During a meeting this morning, the Oklahoma County Board of Commissioners began the process of doling out millions in American Rescue Plan Act funds that the county received from the federal government to address issues caused or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Oklahoma County received $154 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds. Some of that money will likely go toward construction of a new $297 million Oklahoma County Jail, which voters partially funded through a $260 million bond election in June. But none of the ARPA funding items approved Monday involved the new jail.
The county’s Policy and Governance Board reviewed 97 funding proposals and recommended 16 for approval by county commissioners, who voted unanimously in favor of all 16 items.
ARPA funds must be allocated by the last day of 2024, according to rules established by the federal government. Items approved Monday by Oklahoma County commissioners addressed projects specifically within county government.
But some citizens who spoke during Monday’s meeting asked commissioners to consider future projects outside the scope of county services. Sean Cummings, a councilman in The Village, reminded the commissioners that his municipality had asked for $3.5 million in ARPA funds for sewer and drainage infrastructure.
“I just wanted to make sure that those were being looked at,” Cummings said. “One is a sewer south of Britton and Nichols Road, and between that one, and another one about a block over from Britton Road — we just want to make sure we are in the mix.”
People’s Council for Justice Reform member Christopher Johnston asked commissioners to be transparent with the use of ARPA funds, but he also asked for some of that money to be spent in support of people and community efforts instead of only government operations. Johnston’s group has been critical of CARES Act money the county previously spent on the current county jail.
“I just want to ask each and every one of you all about the process for these funds, and that is to be transparent,” Johnston said. “There has been a history of non-transparency, and let’s not repeat the same mistakes. And also be equitable as well. There are a lot of folks — Spencer and various other rural areas — that typically get left out of the mix when it comes to government funds.”
District 1 Commissioner Carrie Blumert said the board intends to address needs within county government before assessing needs in the community.
“To follow up on some of the comments our citizens made, what we all decided was the county would look at internal needs first and allocate funds to internal department needs and then go out to the community and do some community assessment to figure out what the community needs are,” Blumert said. “Mr. Johnston and Mr. Cummings brought up fair points that once we take care of our internal needs, we will turn around and [our consultant] will work with the community to determine how we will spend funds in the community.”
Review the items approved for ARPA funding
The 16 projects approved for ARPA funding by Oklahoma County commissioners on Monday totaled about $23.6 million:
- Up to $224,541 for county information technology disaster recovery hardware replacement;
- Up to $475,311 for elevator replacement at the Oklahoma County Juvenile Bureau building (5905 N. Classen Court in Oklahoma City);
- Up to $815,000 to construct a courtroom lobby at the Juvenile Bureau;
- Up to $777,472 for reimbursement to the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office for its special revenue funds projects in spring 2021;
- Up to $2,372,986 for reimbursement to the Sheriff’s Office for its special revenue funds project from July 1,2021, to June 30, 2022;
- Up to $8,608,318 for comprehensive community violence intervention efforts by the Sheriff’s Office;
- Up to $5,080,000 for an Emergency Operations Center for Oklahoma County Emergency Management;
- Up to $1 million for an engineering annex at the Oklahoma County Courthouse;
- Up to $2.1 million for a heating and air system for the Oklahoma County Jail;
- Up to $137,000 for loading dock updates at the Oklahoma County Jail;
- Up to $190,000 for a violence intervention program conducted by the Juvenile Bureau;
- Up to $355,500 for tele-mental health services for the Juvenile Bureau;
- Up to $914,683 for roof replacement at the Juvenile Bureau building;
- Up to $330,263 for QRadar, a security information tool to be implemented within county information technology systems;
- Up to $166,667 for Pentera, an automated security validation platform aimed at identifying attempted security breaches;
- Up to $68,171 for Secret Server, a centralized digital password vault.
Sheriff’s Office to receive funds
Oklahoma County Sheriff Tommie Johnson said the projects earmarked for his department will meet a variety of needs, including mental health services for deputies, new school resource officers, additional body cameras and other equipment that can be purchased through special revenue funds. A special revenue fund is an account established to fund specific projects.
“When you speak about things that go back into the communities these items are holistic approaches that go back into the community,” Johnson said. “It allows us to invest in the Sheriff’s Office, it allows us to invest in mental health programs, it allows us to invest in our [school resource officer] programs, it allows us to get equipment, it allows us to respond to things quickly in an up-to-date fashion and in a fashion that keeps people safe, keeps our deputies safe and our citizens safe.”
The Oklahoma County Jail received some attention, too, even though its lifespan is limited to six or seven more years, according to construction timeline estimates for the new $297 million jail that county voters approved in June.
The current jail used $10 million in CARES Act money earlier this year to upgrade part of its heating and air system, though there are still parts of the system that were not upgraded. Commissioners approved $2.1 million in ARPA funds to complete the heating and air upgrades for the jail.
“This will help in terms of stopping the spread of COVID, so it’s a needed item,” District 3 County Commissioner and jail trust member Kevin Calvey said.
(Correction: This article was updated at 4:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 15, to correct reference to the deadline for allocating ARPA funds.)