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Pry putting emphasis on early childhood

4/4/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

County executive gives annual State of the County address

Summit County Executive Russ Pry talked about the need to address the infant mortality rate at his annual State of the County address March 27.
Photo: Kathleen Folkerth
DOWNTOWN AKRON — County Executive Russ Pry commended Summit County’s social service agencies in his State of the County address, but noted he plans to put more emphasis this year on helping the county’s most vulnerable residents.

In his remarks March 27 before a sold-out lunchtime audience of about 600 at the John S. Knight Center, Pry said he plans to devote the month of August to raising awareness of issues relating to young children, with special emphasis placed on infant mortality.

“We need to work together to make people aware of this critical issue in order to educate and save lives,” Pry said. “The infant mortality rate is an important indicator of the overall health of a society, and we need to do better.”

Pry said Ohio has the 11th worst infant mortality rate in the country, and it’s fifth in terms of racial disparity in the infant mortality rate. He added that in Summit County, infant deaths in the black community are nearly double the rate in other populations.

Summit Kids Month will see the county distribute a First Things First Resource Booklet that will provide residents with information on local agencies and assistance for young children. The month will see each week devoted to a different subject, such as kindergarten readiness and immunizations.

Prior to August, Pry said the county will host the Summit County Infant Mortality Summit June 6 at the Knight Center for medical professionals, social service organizations, local agencies and churches to develop a countywide plan to tackle the issue.

Young children aren’t the only ones the executive wants to see the county address. He also noted that senior citizens who need help are being assisted through the Adult Protective Services Community Model, which was developed in the past year to create a safety net for those residents.

Pry also spoke about the need to help men and women who are released from prison or jail as they try to integrate into society through the Summit County Reentry Network.

“Returning citizens desperately need landlords and employers to give them positive consideration on a case-by-case basis,” Pry said to applause. “Our Reentry Network is not about being soft on crime; it’s about being smart on crime by working together, educating the public and, hopefully, providing a new life for an entire family.”

While Pry spent much time on social issues, he also spoke about the county’s economic struggles over the past few years.

While sales tax collections and property transfer taxes grew last year, Pry said the county still saw its revenue in 2012 drop by $2.9 million from the year before.

“Even with the growth we’ve seen in sales tax over the past three years, we are just now getting back to the revenue levels we saw in 2007,” he said. “As a result, managing the finances and operations of county government continues to be extremely challenging.”

Among the success stories Pry shared from the past year is the completion of the Towpath Trail in Summit County, making it the first county in the state to complete the project. He also mentioned the recent opening of the new Goodyear World and North American Headquarters and the new Bridgestone Technical Center.

Pry also announced that one of his priorities as he enters into his second full term as executive is to consolidate the Department of Job and Family Services offices in the county. The department’s services are now split into four different buildings, which leads to inefficiencies and a far from ideal situation for clients and staff, he said.

His administration is currently seeking proposals from potential landlords to put the department under one roof.

“Once approved, we will proceed with the important task of relocating our operations and freeing up our current footprint for much needed development,” he said, noting the current offices are located in the city’s biomedical corridor.

Pry concluded his remarks by thanking the county’s employees and others who collaborate to solve problems.

“I believe we are blessed to have people who are able to work together, to trust each other, who love this community, believe we can make a difference and aren’t afraid of working hard,” he said. “The state of our county is strong because of its people, and I thank you all very much.”

Pry’s complete remarks can be read at www.co.summit.oh.us.

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