OK County Commissioners hold special meeting on Jail funding, COVID

OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The Oklahoma County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) held a special meeting on Monday morning to consider asking the State of Oklahoma to allocate some of the State’s allotment of American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

The purpose was to supplement the building of a new jail facility.

The Commissioners also discussed mitigating the rise in COVID cases spreading like wildfire throughout the community.

Marty Peercy reports Local government

Jail Funding

As readers will recall, the consensus among County officials is that the building of a new jail facility is a foregone conclusion.

While some community members disagree with that, those officials are already well into the planning stages for funding of the new, larger facility.

Plans for funding the construction have included using the entire allotment of ARPA funds to the County, as well as continuing existing bonds set to expire in the coming two years.

At Monday’s meeting, the discussion centered on a speculative opportunity to request money from another source, the ARPA allotment to the State of Oklahoma.

District 2 County Commissioner Brian Maughan suggests that the State can assist in funding the new facility because many detainees in the Jail on any given day have been sentenced and are awaiting transfer to the custody of the Department of Corrections. He contends that since those detainees are the responsibility of the State, money from the State could be used to build part of a new facility to isolate those DOC detainees from the general population of detainees.

At any point, the average number of people in the Jail awaiting trial is 80% of the jail population.

A significant wrinkle in this plan, and in fact the use of any ARPA funds for construction of a new jail facility, is the final guidance handed down from the Treasury Department regarding ARPA uses.

There was certain language that seemed to explicitly forbid use of ARPA funds for construction of new jails.

Maughan said that he has talked with Accenture, the firm hired by the County to consult on Treasury guidelines. The representatives there suggested that there is more to inspect about the latest guidelines.

District 1 Commissioner Carrie Blumert pointed out that asking the State for ARPA money now might be a bit premature, as the Commissioners haven’t made any votes about using the County’s ARPA funds. Additionally, we aren’t certain that voters will choose to extend the two bonds that expire soon.

Ultimately, Maughan moved to strike the item so that it could be rewritten entirely.

Funding Pushback

When the jail funding item was introduced, several members of the community had the opportunity to address the Board about funding the proposed new facility.

Over the weekend, a report on local television news included Maughan’s suggestion that the County would approach Oklahoma City to request money in the MAPS 4 package to be devoted to Mental Health resources.

David Holt
City of Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

Some community members were outraged at the idea of the County receiving any Oklahoma City sales tax money, especially from the MAPS sales tax, which is earmarked for a specific slate of projects.

On Twitter, Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt took an absolute stand for the resolution that the Oklahoma City Council passed before the MAPS 4 vote for certain mental health programs and facilities that did not involve the jail. 

During comments from Commissioners at the end of the meeting, Blumert addressed that rumor by simply listing the projects the MAPS 4 Mental Health package would be funding, conspicuously leaving out any funding for a jail, which is not included in the package, and saying those projects are in the planning stages, including an upcoming RFP for the first MAPS 4 Crisis Center.

Free Press will be watching the comments of City Council members closely in the future on this matter.

COVID Mitigation

As Oklahoma County, and indeed the nation, is being rocked by another spike in COVID infections, hospitalizations, and deaths, the Board considered doing the bare minimum to mitigate infections among County employees.

Maughan said that he had spoken to representatives from the Oklahoma City County Health Department (OCCHD) who suggested that mid-February should be a “crest date” for this wave of infections. He went on to speculate, erroneously, that “We’ll all have to get it eventually.”

Maughan encouraged departments under his purview to spread out and utilize spare space as temporary work spaces, and to stop congregating in break rooms.

The Board voted to allow employees in BoCC departments to work remotely, provided their work can be done properly from home.

The Board of County Commissioners meet next on Monday, January 17, at 9:00 a.m.

Last Updated January 10, 2022, 1:00 PM by Marty Peercy

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