Full Video Address
Good Morning everyone.
I want to begin by saying what an honor it is to serve as your County Judge and acknowledging how truly blessed I am to address such a diverse and distinguished group of individuals who share my civic spirit.
Taking care of our public needs and providing equal access to the highest quality services is a monumental task that requires a motivated and well trained staff.
Pulaski County employees are the bedrock of county government and it is their professionalism and can do attitude that make the multitude of programs we administer successful. I’d like to personally thank our directors and everyone who works behinds the scenes to make my job easier.
Thank you all, for your commitment to improving the lives of our citizens and ensuring that Pulaski County retains its stature as the state’s most innovative and prosperous county.
In our county’s bicentennial year, I am pleased to report that Pulaski County is on firm fiscal ground, investing in our future and driving the state’s economy.
We are operating within our financial means while continuing to wisely invest in programs and services that enhance our quality of life.
Our Quorum Court’s fiscal restraint and pragmatic approach to governing is cementing Pulaski County as one of the most progressive and inventive counties in the region.
By working together, we are sending a clear message to potential investors and residents that Pulaski County is committed to moving forward and investing in public services, while enhancing the amenities within our communities.
Thanks to the past and present visionaries who saw value in investing in infrastructure and the well-being of our citizens, Pulaski County is poised to begin the next two-hundred years ripe with potential.
Once the vanguard of the western frontier, Pulaski County and her residents have always embodied the spirit of those early pioneers, who dared to blaze new trails, and explore new industries, while pushing the boundaries of possibility.
Those same values drive county government to this day.
Whether it’s finding ways to expand public safety, promote economic growth or institute programs that empower our youth and protect our environment, Pulaski County is leading the charge.
Pulaski County is committed to adopting nationally recognized best practices in order to make informed decisions and implement cutting edge programs.
Access to factual and proven data is a benefit that allows us to evaluate a program’s potential and/or effectiveness. It also can provide insight on how to reduce costs and where to reinvest those savings, while reducing the guess factor.
The county’s utilization of technology to increase efficiency paid dividends in 2018 for our Public Works Department.
By using data derived from a 2017 pavement distress and assessment study of our publicly maintained roads, we resurfaced a record setting 74 miles of county roads last year, while increasing our mowing operations throughout the county by 25%.
Public Works, which is the umbrella agency charged with overseeing the county’s Road and Bridge, Emergency Management, Animal Control and Sanitation Departments, is the unsung hero of county government.
Anytime you hear a tornado siren you should thank your lucky stars that Public Works made the effort to maximize the reach and scope of our early warning systems.
Everyone who crosses the Big Dam Bridge or enjoys a stroll through Two Rivers Park, owes a great deal of gratitude to the work they do on a daily basis.Public Works produces probably the most tangible benefits to Pulaski County residents and is a reflection of the county’s commitment to cultivating a healthy and inviting community.
Over 9 million pedestrians, cyclists and joggers have crossed the Big Dam Bridge since it was opened. The popularity of the bridge has correlated with the development and expansion of our Two Rivers Park and Two Rivers Bridge.
Planned upgrades to Two Rivers Park, will include two new playgrounds that are age appropriate and incorporate the latest design for all children, including children and caregivers with disabilities.
With the assistance of private donations and matching county funds, we will complete the first phase of this project by the end of the year and the second phase in 2020.
Additionally, the county has partnered with the Army Corps of Engineers to make necessary improvements to David D. Terry Lock and Dam Park and will soon begin installing new restrooms, picnic tables, a trail head and safety patrols conducted by our sheriff’s department.
The eagerly anticipated Southwest Trail will further enhance the county’s recreational offerings for pedestrians and bicycle commuters, while creating hundreds of new jobs and injecting money in to our local economy.
Out of the design phase and moving towards construction, the Pulaski County section of the trail is planned to be completed by the end of 2022.
These are vitally important amenities that individuals consider when deciding where to relocate or start a business. However, the willingness of a community to invest in its environmental health is a major factor as well.
We have made great strides over the past four years to reduce waste and consumption within the county by expanding recycling services in the unincorporated areas and by the initiation of our Property Assessed Clean Energy Program.
Internally the county’s participation in the State’s Energy Performance Contracting Program has led to a 68% reduction in energy consumption in our county owned buildings.
Having completed the energy upgrades in all but one remaining county owned building, the county will save $120,000 in energy costs annually.
These savings are significant and will allow us to reinvest those funds into future sustainability and economic development projects without having to raise taxes.
Savings that can be utilized to expand programs such as our Brownfields Revolving Loan Program, which is an invaluable financial resource designed to promote environmentally sound revitalization projects.
The private-public principles of the Pulaski County Brownfields Program has facilitated community enhancement projects totaling nearly $61 million dollars to date.
Continuing to promote sustainability programs demonstrates the county’s commitment to creating an atmosphere that is environmentally welcoming to prospective investors and future residents.
Pulaski County Government is in the business of enriching our communities, which is why the programs administered by our Community and Youth Services Departments are so essential.
As an individual who greatly benefited from publicly funded youth programs, I cannot stress the importance and impact that constructive programs can have on a child’s life.
Despite an alarming drop in state and federal funding for such programs, Pulaski County rolled up its sleeves in 2018 and went to work by procuring over a half a million dollars in donations and grant contributions to support our youth programs.
According to our data, nearly 65% of the children who participate and benefit from our youth programs come from single parent homes and are 80% more likely to require school lunch assistance.
If the state won’t fund our ACT prep program, which has helped over 4,000 students raise their test scores by as much as nine points, the county is forced to.
And, if the state and federal government want to reduce funds for our out-of-school care and Pre-K programs, which provide assistance to lower-income families, Pulaski County has to find a way to do it.
Ignoring their needs, robbing them of opportunity and reducing services to these children is simply not an option.
Pulaski County will be working to not only preserve these successful programs in 2019 but expand services in Higgins, Oak Grove and McAlmont by utilizing 2018 carryover funds.
In order to maintain our trajectory of success, we must continue to invest in our communities, not only financially but personally.
Pulaski County government works diligently to connect with people on an individual level. Through our Community Services programs we are providing necessary public health, self-sufficiency and housing programs in the community.
Housing insecurity and chronic homelessness are some of the most destabilizing factors in any community. Without affordable and safe housing options, family units may deteriorate and an individual’s ability to maintain employment is jeopardized.
To address this need, the county’s Housing Choice and Rental Assistance Programs was able to help 360 Pulaski County residents find safe and long term housing in 2018.
Additionally, the county is working towards providing added supportive housing services for individuals and veterans with histories of homelessness, mental illness and chronic medical problems.
Through proper implementation, these programs translate into real savings that improve living standards and reduce dependencies on costly public services.
We are the most populated county in the state and home to the largest urban center as well.
This distinction affords us many benefits, such as having 16 multinational corporations and organizations that invested almost $2 billion dollars in our community and generate $350 million dollars in payroll annually.
Two Rivers Park, Dickey-Stephens Ballpark, Verizon Arena and the Big Dam Bridge are major attractions that can only be sustained by a county as vibrant and economically sound as Pulaski County.
And while being the largest county in the state affords us many luxuries, we have to realize that with this advantage comes big city challenges.
As we grow, so does the need for public safety and health services. We simply can’t ignore that mental illness, crime and housing insecurity are a fact of life in a county as large and diverse as ours.
In the fall of 2018, the county opened its first Crisis Stabilization Unit in partnership with UAMS and the Governor’s office to address the growing number of individuals in the community suffering from acute mental distress. 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 county jail and local emergency rooms.
Based on data compiled by the county and the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, an average of 200 individuals a month screen positive for mental health disorders upon intake to the county jail.
Since the unit opened in the fall of 2018, 381 individuals have been referred to the clinic for assessment. With a 75% admission rate and an average length of stay of 2 days, that translates into 571 bed days of treatment rather than incarceration. While we are seeing positive results, it is clear we can do more.
The principal hurdle we must overcome are the inadequacies within our criminal and juvenile justice systems. With this in mind, we commissioned studies by independent third-party entities to evaluate where we needed to improve and also formed working committees to evaluate the findings.
The County’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee (CJCC) has just completed its evaluation of a comprehensive assessment conducted by JFA Institute and the Justice Management Institute.
As it turns out, the data revealed that one of the counties greatest needs was to improve our ability to collect and share data uniformly within the justice system.
The Committee is working with ACIC (Arkansas Crime Information Center) to procure grant funds to install digital fingerprinting equipment in district courts and Sheriff Patrol vehicles. This will allow persons, cited for low level misdemeanors, to be finger printed on site and eliminate the need for them to be transported to jail.
Improving interagency communication and implementing our pre-trial risk assessment pilot program are huge steps in the right direction, however one of the chief impediments to the county’s reform efforts are the number of state inmates being housed in the county jail.
Acknowledged in the independent study and our CJCC, the number of beds being devoted to the housing of these inmates is a financial and administrative burden upon the county.
While 85% of the individuals booked into the county jail are released within three days, state inmates occupy an average of 350 beds a day and have a median length of stay of 100 days. That is an average of 35,000 bed days devoted to housing state inmates.
These inmates are contributing to the overcrowding of our jail and without changes will grow our jail’s population by 24% in the next decade.
The mandated housing of state prisoners is unsustainable and makes it nearly impossible to house inmates by appropriate classification. Most alarming, it costs the county millions of dollars annually in uncompensated expenses.
These are county funds that could be better utilized to improve our jail’s infrastructure, counseling programs and technological capabilities.
On the other end of the justice spectrum, our Juvenile Justice Working Group began meeting in 2017 to evaluate detention reforms and alternatives to incarnation based on nationally established best practices.
Using the JDAI model created by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the county generated a method to capture vital data during the intake process, as well as track positive outcomes.
By utilizing the data collected by county staff and working with JDC leadership, substantial additions to programming in the Juvenile Detention Center have been implemented in the past year. This includes a weekly yoga/meditation class, an animal assisted therapy program and an enlarged gardening area that produced a total of 430 lbs. of vegetables, most of which was donated to the Dorcas House.
Mental health services were expanded to provide assessments and counseling for youth upon arrival, as well as a mentoring program that will follow the youth after release.
Recreational programming activities were enhanced with the purchase of new fitness equipment and the addition of a fitness curriculum supervised by the county’s health and wellness coordinator.
While we have been able to implement these positive reforms within the detention facility, our goal is to further reduce the number of youth entering the system at all.
The data we’ve collected and reinforced by national statistics overwhelmingly supports home detention; electronic monitoring conditional releases and shelter beds as worthy and established alternatives to detention, none of which are currently being utilized within our juvenile system.
Despite the fact that these proven programs would have a positive impact in our community and offer youth an alternative to unnecessary incarceration, the county will require more time to implement these nationally recognized services.
I will not be deterred and will continue to work with stakeholders to ensure we are providing our youth with adequate opportunities to improve their circumstances.
The first step will be to employ a Director of Juvenile Justice Services, who will be selected from a national pool of applicants specializing in juvenile justice reforms and best practice standards.
The new Director will allow the county to effectively manage our juvenile justice needs and provide necessary case management. Through the application of data collection and analysis, we will be able to institute uniform standards and quantified procedures within our juvenile courts.
In light of this being Pulaski County’s historical bicentennial year, I’d like to conclude by saying that while the financial stability and innovative nature of our county is important, it is the diversity of our county that provides us our strength.
In 2019 the first two African Americans to hold county-wide offices were elected by the people of Pulaski County. While this achievement is long overdue, it fills me with great hope that they will inspire others and cultivate the next generation of leaders.
As Pulaski County has grown and matured over the years, our citizens have triumphed together and mourned together. We have witnessed numerous social, ideological and economic changes.
Most importantly, we faced our challenges together as a community and never lost sight of our desire to build a better tomorrow.
In the past year Pulaski County’s achievements and growth as a community were on full display. As we turn our attention to the coming year I am cognizant that challenges will arise, but I can assure you that we thrive on challenges. A challenge is nothing more than an opportunity to find better solutions.
Pulaski County will continue to lead by example and I am confident that the strides we have made and the sense of community we have collectively built will continue to flourish and enrich the lives of Pulaski County residents for years to come.