LR board OKs funds to aid kids and ex-felons

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

By: Chelsea Boozer

The Little Rock Board of Directors approved another round of funding for summer youth and felon re-entry programs Tuesday, and expanded the areas in the city where food trucks can operate.

In the past, city directors have questioned what methods are used to gauge the success of taxpayer-funded after-school and crime prevention programs, as well as felon re-entry programs.

Georgia Mjartan, executive director of Our House homeless shelter, said at Tuesday night’s meeting that because of the city’s $67,000 investment in Our House’s felon re-entry program, 76 ex-offenders re-entered the workforce with full-time jobs. They collectively earned $1.3 million in a year. If the 44 percent recidivism rate was applied to those clients, the city received an incarceration cost savings of $2.6 million, Mjartan said.

Vice Mayor and Ward 6 City Director Doris Wright congratulated Our House on the success and thanked Mjartan for being prepared with the cost savings data.

“This type of return on investment is unheard of on anything else we do,” Wright said.

Kim Hogue, director of mission services at Goodwill Industries of Arkansas, was also present and told the board that the Goodwill re-entry program surpassed its goal of serving 240 people by serving 251 people with another month left in its city contract. The organization operates two programs that focus on job placement of ex-offenders and ex-offenders with disabilities.

The board unanimously renewed the following one-year contracts:

  • $75,000 to an after-school program for youths, ages 12 to 17, operated by Pulaski County Youth Services.
  • $316,263 to three organizations to provide five re-entry programs. The providers are Our House, Goodwill Industries of Arkansas and Quality Living.
  • $180,000 to seven organizations to operate nine summer-recreation programs. The providers are Our House, Wildwood Park for the Arts, Little Scholars, Joseph Pfeifer Kiwanis Camp, Effective Leaders, EMOBA (Ernie’s Museum of Black Arkansans) and Centers for Youth and Families.

In other action Tuesday, the board approved an ordinance that broadens the areas in the city where food trucks can set up. Two city directors — At-large City Director Joan Adcock and Ward 7 City Director B.J. Wyrick — voted against the measure, citing concerns with operation near residences and complaints about how regulations are enforced.

Before, food-truck vendors could only operate on property zoned general commercial, open display commercial and urban use. With the passage of the ordinance Tuesday, the allowed areas have been expanded to include areas zoned quiet office, office and institutional, general office, neighborhood commercial, shopping center, industrial park, light industrial and heavy industrial.

Vendors will still have to abide by certain regulations controlled by the Planning and Development Department.

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