When former Jefferson County Sheriff Gerald Robinson won the Democratic primary for county judge last year and knew he faced no opposition in the November 2018 General Election, he began thinking about what he wanted to do when he took office, particularly in light of the economic woes the county has faced over the past several years.
In a recent interview, Robinson said that since he announced earlier this year that he wanted each county department to reduce their office staff by one, the county has realized approximately $300,000 in savings, and he has reduced the workforce budget in his office by $100,000.
Robinson said some offices, rather than letting a person go, chose to leave vacant positions unfilled, which meant savings in both salary and benefits.
He said he spent much of his first few months since taking office getting to know what the other elected officials do in their offices, visiting among the county assessor, county clerk, juvenile court and adult drug court, among others.
“I was there to listen to them and see what they need and what we can do together,” Robinson said.
He also learned that there were county buildings and departments he didn’t know were the county’s responsibility.
“I learned that the Health Department fell under the county judge,” he said. “I didn’t know that and didn’t know we were responsible for the building.”
The current building is located on Rike Drive, and Robinson said it suffers from roof leaks, mold and mildew.
“We can do better,” he said. “I want to build a new building that we can be proud of.”
Asked about a potential new location, Robinson said he would like to see the building near Jefferson Regional Medical Center, which is about to undergo major renovations.
“Think about it,” he said. “A new health complex on the campus of the hospital. I think it’s doable, and we’re looking at possible avenues on how to fund it.”
Robinson has also set his sights on other buildings he wants replaced, including the coroner’s office and the veteran's affairs office, both of which are located on Main Street across from the courthouse.
“When you come off Barraque Street and turn right (onto Main Street), the first building you see represents death,” Robinson said. “It’s an old building, the roof leaks, and there’s not much parking for families who have to come identify their loved ones.”
The veteran’s affairs office, which is on the same block, is also a target for Robinson, who is himself a veteran.
“The building is … old, the internet doesn’t work most of the time, and when veterans come to the building to get a ride to the VA in Little Rock, they have to use a porta-potty,” he said. “Our veterans deserve better than that.”
As far as potential locations, Robinson said there is available land on State Street where the old county jail was located.
“I want to move those buildings off Main Street,” he said.
While replacing buildings is on his wish list, Robinson said his top priority is improving the county’s financial status. This will include reducing the number of county vehicles by 20.
“This provides savings on insurance, maintenance and gas,” he said. “Auctioning these vehicles will provide approximately $150,000 for the Reserve Fund.”
An upgrade to the county’s phone and internet service is expected to save about $8,000 per month, and an insurance inventory will remove vehicles and other items that no longer belong to the county, saving on insurance premiums. Other savings, approximately $50,000 a year, can be seen on services for clothing and floor mats by creating a line item in the budget to buy uniforms for Road Department employees, the judge said.
“Our priority is the budget and (to) increase the reserves,” Robinson said. “We’re going to be good stewards of the county’s money.”
Robinson said that when he was sheriff, he received a lot of calls on a variety of subjects, but as county judge, a majority of the calls he gets deal with county roads.
"Roads are a priority, but the weather and all the rain has put us behind,” he said. “We’re asking the public to be patient with us.”
The Road Department has also worked closely with the City of Pine Bluff in dealing with illegal dump sites in both the county and Pine Bluff.
Retired Arkansas State Police Sgt. Kenneth Whitmore has been hired as the county environmental officer, and Robinson said Whitmore is actively investigating those dump sites to determine who is responsible.
“If they don’t clean them up, we’ve got no problem fining them $1,000,” Robinson said.