The annual State of the County address, delivered Monday by Wendy Jacobs, chair of Durham County Board of Commissioners, covered early childhood education, overdose prevention and infrastructure.
“Our greatest resource is the potential talent of each person and when this talent is supported and flourishes, we all prosper,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs spent much of the annual address applauding the county’s unemployment rate and job growth, and detailed each the five goals that make up the county’s Strategic Plan: Community empowerment and enrichment, health and well being for all, safe community, environmental stewardship and community prosperity, and accountable, efficient and visionary government.
She talked about the implementation of a Cradle to Career system that would prepare young people for careers and ensure “every child born in Durham will have an equitable opportunity for a bright future.”
A key component of the program is significant investment in early childhood education, like the $1.5 million the county has already invested in pre-K classrooms at Whitted School, which opened last year and includes classrooms as well as affordable senior housing. A pre-K “supply and demand” study is in the works, as the county considers universal pre-K.
“Research tells us that every $1 invested in early childhood education yields a $7 rate of return in successful life outcomes,” she said.
Jacobs honored the work of Bull City United, a team in the health department that interrupts conflict and violence. Members were present at the meeting and were recognized for their success in reducing violence within two target areas: McDougald Terrace and Southside. According to Jacobs, in those target areas there has been a 12 percent reduction in shootings and a 43 percent reduction in people being shot.
She also emphasized Carolina Outreach Behavioral Health Urgent Care, which offers a walk-in clinic to adults and children dealing with urgent mental health needs. It’s free to those without health insurance or with Medicaid.
Jacobs said costs attributed to medication and drug fatalities in the county in 2016 totaled more that $41 million. The county has taken action over the past year by freely distributing Narcan and Naloxone, drugs used to reverse opioid overdoses, through the Durham County Public Health Department and the Sherriff’s Department.
She also highlighted the formation of a City-County Committee on Public Confederate Monuments. The committee will “lead our community through a process of facilitated conversations, research and resulting recommendations regarding the disposition of the county’s Confederate memorial and other remaining symbols,” Jacobs said. The committee will be co-chaired by Duke Professor Robin Kirk and NC Central University Professor Charmaine McKissick Melton.
“This year we have also seen our country’s struggle to confront our history and the legacy of white supremacy play out here in our community,” she said. “These are complex and difficult issues, but I believe that in Durham, where we have engaged, thoughtful, passionate and caring citizens, we can face up to these challenges.”
“Half of the design and engineering” for Durham Orange Light Rail is complete, Jacobs said. Construction was set to begin in 2020, with the system operational in 2029, but Jacobs said Monday that project is now on track to receive financing and construction approval in 2019. GoTriangle, which is spearheading the $3.3 billion project, is seeking a grant from the federal government to pay for half of the capital costs but that request isn’t a done deal yet.
Unlike last year’s State of the County Address, when five protesters were arrested, Monday’s speech saw no disruptions. Jacobs ended the speech with a charge to all residents: “Durham is a community that thrives, where each citizen’s basic needs are met so we can all pursue our dreams. How will you create shared prosperity and contribute to a thriving Durham this year?”