Republican candidate for Craighead County Judge Jeff Presley thinks the county has lost millions of dollars in potential federal grants because the county is out of compliance with a number of standards established by the federal government.
One of those was an updated mitigation plan which he and others rectified more than two years ago, but county officials did not update it, he said.
“It should be a live document … people should be working on it all the time,” he said.
Presley, the Jonesboro E911 Director, and his primary opponent City Water and Light engineer Marvin Day participated in a debate during the Jonesboro Kiwanis Club meeting Wednesday. Incumbent Judge Ed Hill will not seek another term, and there is no Democrat opponent, meaning the primary battle between the two men will essentially decide the next county judge. Hill has not endorsed either candidate. The primary will be held May 22.
Developing a master plan for the county government’s many systems will be a priority if he’s elected, Day said. He supports attempts to build a crisis center in the county if the right spot to locate it can be identified, he said. The growth rate in Jonesboro and the surrounding area means the county is going to have to take a more proactive role in economic development, he said
“We need a common sense, business-like approach. … I plan to do that,” he said.
Craighead and Poinsett counties are now considered a metro area, one of the newest in the country, Arkansas State University political science professor Dr. Richard Wang told the two candidates. He asked them if the county should create a land use plan that would include zoning regulations. Both men agreed at some point it should be considered, but there are problems.
The county has about 1,300 miles of county roads, but only about 200 miles are paved. Enforcing zoning and land use codes would be difficult with the road system. The county has chronic drainage problems, and that would be a significant factor too, he said.
Day said he didn’t know if this was the right time for the county to implement a series of burdensome regulations. Long term planning is something that needs to happen, and a land use plan might be beneficial, he said. Presley and Day agreed it was an issue county citizens should probably decide.
Craighead County has had tighter budgets in recent years, and Day and Presley agreed on at least one solution. The upcoming year budget process typically begins in October, but the two men said it needs to begin earlier in the year. Day would form a planning committee comprised of justices of the peace.
Presley went further, saying the county pours money into old equipment, some of it dating back to the 1960s. Leasing new equipment would reduce work times and stop the county from spending money on antiquated equipment. If elected, he said he would host quarterly town-hall style meetings to gauge public sentiment.
The economy in Craighead County and its seat, Jonesboro, has been strong, but the county needs to be active in job recruitment, Day said. The primary job growth in the region has been in the food service and retail sectors. Those jobs pay on average about $13,000 per year. Manufacturing jobs in the region pay in the $42,000 per year range. Improving income levels will be a key in the upcoming years, Day said.
“There has been a surge in service jobs and a decline in manufacturing jobs,” he said. “You can’t provide the necessary services where needed when a majority of your jobs in the county are on the lower end of the economic scale. We must attract higher paying jobs to the region.”