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story.lead_photo.caption Washington County Judge Joseph Wood. - Photo by Andy Shupe

FAYETTEVILLE -- Washington County elected officials focused last year on increased technology and online accessibility for residents, several elected officials said Thursday.

Those goals toward efficiency will continue throughout 2018, County Judge Joseph Wood said.

Justices of the peace nix proposed settlement

After the State of the County address, the Washington County Quorum Court decided during its regular meeting Thursday not to hear about a proposed settlement meant to end a lawsuit against Washington County over denying a permit for a wedding venue at 5241 Shaeffer Road. Justices of the peace voted to let the Circuit Court decide. Property owner Terry Presley had offered to abide by county-set restrictions, and the county would pave the road.

Source: Staff report

"The state of Washington County is very bright," Wood said.

About 50 county employees, elected officials and residents crowded into the Quorum Courtroom to hear Wood's first "State of the County" address. Nine elected officials discussed 2017 successes and their goals for this year.

The address was held before the regular Quorum Court meeting.

Wood's successes included reducing his budget by $850,000, starting regular meetings with city mayors, moving the Veterans Service Office and joining an animal transportation program to move unwanted animals at a lower cost to the county.

Wood, a Republican, is starting his second year as county judge this year. He oversees 14 departments.

Other projects under the county judge include assessing 46 county buildings and renovating several, Wood said. An auction last year also brought in more than $700,000.

Wood said employees are making a difference.

The Road Department opened 87 of the 89 roads and bridges damaged during April 2017 flooding within 10 days of the damage, Wood said. The department is working with federal and state agencies to fix two bridges by early 2019.

Elected officials also are looking for ways save taxpayers money.

Tax Collector Angela Wood lowered the credit card fee for customers from 2.25 percent to 1.9 percent, she said. This year, she plans to send out tax bills early to give taxpayers more time to use the county's payment system.

Other elected officials said they want to increase efficiency through technology and to handle growing workloads.

Circuit Clerk Kyle Sylvester said overall filings at his office overall increased 43 percent from 2016 to 2017. That includes all case types.

Caseloads in the prosecutor's office went up about 20 percent, Prosecutor Matt Durrett said. Much of Durrett's increases are linked to drug crimes, he said. About 197 criminal cases were filed in the first two weeks of January, officials said.

The jump in case numbers slowed the legal system last year. That slow down cost the county money as the jail filled up with mostly inmates who had not been convicted. That's changing, though, Durrett said. The legal system is working "smoothly" this year, he said.

Sheriff Tim Helder said he and other officials, including Circuit Court judges, are talking about long-term solutions.

Partly, the solutions will come from technology.

The state has agreed, for example, to move forward on software allowing attorneys to file documents electronically. The county also has been selected for a pilot program allowing Sylvester's employees to redact items electronically, Sylvester said.

Helder said his office plans to increase filing electronic crash reports and tickets. Assessor Russell Hill said he wants to use technology chambers of commerce can use to attract businesses to the county. Coroner Roger Morris is researching a program to send information to the state crime lab and may increase organ donations. Treasurer Bobby Hill plans to implement direct deposit options for his office -- a move he said would save the county thousands, he said.

Wood said he decided to hold the address to give residents a chance to see what their elected officials are doing and to hear about 2018 goals. Wood said he expects a continuation of efforts from last year and another increase in efficiency.

"I have high expectations of you," Wood told employees. "That's what the Washington County residents deserve, that's what they are expecting."

NW News on 01/19/2018

Print Headline: County Judge: Future bright for Washington County

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