A study of Pulaski County by a task force from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock said the county is making progress putting its finances in order after voters in 2006 turned down an 0.25% increase in the sales tax to generate more than $18 million for additional jail beds and anti-crime efforts.

Charles E. Hathaway, chairman of the task force and chancellor emeritus at UALR, praised the county’s improved financial system at a news conference as the report was presented last week to Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines.

“I can report today that the county government has made substantial, real progress, and is earning my personal trust and respect,” Hathaway said.

The county has no outstanding rated debt.

The report covered the period since July 2007, when the task force released a preliminary study on financial issues that affect public safety in the county that includes Little Rock and North Little Rock. The initial study recommended that the county hire an accounting firm to conduct an annual audit, hold monthly meetings of elected officials, and establish a public safety fund.

A firm was hired to provide an audit of the county in addition to the annual state audit, and Pulaski County adopted a budget that separated public safety expenditures from general county operations.

In the update, the task force said the county should determine how it ended the fiscal year with a surplus of $4.7 million. If the surplus is due to a growth in tax revenue, the task force said, the county should open some of the 250 jail beds that were closed in 2006 for budgetary reasons.

The Pulaski County and area cities should also evaluate crime prevention and youth-intervention programs to see if they are cost-effective, the new review stated.

Despite the good report, Pulaski officials said they are not ready to ask voters again for a tax increase to expand the existing jail.

Hathaway said the university would provide free training to county elected officials on how to read and understand fiscal reports if the county makes a request.

“Every decision this Quorum Court makes has financial implications,” he said during the news conference.

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