There are more questions over how the Oklahoma County Detention Center plans to use $40 million in federal COVID-19 funds, including where the money is currently sitting.
County Treasurer Butch Freeman said despite the bulk of funds being approved by county commissioners August 19 and accepted by the jail trust August 31, the money still hasn’t made it to jail coffers.
According to Freeman, County Commissioner Kevin Calvey pulled the final paperwork authorizing the transfer.
The Commissioner said his office is just making sure all the bookkeeping checks out.
The delay in transferring the funds was news to Jail Trust Chairwoman Tricia Everest.
“We are going to continue to rapidly recognize how we can use the funds to improve conditions at the county jail,” Everest said.
Another major question is just how the money will be routed to jail projects.
Calvey said the money could be used to replace payroll and benefits for the sheriff’s department and detention center employees from March 1 through December 30, automatically qualifying as a COVID related expense, leaving the left over money to use for jail projects, audit and deadline free.
“It allows us, as a county, to reimburse ourselves for the personnel costs of the public health and public safety employees,” Calvey said. “It allows us to spend the large majority of our CARES Act funds without having to account for how they’re spent.”
However, the district attorney’s office disagrees.
The sheriff’s office asked for a legal opinion on whether CARES funds can be used to supplant, or replace, the use of county funds designated for salaries and benefits.
Assistant District Attorney Aaron Etherington replied in a September 16 memo writing in part, “revenue replacement is not a permissible use of fund payments.” Adding “CARES funds may not be used to supplant the general fund appropriations to the sheriff’s office.”
Calvey points to a U.S. Treasury memo which says, “The full amount of payroll and benefits expenses of substantially dedicated employees may be covered using payments from the Fund.”
The September second memo adds local governments “may presume that public health and public safety employees meet the substantially dedicated test.”
With the county commission already voting to send CARES funds to the jail trust, it’s unclear how the money would then be routed through the sheriff’s office payroll and benefits.
“We would not be the proper agency to direct money into other county agencies.” Trust Chair Tricia Everest said. “We do not have the authority to be revising county budgets.”