County News

News from Across the Nation - April 17, 2017

CALIFORNIA
ORANGE COUNTY is taking National County Government Month to a whole new level, with tweets about its Brilliant Ideas, like the one above, highlighting the county’s behavioral health information and referral line.

ALABAMA

For the first time in eight years, JEFFERSON COUNTY will have a new source of revenue after the county’s occupational tax was ruled unconstitutional in 2011, ultimately throwing the county into bankruptcy.

The Alabama Supreme Court ruled last month that the county could refinance about $600 million in school construction debt and use the savings, some $60 million annually, to fund non-educational projects such as the transit authority and the Birmingham Zoo, according to AL.com

 

ARKANSAS

Dual county seats are the norm in 10 Arkansas counties. The counties — split more than a 100 years ago along geographical boundaries — have used their revenues to fund projects in both judicial districts despite a 1901 law that said revenue should be separated and spent along district lines.  A recent ruling from the State Supreme Court involving MISSISSIPPI COUNTY threatened the century-old practice of county-wide revenue sharing, according to a report in Arkansas Online.

But to the counties’ good fortune, a new law passed by the state’s Legislature should prevent budgeting migraines for the counties.

It repeals sections of the old pieces of legislation that required divided counties to keep money separated by district.

 

FLORIDA

■ Convicts in MIAMI-DADE COUNTY can turn to an alternative to hard time, by taking part in the county’s boot camp for young offenders. The $4 million-a-year program debuted late last month and is featured in an HBO documentary, Rock and a Hard Place. The idea for the cable TV program got started when an instructor asked actor Dwayne Johnson, AKA “The Rock,” to come speak to the group when he was in town making a film. Johnson, a former football star at the University of Miami, pitched the county program as a documentary to HBO. Now he’s a producer and also appears in the documentary.

The 16-week boot camp enrolls offenders as young as 14 and as old as 24, and attendees accept the program as part of a plea deal for their charges. The program reports a recidivism rate under 15 percent. Should they drop out, the deal is off and they can face trial for the original charges.

 

PALM BEACH COUNTY commissioners are considering paid parental leave for their 2,636 non-unionized county employees for births, adoptions or foster care, the Palm Beach Post reported.

County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay recalled her time taking 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave as a young county employee and urged her fellow commissioners to get behind the measure, which would give employees six weeks leave at full pay.

The county’s 3,009 unionized employees would not be covered under the new policy because their pay and benefits are determined by the contracts their unions negotiate with the county. Some of those employees are already eligible for varying levels of paid parental leave.

 

HAWAII

A county in the Aloha state is saying hello to a new revenue generator. MAUI COUNTY is trying out a new program selling ad space inside its buses. “The County of Maui is trying to be more fiscally responsible thereby looking at other means for revenue generation than just raising taxes,” said Don Medeiros, county Transportation director. The ads should see plenty of eyeballs: the buses count about 2.4 million passengers a year.

 

IOWA

Several counties in Iowa were recently dealt a blow after they tried to increase the minimum wage. The governor of Iowa signed legislation officially voiding a $10.10 minimum wage passed by JOHNSON, LEE, LINN, POLK and WAPELLO counties, mandating that it stay at $7.25 an hour statewide. County officials said they were proud that they were able to shine a light on the issue and are hoping some businesses will take it upon themselves to pay more than the minimum wage.

“I think if there’s an impact, I hope that it’s not just the little bit that we were able to do with raising it right now,” Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan told The Iowa City Press-Citizen. “I think that we need to radically look at how we’re doing things in this country. The wealth disparity that we have is unsustainable.” A local bookstore owner told the newspaper it’s also important to shop local, so that businesses can pay their employees more than minimum wage.

 

MARYLAND

The HOWARD COUNTY executive and council have expanded the police department’s powers to crackdown on illegal massage parlors in an effort to curb human trafficking, according to The Howard County Times.

A bill, proposed by Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman and County Council Chairman Jon Weinstein, and unanimously passed by the Council April 4, allows police to complete unannounced checks of massage parlors any time to ensure the establishment is licensed by the state.

The county joins WASHINGTON and CHARLES counties, which also have enhanced regulatory powers.

 

NEW YORK

ULSTER COUNTY Executive Michael Hein proposed allowing the spouses of veterans to be buried alongside their loved ones in the Ulster County Veterans Cemetery, free of charge.

Legislature Chairman Ken Ronk told The Daily Freeman that the measure has bipartisan support. The county established the cemetery in 2008 and has been covering the cost of burying veterans there, but thus far families have been paying to bury spouses.

 

NORTH CAROLINA

WAKE COUNTY and Wake Tech Community College may partner for the Inmate Education and Employment Initiative. The program, which would cost the county roughly $100,000, would offer classes to inmates in the county’s detention center in hopes of lowering recidivism rates.

Wake Tech already offers some vocational classes at the prisons in Raleigh, but those inmates are usually incarcerated longer, so the classes will have to be compacted, The News and Observer reported.

The program would target inmates serving sentences longer than 21 days, or those who have to wait at least 21 days for their court date. ALAMANCE and MECKLENBURG counties maintain similar programs.

 

OHIO

RICHLAND COUNTY’s dog warden has answered critics from the city of Mansfield by saying he is not required to enforce city ordinances, only state laws.

Under Mansfield's city ordinance, dog breeds — including American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire terriers — are classified as vicious dogs and banned within city limits, according to The News Journal. State law defines vicious dogs only as one that has killed or seriously injured a person.

 

VIRGINIA

When AUGUSTA COUNTY tried to move its courts from an aging 1901 courthouse to a new complex in Verona, citizens voted it down two-to-one, in November.

When that failed, the county asked the Attorney General if they could move their courts to an adjacent property, without another referendum.

But Attorney General Mark Herring said no, the county would have to wait and put it up for another vote in 10 years. The county attorney is researching more options.

 

WASHINGTON

A ballot measure going before KING COUNTY voters in 2018 would raise the county sales tax by 0.1 percent to fight homelessness.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has scrapped a multimillion-dollar proposed city property tax hike, in favor of the county measure.

The county sales tax increase would generate about $68 million in revenues in the first year, the Seattle Times reported, and would sunset after seven years if it's not renewed. A joint county-city task force will determine how the money would be spent.

Murray indicated that putting the effort to county voters would raise millions more and recognize the regional nature of homelessness

Seattle currently spends about $60 million a year on homeless services, everything from emergency shelters to rental subsidies. King County spends about $78 million a year in housing and homeless services, King County Executive Dow Constantine said.

 

WEST VIRGINIA

■ Counties in the state are hoping a bill that could substantially reduce their jail costs makes a successful run through the Legislature and onto the governor’s desk for his signature.

House Bill 2845 would make the Division of Corrections responsible for the costs of housing and maintaining an inmate beginning the day after the individual’s conviction, according to a recent report in The Intelligencer/ Wheeling News Register.

Under current law, inmates remain the counties’ responsibility until they are sentenced.

OHIO COUNTY Commissioner Randy Wharton, who was quoted in the report, said the bill would be positive for the county and could save about $100,000 per year.

 

■ A non-profit organization started by a county sheriff has hit the big time, going statewide.

Crime Stoppers of RALEIGH COUNTY, the brainchild of then-Sheriff Frank Lavender, allows citizens to leave anonymous tips for police. From here on, it will be Crime Stoppers of West Virginia.

Current Raleigh County Sheriff Scott Van Meter said the name change reflects the organization’s service area, which has spread throughout West Virginia.

“They’ve helped us on three different murders, and no one’s identity has been compromised at any time,” he told The Register-Herald. “The entire state has been involved in working together.”


News from Across the Nation is compiled by Charlie Ban and Mary Ann Barton, senior staff writers. Also contributing was Beverly Schlotterbeck, executive editor. If you have an item for News From, please email cban@naco.org or mbarton@naco.org.

Contact the Editor

Bev Schlotterbeck
Executive Editor
(202) 942-4249
bschlott@naco.org