I-TEAM: Burke County sheriff wins battle to control his budget

Published: Aug. 10, 2021 at 7:09 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 11, 2021 at 8:41 AM EDT
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WAYNESBORO, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - After threatening to sue Burke County over budgetary issues, Sheriff Alfonzo Williams got his wish to have full control over his agency’s budget.

He made the request to county commissioners, who voted to honor that request Tuesday night, he said.

The two sides were at odds over how much the agency is spending.

This comes after an I-Team investigation into lead contamination at the Burke County firing range, located inside the sheriff’s office. That training facility is crucial to law enforcement and remains shut down after its first closing months ago.

One county leader was fired up that Williams continues to go over budget every year since taking office.

The battle started with the sheriff’s letter last month addressed to the county administrator, Merv Waldrop.

Williams wrote that he had “Grave concerns over staffing issues and the need for a training facility.”

The I-Team first told you last May about former Sgt. Jay Hollingsworth, who says he suffered lead poisoning as a result of his job inside that training facility. His lawsuit led to the current shutdown of the facility.

“This lead has been a living nightmare for over two years now and I wont get it out of my blood for at least another two years,” said Hollingsworth.

Williams says the 35-year-old building has other issues including  “A lack of workspace in our administration building.”

Plus there are other needs like a new jail pod adding, “We were told we had 1.2 million dollars from SPLOST to do jail improvements.” To accomplish it all the sheriff also hoped to tap into  American Rescue Plan funding, but instead learned those are “Being diverted, by the commission, to broadband internet throughout the county.”

Not even two weeks later, Williams sent this intent-to-sue letter to the county administrator.

In addition to a “Lack of sufficient space for adequate training” on firearms and tasers, he’s also concerned about losing deputies to patrol in and around Plant Vogtle.

Williams’ letter put the commission on notice of his intentions to go to court “To correct it’s abuses of discretion and fulfill its official duties and adequately fund and equip the sheriff’s office.”

But the I-Team also obtained this internal communication from Waldrop to the commission that detail the dollars are in the red.

“Be cautioned that we have no knowledge and even less control over what will be spent in the so budget between now and the end of the year. The sheriff’s office has a track record of spending more than in their budget ..”

He points to six years of audits that show the sheriff’s office didn’t start going over budget until Williams was elected. And the budget overages every year, are increasing.

So what does this boil down to for taxpayers?

Williams told the I-Team if the commission didn’t vote his way, he’d file suit.

The matter became moot after Tuesday’s Burke County Board of Commissioner’s meeting, where officials gave Williams control over his agency’s budget.

He shared the news with this Facebook post presented in the form of an email to employees:

Hello Everyone,

I am writing this email to let you know that we presented a plan to the commission to take over completely our new budget that starts October 1, 2021 thru September 30, 2022. We were prepared to file a Mandamus Action (lawsuit) had the commission decided not to do as the law dictates. The commission decided to honor our request.

This means the sheriff’s office will have total control of our finances and we be positioned to make decisions in our best interest and the public’s best interest. We have the opportunity to save money and put it where it matters most, which is to protect efficiency those we serve and those we work alongside everyday.

We believe health benefits, retirement, training, hiring, retention and resources will be better. Please do not be sidetracked by those who may seek to cause fear over this move. There are some uncertainties, but we have good lawyers and are building quickly a transition team of experts to take care of you. We have been working on this for a few weeks and are consulting with the right professionals.

We will be in touch in the days to come and promise to remain transparent. Please call or text my phone (706-589-1163) with any concerns. We love you.

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