Pulaski County Quorum Court OKs ‘flat’ budget for 2024

FILE - Downtown Little Rock skyline in 2018
FILE - Downtown Little Rock skyline in 2018

The Pulaski County Quorum Court voted to approve the county budget for 2024 on Tuesday.

County comptroller Mike Hutchens said the budget is "flat" this coming year.

The major changes are a 3.5% increase in the jail medical contract and a 3.5% increase for the county's sanitation.

"Overall, our budget is the same as it was last year," Hutchens added.

Julie Blackwood, justice of the peace for District 4, said she is "disappointed" that the Quorum Court voted against more funding for the Pulaski County jail mental health services in its budget.

"I wish they would," she said. "I wish they could see that that was such an important thing that needed to be done for the inmates because if we don't get them some kind of mental health [services] they'll just be back in the jails or they'll be back committing crimes, so it just goes around and around and around."

Blackwood said she believes there are other ways to solve the high crime rate in the county other than "just locking them up."

"Then they get right back out and have no skills and no way to get back into society," she explained. "So I do think there is a lot of things that we could do to solve some of our crime issues, but I do not know why our Quorum Court is not on board."

The Quorum Court had recently heard from the Center for Public Safety Management that the Pulaski County sheriff's office needs to add 213 new positions to meet current needs, Blackwood noted.

"Tons of improvements that need to be made at the jail," she said. "I don't know how we're going to afford any of that or get any of that done."

Blackwood explained that she does not believe her constituents are willing to vote for a sales tax increase to support the jail's services.

"The way I look at it is, it's more of a win-win situation," she said. "If you invest a little bit of money, it's kind of like investing in an education ... Then hopefully your child will grow up to be able to get a job, and if you invest a little bit into some of these criminals that aren't so horrible in the county, hopefully they'll be able to get out and be productive citizens."

The Quorum Court also approved American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds for the county Youth Services Department.

The department applied for the grant to expand its Little Scholars After-School Program to youths and families in the county.

The grant has allowed the department to expand programs to Landmark and College Station communities that had been without after-school programs collectively for over 15 years, Madeline Roberts, communications director for the county, said.

Part of the ESSER grant will go toward a salary increase of $3,789.04 for the director of the Little Scholars Daisy Bates Afterschool Program.

This program serves 34 students and has been in operation for the last five years and was originally funded by the Quorum Court.

Phil Stowers, justice of the peace for District 13, said in an email to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that he supports this ordinance in addition to all that the youth services department does to improve its after-school and summer programs for underserved areas within the county.

The justices voted to appropriate funds for a new 911 center with the city of Jacksonville.

Blackwood was the only sponsor of this ordinance and said she was surprised that it made it to the full Quorum Court for a vote.

A concern she had was that the 911 center in Jacksonville is "breaking down right now" and it may take six to eight months to get coordinated with the county.

"I don't even know what their whole capabilities are over there," Blackwood said. "That was another thing I would have liked to have looked at, to be able to see what all they were capable of ... I wasn't told that until after I was on as a sponsor, then two or three hours later they put out that we were going to go combine with Jacksonville, [the county] sent out an email."

The salary in the ESSER grant covers the program's director at the Little Scholars Daisy Bates Afterschool Program, which serves 34 youths and has been in operation for five years, originally funded by the Quorum Court. The director has been there since its inception in June 2018.

The budget takes effect Jan. 1, 2024. The general fund available for appropriation is $115,843,658, according to the budget ordinance. The recommended fund reserve is $11,584,265. The general fund appropriation is $98,432,813.

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