Hello, I’m Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde and I want to thank you for joining me for our virtual 2021 State of the County Address.
While I long to return to the days of delivering these addresses in person, it is important that we stay vigilant in our efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and adhere to the Public Health guidelines to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
On this day, nearly one year ago, I was preparing to give my Annual State of the County Address when the world as we know it came to a standstill. A new and deadly virus had arrived and the path of destruction it would leave in its wake has been heart-wrenching.
COVID-19 is now part of our vocabulary and as the seriousness of the virus became apparent, the safety of our citizens and employees became my primary concern.
Immediately Pulaski County Government went into action formulating plans to keep services flowing and county government operating.
The reality of transitioning many of our employees to a remote workforce was a huge undertaking. The county’s Information Technology team worked round the clock and were key in facilitating the migration of in-office employees, which allowed us to avoid lay-offs. More importantly, it allowed us to continue our work safely without sacrificing efficiency or productivity.
The county also expanded its utilization of teleconferencing programs for our juvenile and criminal systems. The Justice Bridge Interfacing system, which allows detainees to communicate with judges and attorneys virtually, provided the judicial system a safe and effective way to conduct business.
Assessor Janet Ward quickly went to a staggered work schedule that allowed employees to work remotely and in the office. Her department’s ongoing measures to streamline their workflow ensured that vital property assessments continued and property records were kept current.
Treasurer Debra Buckner, who has long been a fellow champion of utilizing technology to her advantage, was able to implement a program that allowed 100% of her staff to work remotely and promoted live chat options for citizens to engage with staff.
The poise and professionalism of County Clerk Terri Hollingsworth throughout the election process is to be commended. Her and her staff worked tirelessly to register voters, promote absentee voting, and ensure those ballots were sent and received in a timely manner.
The County’s ability to utilize modern technology has been instrumental to our success, but for certain departments, remote work is simply not an option.
While every job and county employee is vital to the function of county government, employees working in law enforcement, detention facilities, emergency management and the coroner’s office were placed in a precarious position. Ensuring their safety was essential.
One of our biggest concerns was how to mitigate the spread of the virus in the Detention Facility. It was immediately clear that an overcrowded jail had the potential to be a super spreader which could jeopardize the health and safety of staff and prisoners.
As a result of his quick action and the development of new protocols, Sheriff Eric Higgins has been able to avoid any major outbreaks within the facility.
I want to personally thank my fellow elected officials and the amazing employees of this great county who came to work every day or logged into work from their homes.
I have always touted our workforce as being highly professional and motivated. Throughout this process, they have proven to be just that and most importantly they have proven themselves adaptable.
I am optimistic that the lessons we have learned in the past year and the efficiencies we have discovered will shape the future of county government.
The economic impact of the global pandemic is still unfolding; however, I am happy to say that Pulaski County has weathered the storm well and remains financially sound. We are focused on growing our economy, investing in our infrastructure and ensuring your tax dollars are being invested wisely.
First and foremost, when potential employers, families and individuals are considering a location to start a business or invest, they are looking at the overall infrastructure of the community.
The ability of individuals to move about the county safely and efficiently is vital, which is why maintaining our 1,120 miles of county roads and 145 bridges is a key function.
Public Works is the bedrock of county government, responsible for maintaining and constructing many of the tangible amenities utilized by Pulaski County residents, as well as providing essential services that keep us safe.
They are a visible presence in the county and their work touches every aspect of our daily lives. In the past year alone, Public Work’s installed 3000 feet of pipe to improve drainage in the county, repaired 977 potholes and completed 195 miles of preventative maintenance.
The completion of the Oneida Bridge, in partnership with the Cities of Jacksonville and Sherwood, and located in Northern Pulaski County is a prime example of how Public Works is linking residents and improving accessibility. Most importantly it demonstrates the benefits of interlocal collaboration.
To maximize efficiency and minimize cost, the county continues to employ the latest equipment and technology to assess the conditions of our infrastructure and coordinate our resources.
Being able to communicate with our residents through the Pulaski Works App remains one of the most effective ways for residents to stay abreast of what’s happening in the county and get service requests resolved safely and quickly.
Early warning systems and our ability to deploy emergency services are essential when inclement weather occurs and every form of communication is vital.
Weather events, as a result of climate change, are happening more frequently and with more tenacity. It is increasingly important for us to be good stewards of our environment and adopt sustainable development models.
Pulaski County’s Green Initiative has solidified our reputation as being a leader and innovator in the region.
I take great pride in being able to say Pulaski County was the first county in the state to provide curbside recycling for residents in the unincorporated area. In the past twelve months, 3 million and forty pounds of recyclable materials have been diverted from our landfills.
Sustainability is all about using renewable resources wisely, without creating additional waste. And as we all know come mid-August, sunshine and its solar rays are abundant in Pulaski County.
On April 6, 2021, Pulaski County will flip the switch at our new solar farm, located just west of Roosevelt Road. This project, in conjunction with our development of a 40-acre solar farm at the Little Rock Port, will eventually power 100% of our county buildings and the Port Authority.
The 8 megawatts of solar power that these projects will ultimately provide, will reduce the county’s dependence on fossil fuels and save the county up to $150,000 in the first year alone.
These environmentally conscious programs, coupled with energy improvements to all our county buildings, demonstrate our commitment to creating a more sustainable future and improving the health of our communities.
The county’s eco-driven philosophy to preserve greenspace and expand recreational opportunities will allow citizens to enjoy the beauty of Pulaski County for years to come.
The Southwest Trail is one of the largest and most anticipated projects we have been working towards. With the environmental impact study completed, our unincorporated section of the trail is planned to be finished by the end of 2022.
Once completed, bicycle commuters will be able to travel from Southwest Little Rock to the river trail within a matter of minutes, linking neighborhoods and communities to the county’s popular multi-trail system.
By investing in quality-of-life amenities, we are expanding safe and healthy recreational offerings for our citizens and establishing Pulaski County as a destination for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts.
The construction of a traffic calming circle at Two Rivers Park has improved the flow of walkers and cyclists and is designed to increase park safety for visitors accessing the River Trail.
The Big Dam Bridge is the jewel of the trail and ferries thousands of visitors across the river every year. Taking into consideration the popularity and volume of cyclists and pedestrians who utilize the iconic bridge, the county is constantly assessing traffic flow and identifying potential bottlenecks.
In partnership with the City of North Little Rock, the planned North Landing will allow individuals and families to safely access the River Trail and Bridge on the north side of river.
Safety, efficiency and collaboration are what drives Pulaski County Government.
In conjunction with the City of Maumelle, the implementation of an adaptive signal control system is geared towards improving traffic flow and maximizing safety. The new technology adapts traffic lights to coincide with vehicle volume and allows residents in the community to spend less time idling at stoplights.
Investments in our infrastructure, environment and amenities are what prospective employers and residents are looking for in a community. And you don’t have to look far to realize how true that statement is.
The Little Rock Port is one of the county’s most important assets, providing 4,500 individuals from 21 counties with good-paying jobs and anchoring our economy in Central Arkansas.
The development of Zeuber Road in Pulaski County is a transformative project that is driving economic development and was made possible by a combined 8 million dollars in state and federal funds along with a 3 million dollar investment from Pulaski County and the City of Little Rock.
To coordinate this vital project and turn our plans into reality, I knew early on that we needed to build a strong coalition that was committed to investing in our future and promoting sustainable growth.
It has been an honor to help steer this ship, but I could not have done it alone. This was a combined effort between: Pulaski County, The City of Little Rock, The Port Authority, Arkansas Economic Development Commission, The Governor’s Office, Central Arkansas Planning and Development, Delta Regional Authority, the Economic Development Administration, and The Greater Little Rock Chamber of Commerce.
It is a textbook example of what we can achieve by working together.
The Zeuber Road project will improve traffic controls for the main arteries leading into the Port and is designed to support the growing number of vehicles needing to safely access the area.
These developments are vital to the expansion of the Port and are a key reason companies like Amazon, CZ USA and HMS Manufacturing are choosing to invest and locate their operations in Pulaski County.
It is one of many economic development projects that are attracting new companies and allowing existing employers like Revolution Plastics to expand their current operations. As a result, we anticipate our investments, expansion opportunities and ability to attract new industries will create as many as 2,500 permanent well-paying jobs by the end of the year in Pulaski County. While the Port is brimming with economic activity and opportunity, it is not the only place we are witnessing growth.
Just north of the river Kopper’s 23 million dollar investment to expand operations, along with another Amazon facility located on Highway 70, will create over 1000 additional employment opportunities and further solidify the economic stability of Pulaski County.
At a time when much of the country and region is struggling to attract new industries, we are growing our economy and creating employment opportunities.
Industries change and demands shift. As new technology and markets are created, Pulaski County and our partners are prepared to welcome them with open arms and the infrastructure to support their needs.
These economic developments are encouraging and are essential to our growth as a community. However, a strong and vibrant community, where people want to live, work and play, starts with the care and attention we provide our youth.
The vanguard of my community investment initiative begins with our talented Youth Services Department. They work tirelessly within our communities to administer programs that are enriching young lives and providing opportunities for them to succeed.
Knowing that we had to address the needs of our youth during these trying times and provide them with a level of stability is of the utmost importance. Guidelines and protocols were implemented to operate our afterschool programs in a safe manner, as well as activities to keep children engaged and provide opportunities to interact with their peers safely.
Youth Services hosted our Summer ACT Prep program on a virtual platform as a way to ensure that youth preparing for their academic futures and career paths would not be left behind.
Being present in the lives of the youth and families of our county, as well as providing everyone with opportunities to prosper is essential. It defines us as a county and a community.
The programs administered by our Community Services Department build on the success of our youth programs, and serve as a bridge to deliver additional services throughout the county.
Our community-based programs are one of the county’s greatest resources, providing Veteran support services, economic development tools and Community Health Clinics where residents can receive COVID screenings.
While each and every program we administer is meaningful, our housing programs are essential to providing stability in our community and combating housing insecurity.
The Foster Youth to Independence Initiative is one of our newer programs and is designed to assist young people aging out of foster care who are at extreme risk of experiencing homelessness. The program provides housing vouchers for up to 25 young adults who are in danger of becoming homeless.
In the past year, the County’s Emergency Solutions, Veterans Housing and Rental Assistance programs have helped 707 families, veterans and individuals secure clean and safe housing.
To further our mission, the county has been actively expanding housing and rental assistance programs and was recently awarded an $11,745,000 grant for Emergency Rental Assistance. These funds will ensure qualifying landlords are compensated and that families who have suffered financial hardships related to COVID-19 may remain in their homes.
Supportive housing is one of the most essential and humane services the county provides. Our supportive housing programs helped 453 individuals suffering from behavioral disorders, chronic illness and HIV/AIDS locate permanent housing. Participants receive the comfort of knowing they have a safe place to call home while receiving essential medical and behavioral health services.
These programs are changing lives and improving opportunities for a population of our society that has been stigmatized and largely under-served for too long. Unfortunately, in the past, the predominant method to address our homeless and behavioral health crisis has been to criminalize behavioral disorders and poverty.
For the county’s part, we have taken several positive strides to address these matters by establishing a Crisis Stabilization Unit and conducting unbiased assessments of our criminal and juvenile justice systems.
Based on the findings of the Justice Management Institute, the Pulaski County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee identified the need to test and possibly implement a validated Pre-Trial Risk Assessment Tool as a top priority. This nationally recognized model provides judges with additional resources in their decision-making process without circumventing their judgment.
Pulaski County was recently chosen to participate in the Pretrial Research-Action Site Initiative. Working in partnership with researchers and justice experts, this project provides us an opportunity to improve our pretrial justice system and ensure that incarceration is reserved only for those who jeopardize public safety.
Just as we are looking to improve outcomes in our criminal justice system, we are equally committed to improving outcomes and adopting best practices within our Juvenile Justice System.
The Pulaski County Juvenile Detention Center has achieved full compliance with the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative and we are actively training staff on best practices and expanding counseling services.
Additionally Youth Services, in partnership with the Pulaski County Special School District, has been actively involved with implementing Student Teen Courts to advance Juvenile Justice Reform and Preventive Practices amongst peers.
I am encouraged that change will happen and I am excited to work with our newly elected juvenile judges to improve outcomes and shut off the school to prison pipeline.
I have no illusions that Pulaski County Government can fix all the problems we face within our justice system and elsewhere in society, but as long as I am County Judge, I will roll up my sleeves and do everything I can to make it a better place for everyone to call home.
Pulaski County is our home and we are an eclectic community, driven to innovate and proud of our diversity.
We have all been challenged in the past year in ways we have never been challenged before. But as always, the residents of Pulaski County rose to the challenge. Our ability to overcome adversity is in our DNA. It is what makes Pulaski County so special, and why I am so proud to call it home.
Through our collective efforts and partnerships, we will continue to cultivate economic opportunities, address social inequities and assure a brighter future for all our citizens. The lessons we have learned, the sorrow we have endured and the hope for a better tomorrow shall carry us forward and make us stronger.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. The development and distribution of vaccines are the best path to returning us to the sense of normalcy that we all long for.
The safety of our citizens and employees remains the focal point of my administration, but I am keenly aware that access to county government is essential. It is my sincere hope that in the coming months we will be able to expand public access to county buildings in a measured manner.
As guidelines are slowly eased at the county level, I urge you all to remain vigilant in adhering to health guidelines.
I appreciate you all for taking the time to join me today and allowing me to share the many accomplishments of Pulaski County Government and my vision for the future.
Stay safe, wash your hands, mask up for just a bit longer and get vaccinated.