. We feel these delaying tactics only lead to more questions on the appropriateness of this spending and raise suspicion. Not showing the public how funds are being spent is not only bad policy, but it also violates Georgia’s open records laws.

We will continue to ask the Sheriff to cooperate with the Commission to explain some of the expenditures, open his private books and receipts to the public, and comply with Georgia law which requires the County Auditor to review spending and allow any outside supplements to go through the normal and open public appropriations process.

Burke County is a great place to live, and we intend to continue to do our part to keep it that way. The law requires us to oversee the spending of your money so that you get every penny’s worth of your hard earned taxes, and we will do that no matter the opposition we must overcome. Thank you for helping to make Burke County the best it can be.

Burke County Board of Commissioners

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.