OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) approved a slate of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) spending recommended by the Policy and Governance Committee, Monday.
Most of the items were approved with one unanimous vote. However, two items concerning the Sheriff’s Office were pulled for separate discussion as one Commissioner was not entirely sure the items were even legal.
Additionally, two Commissioners appointed members to the Citizens Bond Oversight Advisory Board, a board intended to oversee the creation of a new jail.
Marty Peercy reports Local government
Two items on the agenda were for “Sheriff Payroll and Benefits” for two separate spans of time. One item was for $3,718,179.02 the other for $11,173,931.30.
District 1 Commissioner Carrie Blumert asked for discussion on the two items, pointing out that each included the phrase “pending justification provided by the Sheriff’s office.”
Blumert asked for an explanation of authorizing ARPA spending without justification in place, questioning the legality of such a move.
Blumert pointed out that these are budgeted costs from the general fund, saying that it looked like an attempt to use ARPA money instead of general fund money, to loosen the restrictions on the Federal funds. This is called “supplanting.”
District 2 Commissioner and Board Chair Brian Maughan replied that it is entirely legal.
Maughan and District 3 Chief Deputy Myles Davidson (sitting in for Commissioner Kevin Calvey) moved the items and each passed 2-1 with Blumert voting “No” on each.
The remainder of the funding items were passed unanimously. At the end of the slate, Maughan said on the record that all of the items were vetted by Accenture, the County’s consultant on ARPA spending. Blumert spoke up to say that two of them were not vetted.
“I want to just make that clear,” Blumert said.
“You’ve made it clear,” Maughan responded.
Later on Monday Commissioner Blumert took to Twitter to make a statement about the votes.
Blumert said that she voted against the $14 million because those salaries and benefits were already budgeted.
“The effort is to free up general funds to go toward the new jail construction.
“‘Supplanting’ is what it’s called.”
BLumert went on to say, “Supplanting goes against the intention of ARPA funds and takes away money that could be invested in community needs like housing, health care, and small biz [sic] support.”
The U.S. Treasury has already decided that ARPA funds can not be used for constructing jails or prisons.
Using ARPA funds through a loophole to fund a “reimbursement” for payroll and benefits for the Sheriff’s office results in $14 million unencumbered in the general fund that no longer has the same strings attached as the federal money.
The legality of supplanting is still in question.
On Monday the BoCC also approved two appointees to the nascent Citizens Bond Oversight Advisory Board. This board is intended to provide oversight for the process of building a new jail that voters approved in June of 2022. This will include sight selection, design, construction, contracting, et cetera.
District 1’s appointee to the Board is Sandino Thompson, a well known figure in the development world. Thompson has been instrumental in the revitalization of NE 23rd Street.
District 3’s appointee is Xavier Neira. Neira has years of experience in construction, including road and bridge infrastructure, and should bring an understanding of large scale construction to the Board.
Thompson and Neira will join District 2 appointee Pat McCoy on the Board. The BoCC will consider suggestions for the remaining four seats on the advisory board, then vote to fill those seats in the coming months.
The BoCC meets again on Monday, December 19 at 9:00 a.m.
Free Press will continue to follow developments regarding County spending of ARPA funds.
Last Updated December 7, 2022, 1:18 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor