Jefferson County Judge Dutch King described his first year in his new office as "an adventure."

Jefferson County Judge Dutch King described his first year in his new office as "an adventure."


King was elected in November 2012 and took office in January 2013.


"This has been a blessing and an honor and I want to thank the people of Jefferson County for giving me the opportunity to serve," King said Monday.


A former Pine Bluff alderman and mayor, King said county government and city government "are as different as daylight and dark. I had no idea how different until I took office but you can’t compare them, they’re not even close.


"I’ve had to learn on the job and I’m learning a little more every day," he said.


In 2013, the county faced major financial problems, King says the county is not out of the woods yet.


"The task ahead of us is monumental but it’s nothing that we can’t accomplish," he said. "At one time this county had a lot of money and a lot of money can hide a lot of sins.


"We have run out of money and all the leaks have come forward and they’re pretty evident," King said. "They’re not new leaks; they’re leaks that have gotten bigger."


Justice of the Peace Ted Harden, who lost to King in the November 2012 general election, said he believed King "had done a pretty good job" overall.


"After he was elected, we met and I said we’re both here to help the people of Jefferson County and I said I would be behind him 100 percent on most issues but when I didn’t agree with something, I would offer my opinion," Harden said.


Like King, Harden said financial woes have been "a real challenge.


"The new sheriff’s department building has been a financial problem,: Harden said. "I think we bit off more than we expected when we approved the start-up money but at that time, the sheriff thought he had some outside commitments that would help to pay for the building but some of those commitments fell through. I have met with the sheriff several times and I think he is willing to work with us on his budget."


Justice of the Peace Herman Ginger, chairman of both the finance and public safety/emergency services committees of the county’s legislative body said he had "nothing but high praise" for King’s first year in office.


"He’s a good businessman and understands if something is doable or not," Ginger said. "We have a county judge who understands budgets can’t go over and he’s been able to handle the bumps.


"As I’ve said a number of times, these budgets are not suggestions," Ginger said, referring to news in November that the sheriff’s department had overspent its 2013 appropriation for both the adult jail and juvenile detention center.


King had to issue two court orders to ensure that employees were paid and during a special meeting of the Quorum Court in December, money was transferred from the Public Safety Sales Tax Fund to make the payroll for those two facilities at the end of 2013.


Regarding the coming year, King said the 2014 budget is in compliance with state law, and the county has cut almost a half-million dollars compared with the 2013 budget.


"In my job, I deal with a lot of elected officials and I can make recommendations to them but the Quorum Court controls their budgets," King said. "I will never try to run anybody’s department but I will put my two cents in because we’re all in this together, and we all have to work together because we all work for Jefferson County."


While the 2014 budget reflects some cutbacks, Hardin said he believes more can be done, citing what he called a "massive amount of vehicles" used by county officials.


"We’re probably the only county in the state where every elected official has a vehicle and that’s a lot of expense," Harden said. "In some cases, some of the subordinates also have vehicles. That issue has been brought up for the last couple of years and I think we will take another look at it."


During his first year, King ramped up county recycling efforts, and he said "there is unlimited potential for the city and county to work together.


"We haven’t even begun to touch the tip of the iceberg," King said, adding that clean-up efforts can improve the image of Pine Bluff and Jefferson County.


"Most of the things that you see in the ditches around here can be recycled and we can take away that ugly sight we see regularly," King said.


In addition to emphasis on recycling, King has also placed a heavy emphasis on work done by the county road department.


"I couldn’t be more proud of the things they’ve done," King said. "Our goal has been to reach out all over the county and we’ve been all over the county."


King said the weekly county road report that appears in The Commercial "lets people know where their tax dollars are going.


"We’ve got a lot of roads that need a lot of work and that’s going to take time, money, people and equipment," he said. "We’ve got the time and we’ve got the people. We don’t have the money or the equipment but we’re going to try and build up our equipment this year."


Ginger also praised the road department’s work, saying King "has been hands-on with the road department from the very beginning."


King also left no doubt that he wants another term as county judge, and hopes to help turn the image of the city and county around.


"Pine Bluff and Jefferson County get a bad rap but our problems are no different from problems anywhere else in the country," he said. "This is a great place to live and the more positive image we can create, the easier it’s going to be to get people who want to come live here and work here."