201 S. Broadway, Suite 400

Little Rock, AR 72201

501-340-8305

2018 State of the County Address

I want begin by saying what an honor it is to serve as your County Judge and personally thank each and every one of our employees and directors for the tremendous work you do on behalf of the citizens of Pulaski County.

While our jobs and duties may vary, our collective mission and dedication to cultivating a progressive and welcoming sense of community is the same.

As an elected official, my accomplishments are measured by the success of the programs and services we provide our citizens.

Most importantly it is necessary to ensure that the execution of services are well received, and delivered in a timely and equitable manner.

Based on internal data collected in the past year, Pulaski County is not only meeting this challenge but exceeding expectations like never before.

To support our employees in their endeavors and provide them a healthy break from the daily grind, the county created a wellness program under the guidance of our health and wellness coordinator.  {Christopher Barnett}

The initiative provides employees with nutritional guidance and fitness classes, at no charge, as well as supporting our smoking cessation program.

The strength of Pulaski County government is built around the quality of our employees.  The necessity to retain staff while being able to attract future applicants is an issue that has long afflicted county government.

In order to wrap our arms around the issue, we conducted a top to bottom salary study, based on the most reputable data, to gain a clear understanding of where we stood in the very competitive job market.

We evaluated how our pay and benefits package stacked up against fair market rates of other companies and counties of similar size and economies.

Using this data, the county has recently instituted an entirely new pay and grading scale that will not only ensure equity in the work force but allow us to be even more competitive moving forward.

And we are doing this without raising taxes, cutting services or busting our budget.

Taking care of people and ensuring equality, while being fiscally responsible and wisely investing in our county is why I come to work every day. It is why I love the awesome responsibility of being your county judge.

It also affords me the ability to stand before you all today and report, that for the third year in a row our county is on firm fiscal ground, thriving economically, and most importantly living within its financial means.

Thanks to the Quorum Courts diligence and oversight of county expenditures, we are continuing to invest in our communities, increase services and seek innovative ways to improve the quality of life for our citizens.

My objectives since taking office have never changed.

I am just as committed today as I was on day one to advance the positive development of this county by:

  • Guaranteeing the safety and well-being of our citizens,
  • Promoting sustainable economic growth, and
  • Instituting programs that empower our youth, protect our environment and assist those in need.

While federal and state funds have become scarce, the county has aggressively sought every opportunity to capitalize on cost saving programs, and independently raise funds.

A prime example is our Give 5 program that we successfully launched as an innovative funding mechanism to control our animal population through spay & neuter services.

The program allowed residents an option of making a voluntary contribution of $5 on their personal property bill and raised nearly $50,000 in its first year.

These funds have already helped offset the cost of hundreds of spay/neuter surgeries in the county and will help reduce future stray populations.

We are continuing to build on this program’s success and anticipate being able to provide even more assistance to pet owners in the coming months.

Being able to tap into funding sources, outside of raising taxes or cutting services, is a challenge.

However……., our folks in Youth Services clearly didn’t get that memo.

This year alone our Youth Services Department was able to secure and raise just over a half million dollars in grants and donations to help support vital youth programs.

By keeping expenditures down, and vigorously securing every available grant, the county is continuing to offer Pulaski County youth constructive and engaging programs that enrich their lives, while opening the door to new opportunities.

Last year approximately 500 youth participated in our FREE ACT Prep program and nearly 200 have already registered for our 2018 spring sessions.

Coupled with our Leadership, Internship and Professional Development courses, Pulaski County is providing kids from all walks of life the necessary tools to succeed in both their personal and professional lives.

For the sake of our future, I believe it is imperative that we invest in programs that emphasize inclusiveness rather than divisiveness and recognize the value of programs that foster self-confidence.

Being able to do more with less is essential to the county’s ability to successfully deliver on our mission.

One of our greatest opportunities for cost savings was realized after we conducted a comprehensive energy audit through the State’s Energy Performance Contracting Program.

This study was important, not just from an environmental standpoint but from a financial standpoint.   It provided us with a blueprint on how to cut our operating costs through a reduction in energy consumption.

The audit covered approximately 14 Pulaski County buildings and every light, outlet, sink and fixture was evaluated.

We discovered that our county buildings consumed about 15.6 million kilowatt hours per year, which cost us roughly $1.3 million a year.

By simply replacing all of the light fixtures with LED lighting, the county will reduce its kilowatt hours by an estimated 15% and reduce energy consumption by an estimated 68%.

These upgrades alone will save the county $120,000 in energy costs annually.

Combined with efficiency upgrades to our roofing, plumbing and HVAC systems, we expect to save the county a minimum of $8.9 million over the next 15 years.

Keep in mind, every dollar we spend to complete these upgrades will be paid for through guaranteed utility savings and avoidable maintenance costs.

These savings translate in to real dollars that can be reinvested for future projects as well as expand existing county services.

While county government doesn’t always get the attention and recognition it deserves, I can assure you that our sustainability and economic development programs are making a difference in the community.

Our Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund continues to be one of our most environmentally and economically dynamic programs.

The reclaiming of properties affected by hazardous materials and making them viable is essential, not only to preserving public health, but to boosting economic and employment opportunities in Pulaski County.

Revitalization begins with our brownfields program and will continue to be a driving force in the development of our county in 20-18.

In the coming year we will also be working to expand investment and economic opportunities through the administration of PACE funded projects.

By engaging developers and working with stakeholders, our goal is to facilitate an additional $2 million in projects this year and another $10 million by 2020.

Continuing to increase and promote sustainability programs demonstrates the county’s commitment to creating an atmosphere that is environmentally welcoming to prospective investors and future residents.

True to our mission, and at the behest of our citizens, we launched, a first of its kind, curbside recycling program in 2017.

In the 9 months since we began delivering bins to residents in the unincorporated areas, the county has already processed 811 tons of recyclables.

Fewer recyclables winding up in the trash, means less money the county will have to spend in the future to open more landfills.

Connecting with people on an individual level and providing them with guidance and assistance is important to me and my administration.

Our Community Services Department is a conduit of compassion and works tirelessly within the county to deliver a wide range of public health, self-sufficiency and housing programs.

In 2017, the county, through our partnership with the Department of Health, ensured that countless children and families were able to receive flu vaccinations, while providing medical services and screenings to nearly forty thousand individuals at our community health clinics.

Our County Extension Office provided nutritional assistance and guidance to over fifty thousand Pulaski County residents last year and helped thousands of individuals with everything from estate and retirement planning to basic money management.

These programs are arming our citizens with the necessary tools to maintain healthy lifestyles and gain financial independence.

I strongly believe that investing in the health and well-being of our citizens, especially our veterans, is a net positive for our community and a core purpose of county government.

In addition to assisting hundreds of veterans in 2017, Pulaski County hosted a Veteran’s Benefits Fair as a means to help eligible vets sign up for earned benefits, receive wellness checks and directly connect them with the VA Healthcare System.

In fact, it was so well attended, we are moving our 2018 benefits fair to a larger venue at Pulaski Tech.  Our goal is to accommodate even more deserving veterans who need help navigating the complex VA System.

While connecting our veterans with services is important, it is even more important that we ensure they have access to safe and affordable housing.

Since introducing our Veterans Housing program two years ago, the county has been able to provide rental assistance and long-term housing options for veterans who were homeless or in danger of becoming homeless.

Folks, homelessness or the threat of becoming homeless is a very destabilizing factor and can have far reaching consequences.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Central Arkansas Team Care for Homelessness, nearly 1,000 individuals in our county are reported to be homeless.

Over half are identified as being unsheltered and most alarming, is that nearly one hundred of them are children.

Last year Pulaski County assisted a total of 373 individuals to secure housing through our Housing Choice and Rental Assistance Programs.

To further support our efforts, Pulaski County was recently awarded $50,000 in Emergency Solutions Grants to assist those who are currently homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

These federal dollars are essential and will allow us to help even more individuals find long-term and stable housing.

Additionally, we will be exploring opportunities to further reduce homelessness in the county by evaluating the feasibility of a Supportive Housing Program.

This type of program is designed primarily for individuals with long histories of homelessness due to mental illness, substance abuse, or chronic medical problems.

The stability gained through supportive housing has proven to decrease unemployment, improve participant’s mental and physical health and reduce truancy.

Through proper implementation and public partnerships, these programs can result in direct public savings and improve public safety.

Data shows that people who utilize supportive housing reduce their need for emergency room visits by 57%, while emergency detoxification services decline by 87% and the rate of incarceration amongst this group declines by 52%.

Our nation is suffering from a shortage of services to address the needs of those with mental illness and Pulaski County is not immune.

Our county jail and emergency rooms have become the dumping ground for our mentally ill.  On top of being totally ineffective and expensive, it is inhumane.

Understanding the demand for mental health services, Pulaski County has been working with the state, UAMS, law enforcement and surrounding counties to establish the Pulaski County Regional Crisis Stabilization Unit.

It’s been a long yet worthwhile undertaking, and I’m happy to say that our CSU will be fully operational by late spring.

This facility is an alternative to incarceration for non-violent individuals who are suffering from behavioral disorders and is designed to deflect them from our jail.

Once admitted to the CSU, individuals will be stabilized and cared for by a highly trained staff of UAMS mental health professionals.

They will receive necessary treatment during their stay, and upon leaving will be provided with individualized aftercare plans that include follow up visits and housing referrals.

Just so you can grasp the magnitude and necessity of this program, in 2017 roughly 1,500 individuals were booked into the Pulaski County Jail three or more times.

Of those high utilizers, nearly 400 screened positive as having some form of severe mental illness.

Individuals suffering from a mental illness are susceptible to having their condition compounded by the stress of incarceration, making them more prone to violent outburst.

And as a consequence, this often leads to them accruing additional charges, which results in longer and costlier stays in jail.

Upon release from jail, and without proper treatment, these individuals are 85% more likely to return to jail within a year.

I believe this program will not only allow us to break this cycle, it will provide us an opportunity to connect people with essential resources in the county and ensure their successful transitions back into the community.

Reducing costs associated with incarceration and adjudication are the crux of our focus in the coming year and beyond.

In an effort to identify the contributing factors of crime and its impact on our juvenile and justice system’s workload, the county has taken several steps to address their needs by conducting program wide studies.

Pulaski County partnered with the Center for Children’s Law and Policy to provide an assessment of the services we offer at-risk youth, particularly those in contact with the juvenile justice system.

The study highlighted several opportunities for improvements, including case processing, data analysis, collaboration and alternatives to detention programs.

The county was quick to implement several recommendations within our juvenile detention, including a measure to provide khaki pants and polo shirts as standard attire in lieu of orange jumpsuits.

While recidivism and incidents within the facility have been declining, this small adjustment coupled with expanded counseling services has shown very positive results.

For our efforts, Pulaski County was approved to participate in the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, to promote detention reform

This initiative, based on research and best practices, is an opportunity for the county to institute innovative programs for at risk youth, while improving the front-end of our juvenile justice system.

To further our reform efforts and foster cooperation within the justice system, I formed the Pulaski County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee which consists of local:  Judges, Prosecutors, Business Leaders, Clergy, Law Enforcement, Mental Health Professionals, Attorneys and others

This is not your run of the mill “Blue Ribbon” commission.  Each member was appointed because of their expertise and genuine desire to improve our justice system.

For this committee to effect real change, it will require collaboration, based on facts and not opinions, to jointly solve problems.

I expect that there will be differences and dissension throughout the course of this committee and that’s OK.

We are not seeking to further the status quo, rather we are assessing what works and how we can better use our resources to implement comprehensive justice reform.

The purpose of county government is to deliver safe, high quality and effective services to our citizens and to do this requires us to be familiar with the people and communities we serve.

Understanding the importance of connecting with people on a personal level and cultivating lasting partnerships, I hosted a series of town hall meeting throughout the county in 2017.

This open forum of communication allowed not only myself but several of our department directors to engage directly with constituents and most importantly listen to what they had to say.

These events were also an opportunity for us to highlight many of the projects and services we deliver on a daily basis, especially those provided through our Public Works Department.

From maintaining our county roads and bridges, installing early warning systems and securing funds to expand our bike and walking trails, Public Works is connecting communities, ensuring public safety and improving our quality of life.

Their work is vitally important because when it comes to people deciding where to relocate or start a business, the superiority and accessibility of our amenities are a significant factor.

I always like to point out that Pulaski County is the largest and most diverse county in the state, and while the eclectic nature of our county is a great source of pride for me, I can assure you that it’s not just a catch phrase.

We are a county that is proud of our economic fortitude while being fiercely protective of our natural resources.  We have a shared desire to preserve our cultural values and build communities where we can work, play and raise our families.

In 2018, Pulaski County will continue to be engaging, transparent and innovative.  We shall build on our successes and implement programs that will improve our quality of life.  Most importantly, I will not waiver in my mission to provide our citizens with the most effective and high quality services.

Thank you.