Oklahoma County Continues Discussion Of How To Spend CARES Act Funds

Thursday, December 17th 2020, 7:05 pm
By: Storme Jones

Oklahoma County first received federal COVID-19 relief funds on April 27. However, the battle for exactly how that money is spent continued Thursday as the clock to get it all out the door is running out of time.

The Oklahoma County Budget Board is made up of all three county commissioners, county treasurer, court clerk, county clerk, assessor, and sheriff. Thursday the panel heard dueling agenda items to spend the county’s remaining $9 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds.

A proposal by County Treasurer Butch Freeman would pump funds into an in-demand small business assistance program and fund a new county health software. The proposal by Commissioner Kevin Calvey would maneuver the money back to the Oklahoma County Detention Center.

The District Attorney’s office advised county commissioners and the budget board, the way Calvey would route the money to the jail would not be permissible under U.S. Treasury guidance.

“That was deemed to not be legal by the district attorney,” Commissioner Brain Maughan said.

District Attorney David Prater sent an email to budget board members telling them if they choose to follow through with the jail option against the advice of his option – they will do so at their own peril. He said it’s not a threat but a warning.

The board voted 6-to-2 sending the item to the board of county commissioners for a Monday vote. However, the two no votes, Commissioners Maughan and Calvey, make up two-thirds of the board of county commission.

“I hope that at least one of my other colleagues will join me in voting yes,” Commissioner Carrie Blumert said.

The county’s small business and nonprofit assistance program essentially ran out of money Monday. Oklahoma Industries Authorly General Manager Catherine O’Conner said 19 applications that met the criteria before funds ran out would need an additional $1.4 million.

She said 143 applications didn’t submit enough documentation, but some of those could become eligible by submitting additional documents.

Phil Maytubby, Oklahoma City County Health Department Chief Operating Officer, presented a proposal with David Kendrick, M.D. MPH. to expand COVID-19 data collection with MyHealthAccess software.

“When you can go to the zip code level instead of just the county or statewide, you can make much clearer and impactful decisions about masking policies, distancing, opening, closing,” Kendrick said. “All of those things ideally would be evidence based and not political.”

The budget board voted to send $3.7 million to the Oklahoma Industries Authority toward the MyHealthAccess software.

“That was the first time I was hearing about $3.7 million expenditure. Nobody came and visited with me about that before,” Maughan said. “I was shocked. When I had heard maybe helping a health situation, I was thinking about testing, I was thinking about new labs or something. I wasn’t thinking about software.”

Maughan said he’d rather vote on the small business relief and health software separately. The Board of County Commissioners meets Monday at 9 a.m.

Federal CARES Act Funds must be spent by Jan. 1.