Judge Barry Hyde with Quorum Court members and Little Rock School District Superintendent Mike Poore. (L-R) Teresa Coney, Mike Poore, Judge Hyde, Kathy Lewison, Phil Stowers, Donna Massey, Curtis Keith and Judy Green. Back: Carlos Cervantes
Watch the 2017 State of the County Address
Thank you……(welcome remarks)
I want to personally acknowledge my fellow elected officials and commend them for their efforts to serve our county and our citizens. Your willingness to serve is a testament to your civic spirit and commitment to improving the quality of life in Pulaski County.
I can assure you that Assessor Ward, Sheriff Holladay, Prosecuting Attorney Jegley, Treasurer Buckner and County Clerk Crane are dedicated public servants who not only discharge their duties with great integrity but with genuine enthusiasm.
I, along with the citizens of Pulaski County, am grateful for your service.
I also want to express my sincere appreciation for our Quorum Court members. They have a tough job and are often required to navigate some fairly complex issues.
After all the debate, which is lively at times, they continue to impress me with their ability to put aside partisanship and personal differences for the greater benefit of our county.
Recently they passed an ordinance to establish the “County Animal Control Spay/Neuter Fund” which is an innovative funding mechanism to control our animal population through spay or neuter services.
Our “Give 5” initiative provides residents an option to make a voluntary contribution of $5 on their personal property or business tax bill to support this exceptional program.
Every dollar contributed will help reduce our stray animal population and result in fewer animals having to be euthanized.
Additionally, our quorum court approved funding for our Imagination Library in Pulaski County.
This partnership between Little Rock, North Little Rock and the state will provide one age appropriate book every month to children who participate and reside in the county at no cost to the families.
This important investment will help children develop necessary reading skills so that they are more likely to graduate from high school and enter the workforce prepared.
Thank you for your service. I look forward to building on our momentum and am excited about what we can achieve on behalf of the citizens of this county as we move forward.
Today, I’m happy to report that the county is financially sound, investing in our communities and stronger than ever.
Most importantly, I am pleased to report that our expenditures are down while the number and quality of services we provide are on the rise.
County government is living within its financial means. We are providing the best services to our citizens, investing in innovation and looking for every opportunity to reduce spending.
Ladies and gentlemen, Pulaski County is in good shape and this does not happen by accident. It entails careful planning and an understanding of community expectations.
Having said that, I want to personally acknowledge and extend my appreciation to our Comptroller Mike Hutchens.
Hutch wears a lot of hats for the county, but his management and attentiveness to county finances makes my job a whole lot easier.
Budget forecasts and expenditure predictions are a tricky science and often require significant adjustments. So just to point out how on his game Hutch was last year……. his projections were within $5,000 of our actual collection. It’s a pretty remarkable feat, so thank you Hutch.
By being fiscally responsible and efficient with our resources we were able to provide, for the third year in a row, a 4% pay increase for our county employees.
Coupled with our benefits package, Pulaski County is even better situated to retain employees while being competitive in the job market.
Our employees are the foundation of county operations. From the guys and gals on the road crew to the suits in the corner office, every job is important and every employee contributes to our overall mission.
It’s an honor to work with such a committed group of individuals and I am truly grateful for everyone’s hard work and dedication.
A year ago I came before you to tell you all about the innovative programs and ideas we were developing to improve the quality of life in Pulaski County.
Through our partnerships with community organizations, various state agencies and local trendsetters like our friends at the Innovation Hub, we are increasingly turning our ideas into reality.
The county introduced several programs in the past 12 months geared towards improving sustainability and promoting a clean energy initiative.
The success of our curbside recycling pilot program indicated that the residents of Pulaski County were not only receptive but motivated to recycle.
Based on the encouraging results and with quorum court support, we will launch a county wide curbside recycling program to make it more convenient and accessible.
One of the most transformative programs that we rolled out in 2016 was our Property Assessed Clean Energy Program or PACE.
This program has opened the door for developers in Pulaski County to access 100% financing for their clean energy projects.
The county wide partnership between the county and cities of Maumelle, Sherwood, Jacksonville and North Little Rock encourages collaboration rather than competition and is reshaping how we address future development needs.
The successful launch of our PACE program signifies Pulaski County’s and our partner cities desire to promote sustainability and positive economic growth. Every dollar invested produces a positive return in savings and creates hundreds of jobs.
The county’s commitment to sustainability is just as vigorous internally as it is externally.
As it turns out, many of our county owned buildings are dated and thus not very energy efficient.
To gain a better understanding of how we could improve efficiency and reduce energy consumption, the county enlisted the services of locally owned Entegrity Energy Partners to perform an energy and investment audit.
The study identified numerous areas of deferred maintenance and provided recommendations that will guarantee cost savings.
I am confident that our Quorum Court will soon approve a plan to effectively finance the initial cost of the updates.
The best part is, every dollar we spend to make these improvements will be paid off by using the guaranteed utility savings and avoidable maintenance costs.
In a nut shell, this investment will not only save tax payers money and improve the efficiency of our county facilities, it will create numerous jobs, right here in Pulaski County.
Administering county programs and developing new ones requires a team effort and I am fortunate to have group of talented directors who share a passion for community service.
A vast majority of our citizens who come in contact with the county will do so through either our Community or Youth Services Departments.
The programs they administer are the backbone of the county’s commitment to the community. It’s where big ideas are put into action and our mission is realized.
2016 was a defining year for our Youth Services Department which works tirelessly to employ programs that encourage academics, leadership, and healthy habits in the youth of Pulaski County.
Facing a drastic reduction in state funding, Director Jamie Scott and her staff tightened their belts and maximized every available dollar to ensure that the youth of Pulaski County were being served.
Despite the shortages they were still able to secure more than $431,000 in grant money for programs & services that benefited more than 3,000 Pulaski County youths.
These programs are helping guide the next generation of leaders by providing them with resources to excel both personally and academically.
Our ACT Prep program participants average 2-4 points higher on their cumulative test score, are less likely to need remedial college-level courses and are far better prepared to achieve a post-secondary degree.
Additionally, through our partnership with several local schools and community organizations, such as Seis Puentes, we provided nearly 1500 students from underserved communities with necessary school supplies, mentoring and new athletic shoes.
The cornerstone of our community commitment is reflected in the programs and initiatives that flow through and out of our Community Services Department.
From procuring millions of dollars in grants funds to expand water and sewer services to stimulating reinvestment and economic growth in the county, Director Love and his talented staff are truly our boots on the ground in the community.
The county’s health clinics annually provide health screenings, family planning and prenatal care to roughly 30,000 residents.
And, our housing and rental assistance programs helped hundreds of low income families find affordable housing and put them on a path to self-sufficiency.
This includes a concerted effort to find housing for our homeless veterans.
Last year we launched a Veterans Housing program to deliver rental assistance for Veterans and reduce the homeless rate among this group.
We were able to assist a number of veterans with housing in a short period of time and we will reach even more in the coming months.
Additionally, our Veterans Services Office counsels and assists our veterans and their dependents with VA paperwork to ensure they receive their earned benefits.
Our Community and Youth Services departments positively impact thousands of lives each year and it is my goal to continue this trend through 2017.
Cultivating positive relationships and lasting partnerships is the foundation of my administration.
So, I want to take a moment to acknowledge an individual who is not only a dedicated public servant but a true ambassador for the county.
County Coroner Gerone Hobbs is probably one the most selfless and genuine individuals I’ve ever met.
Gerone and his staff have a very difficult job to say the least and they do it with tremendous dignity and professionalism.
His willingness to volunteer in the community and share his experiences with youth groups and at risk teens is a testament to his character.
Gerone, thank you for everything you do on behalf of the county and our citizens.
For Pulaski County Government to be successful we must be accessible, transparent and responsive.
True to this philosophy, I am beginning a series of community forums this month.
The town hall style platform is going to allow myself and staff to personally interact with citizens and discuss issues important to our community.
It is crucial that we engage our citizens and look for ways to keep them informed.
To complement our livestreaming service, we are now offering closed captioning for all of our archived videos. This new service allows us to expand our audience to include those who are hearing impaired.
We are a county of inclusiveness, which is why having a recognizable image and approachable posture is important.
How county government is viewed and received in the community is vital to our ability to serve our citizens.
One of the many strides we made in the past year was to reintroduce ourselves to the public through our rebranding campaign.
The adoption of a more modern county logo and seal created a renewed and inviting image of the county.
The designs are a welcoming illustration of our county through vibrant colors and images that highlight our urban and rural attributes.
Our rebranding campaign was not just about aesthetics. It was an opportunity to let everyone know that county government is here and ready to serve you.
Our capacity to introduce and deliver public services hinges upon the county’s capability to connect with our citizens.
As you recall, last year we brought on Cozetta Jones to serve as the county’s communications director.
When she arrived our social media presence was largely nonexistent. On top of having to build a communications office from the ground up, she enthusiastically, and patiently I might add, helped us establish a foothold in the digital age.
Our social media presence is an essential layer of communication that aids us in keeping everyone well-informed via public service announcements.
Our ability to broadcast warnings and updates during a flood or severe weather is imperative to public safety.
To further enhance our communication capabilities we launched the “Pulaski Works” app.
The app provides immediate access to county services, including push notifications for road closures or hazardous weather conditions.
Citizens are able to report everything from potholes to downed trees and track the progress of their submissions.
Every service request, located within the county, is directed to the proper department, which vastly improves our ability to expedite assistance.
For the past few months our Public Works Director, Barbara Richard, and her staff have been utilizing this technology with considerable success.
Considering their heavy workload and daily obligations prioritizing and coordinating resources is crucial.
With over a 100 bridges and 1,100 miles of roads to maintain, every advantage we can employ to better and more efficiently serve our community will result in a more positive experience for our citizens.
The well-being of our communities are a top priority for county government. Our ability to attract new industries and talented individuals is directly tied to the services we provide and the security of our public.
Our residents should feel safe to travel county roads, trails but most importantly they should feel secure in their persons and property.
Public safety……….. It is something I am asked about often as I travel throughout the county. It is a point of interest in the community with many facets.
Based on my numerous conversations, I discovered that the topic of criminal justice produces varying opinions and elicits strong emotions.
To increase our patrolling capabilities, I am supporting Sheriff Holladay’s request 6 new deputies, but there is only so much money in the budget and there are only so many hours in a day for law enforcement.
It is our obligation to explore and develop new methods, so that we can maximize our available funds and man hours to address this area of concern.
I want you all to consider a few facts.
Throughout the country an estimated 2 million people with behavioral and mental health problems are booked into jails each year.
Our county detention facility is simply not designed nor effectively able to treat detainees with mental illness.
Lacking alternatives to incarceration, the number of individuals who are suffering from any number of these issues, spreads our deputies thin and puts a significant strain on our limited funds.
Once you factor in time and resources, it cost the taxpayers nearly three times more to detain those with mental illnesses compared to those without special treatment needs.
According to Sheriff Holladay, roughly 20% – 30% of those incarcerated in the Pulaski County Jail suffer from some form of mental illness.
20%-30%…that is a staggering number when you take into account the facility is designed to house 1,200 people and operates on a $25 million dollar budget.
To make matters worse, it is more than likely that mental health issues will be exacerbated when an individual is thrust into the boisterous & stressful environment of a detention facility.
This is a recipe for disaster that leads to a potentially dangerous situation for not only the inmate but the deputies as well.
The practice of placing individuals with mental health disorders into general population leads to more altercations, violent outbursts, and assaults on deputies.
This is part of the reason why individuals suffering from mental illnesses are more likely to stay longer in jail, accrue additional charges and are at a higher risk of recidivism.
Without appropriate treatment, those with mental illnesses regularly enter a cycle of incarceration.
The human and fiscal toll of this epidemic is alarming.
Through the application of intervention and diversion, our goal is to break this cycle and prevent these individuals from entering the system in the first place.
Our approach to this specific issue is twofold.
First, Crisis Intervention Training or CIT.
Many of our deputies, city police and dispatchers have already received this special training which is designed to help identify signs and symptoms of mental illnesses along with de-escalation techniques.
The second objective is diverting those suffering from mental illness from a detention facility to a designated Crisis Stabilization Unit.
Once there, an individual can be safely assessed by mental health professionals, stabilized and eventually reconnected with their caregivers or loved ones.
Counties and municipalities throughout the nation are investing in crisis stabilization programs as alternatives to incarceration and are witnessing a drastic reduction in recidivism rates and millions of dollars in savings.
I want to thank Governor Hutchinson, Representative Clark Tucker and Senator Jeremy Hutchinson for working with me and our stakeholders to pass the Criminal Justice Efficiency & Safety Act of 2017.
By partnering with the state, under the guidelines of this legislation, Pulaski County is poised to establish a designated stabilization Unit.
Without alternative options, the efforts of law enforcement to recognize and provide appropriate treatment for those in crisis is diminished.
A stabilization unit will translate into less time being exerted to process and detain individuals who are in dire need of a clinical evaluation rather than imprisonment.
Most importantly it will allow law enforcement officers to return to their policing duties in a timely manner.
Many offenders who find themselves detained as adults began their criminal journey as adolescents. The behavioral or social difficulties that developed in their youth have more than likely gone unaddressed.
As you recall, last year we applied $30,000 in carryover funds to expand mental health and counseling services in our juvenile detention facility.
This allowed us to significantly increase the number of counseling hours we could provide each week.
The initiative, facilitated by a licensed Mental Health Professional, created a more individualized communication criteria, which resulted in a 50% increase in counseling participation and a 61% reduction in the number of documented incidents.
By investing in a customized and productive counseling curriculum, we also saw a 4% drop in recidivism and a substantial reduction in the frequency of physical altercations within the facility.
I want to take a moment to acknowledge Ms. Carma Gardner who serves as our Director of Juvenile Detention. Carma and her staff strive to provide a safe environment for our employees and juvenile detainees or “campers” as Carma likes to call them.
She has a big heart and is committed to delivering meaningful rehabilitative and counseling services within her facility.
Thank you Carma
Pulaski County has made great strides in the past year to address the needs within our Juvenile Detention facility.
However, we processed 700 youth in 2016, which is 7% less than the previous year, but that is 700 too many kids and families being effected.
We have to examine the roots of the problem and be willing to accept new ideas to improve our capabilities.
In order to fully comprehend the factors of juvenile delinquency and its impact on our community, it is necessary to study the issues facing the juvenile justice system and county as a whole.
We need to understand what programs are effective, and what strategies we need to implement.
This requires an objective and comprehensive evaluation.
Pulaski County recently enlisted the help of the non-profit Center for Children’s Law and Policy to conduct a data driven assessment of the internal and external aspects of our juvenile justice system.
The study will take into account a number of factors, including probationary alternatives for status offenders, the dynamics of juvenile delinquency and the effectiveness of community-based programs to encourage constructive behavior and reduce recidivism.
I am confident the results of the report will be completed by the end of the year.
Based on their recommendations, the county will be able to develop a long-term strategy in collaboration with our juvenile courts, judges and outreach coordinators.
Folks, 2016 was an epic year for Pulaski County.
We were resolute in pursuing every opportunity to improve the quality of life for our residents.
We forged new partnerships in the community and strengthened our existing ones.
We bid farewell to the iconic Broadway Bridge and broke ground on a replacement bridge that will be recommissioned in a few weeks.
We invested in our infrastructure and fortified our status as the economic engine of the state.
I’m encouraged by the success we’ve had and am excited about what we can accomplish in the next 12 months.
Our goals are ambitious, and focused on engaging our citizens through open communication.
By continuing to be transparent, proactive and accessible, 2017 will be a year of action and achievement.
I want to leave you all with this.
One of the many things that makes our county so exceptional and unique is our diversity.
In order for the county to progress and develop in a positive manner, we must celebrate our differences and welcome everyone with open and accepting arms.
We must be a county of inclusiveness, where cultural diversity is a source of pride.
It is the minor variances that truly enrich our lives and strengthen our community.
I recognize that as a county we have fallen short when it comes to our outreach in the Latino Community. Over the next year, I am making it a point of my administration to build better lines of communication with our fellow citizens and make sure that everyone has access to vital county services.
Additionally, we are moving toward building a more proportional workforce that reflects the growing Latino population in Pulaski County.
This will not only give the Latino community a stake in the county but improve our ability to promote and deliver services to our citizens.
While certain elements in our nation are trying to derail efforts such as these, I am confident that by pursuing a policy that is hospitable and inclusive rather than combative, we will strengthen our community bonds and signify to everyone that Pulaski County is a community of acceptance.
I will defend our progressive values and ensure that Pulaski County is a place where people feel safe and welcome to – live, work, start a business and raise their families.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Pulaski County Government is here for YOU and we will continue to be innovative, engaging and most importantly accessible.
God Bless you all and may God bless Pulaski County.