What now for dealing with an underfunded, inadequate Pulaski County Jail after the voters' recent defeat of a sales tax to shore up the operation?
The Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce today called in press to say it had lined up UALR to do a public safety study. Dr. Charles Hathway, the former UALR chancellor and distinguished professor emeritus, will chair the UALR effort, which will take several months.
The study will begin with fact-finding. How well has the county spent its money, for example? This will sort out some of the charges and countercharges that surfaced in the jail tax campaign. (But we doubt it will ever put to rest the lie that the Big Dam Bridge took money from the jail.) Review of county audits was promised.
Then comes a problem-solving phase.
UALR has had some notable successes -- with the water system mergerand on encouraging the Helena-West Helena merger. Some other community problem solving efforts -- such as on Riverdale traffic -- produced useful reports but, so far, no action.
The problem is as difficult as it is simple. We don't currently operate a jail of sufficient size for a county with this population. It needs more money to be adequately staffed. You can't find sufficient money through cuts in other parts of county government. Virtually the only source of new money is the sales tax. If Chuck Hathaway can find a way around these simple truths -- or to find a way that the public will believe them -- he will be a miracle worker.
UALR's presence helps the effort. The Chamber's credibility with diverse elements of the community took a sharp tumble in the recent school elections.
UPDATE: This is for the blockheads who continue to misrepresent the facts on the Big Dam Bridge. I triple-checked with Sherman Smith, director of public works for Pulaski County. County money paid for $3.8 million of the cost of the Big Dam Bridge. Every dime came from the county road and bridge fund, a fund built by the county's three-mill road and bridge property tax. By state law, that money may only be used for roads, bridges and other transportation expenses. It may not be used for a jail. The amount spent was roughly 2.5 percent of the money collected during the seven years the bridge was planned, designed and built.