Pulaski County funding tactics praised

Hyde gives high marks to officials

Pulaski County's trajectory is pointed toward economic flexibility, environmental sustainability and helping youths embroiled in the criminal justice system, County Judge Barry Hyde said Tuesday.

Hyde gave his annual State of the County address to a room of career public servants and elected officials in downtown Little Rock.

A theme to Hyde's speech was the economic dexterity of the county, which operates on a roughly $145 million annual budget.

"Being able to tap funding sources other than raising taxes or cutting services is a real challenge," Hyde told the room.

That challenge is met by department heads and justices of the peace who have found creative ways to pay for county initiatives in ways that aren't "busting the budget," he said.

As an example, Hyde, who recently filed to seek his third term in office, touted the fundraising efforts of the Youth Services Department.

In 2017, the department raised $500,000 in grants and donations, Hyde said. That money gives the county's children tools to succeed in their personal and eventual professional lives, he said.

Hyde also pointed to the "Give 5" program to help control the county's animal population.

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Last year, taxpayers could choose to give $5 on their personal and business property taxes to help pay for spay and neuter surgeries for stray animals, and pets, across the county.

In the program's first year, about 8,960 people chose to give, raising around $45,000. A portion of that money has covered more than 300 surgeries, according to a news release.

Since Hyde took office in 2015, the county has paid for several wide-sweeping studies where an outside firm spends months analyzing an aspect of county government and generates suggestions for improvement.

One of those studies that Hyde mentioned Tuesday was a $68,800 analysis conducted last year by the Johanson Group, a Fayetteville-based firm.

Pulaski County salaries and benefits hadn't been scrutinized against a competitive market for two decades.

Compared with companies, nonprofits and other government groups, Pulaski County salaries lagged behind, the firm found.

With this information, the county Quorum Court instituted a new pay scale and adjusted hiring procedures to help bump up county salaries into a competitive range over time, supporters of the study said.

Another study Hyde mentioned was an in-depth examination of the energy outputs of "every light, outlet, sink and fixture" in 14 county-owned buildings.

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

Entegrity, a sustainability and energy services company, found the county used roughly 15.6 million kilowatt hours of energy annually, which cost the county $1.3 million a year, Hyde said.

The county, with the help of the state energy office, previously entered a $5 million contract with Entegrity to pay for lighting, plumbing, and heat and air upgrades.

The changes are predicted to save millions, Hyde said. A decision to deliver recycling bins to unincorporated parts of the county is also predicted to save money by avoiding future landfill openings, he said.

As for the county's future, the focus is on an overhaul of the criminal justice system, especially for youths, Hyde said.

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

The county judge said Pulaski County Sheriff Doc Holladay frequently tells him the county is operating the largest mental health facility in the state.

To alleviate this burden, the county is establishing a crisis stabilization center. Two pods are undergoing renovation at the juvenile jail at 3001 W. Roosevelt Road.

Once operational in late spring, the center will be a place for police officers to take people who are in the throes of mental health crises. It's a way to direct people who need help away from jail and toward treatment.

As for juvenile justice, the county is participating in the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, with guidance from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The foundation works with counties to responsibly lower their juvenile jail populations.

Pulaski County has already begun making changes in the way jailed children are handled, Hyde said. Last year, the juvenile jail started giving youths khaki pants and polo shirts instead of oversized jail jumpsuits.

In closing, the judge said he always likes to point out that Pulaski County "is the largest, most diverse county in the state."

"While the eclectic nature of our county is a great source of pride to me, I can assure you, it's not just a catchphrase."

Metro on 03/07/2018

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