OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma County Budget Board voted 5-3 to move $36 million of CARES Act funding to the Jail Trust.
CARES Act funding is intended to help people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some board members say the decision to move the money was rushed.
Commissioner Carrie Blumert left the meeting in tears.
“This is crazy. We’re throwing something around…$40-something million, and we’re just pressing buttons. And we haven’t sat through and…through any of this. I don’t even know how to vote right now,” she said. “This is so disrespectful to our citizens. I’m so ashamed this is what’s happening right now.”
“I’m certainly very disappointed with how it went today,” Blumert said after the meeting. “I believe we need to listen to our constituents and spend this money to help people.”
Commissioner Kevin Calvey, who pushed for the money to be moved, has said before that money wasn’t the issue at the jail, but management.
Calvey told KFOR he was unavailable for an interview, but released the following statement:
“The County Budget Board voted to protect taxpayers today by using our federal funds on core County public safety functions. The County jail is the largest COVID incubator in Central Oklahoma. To make the jail more COVID-resistant is absolutely urgent. The other proposal, to significantly grow County government with new programs, would result in taxpayers paying more for essential functions including the jail. Just as airline passengers are required to put on their own mask before assisting others, we must take care of basic needs before expanding government with new and untested programs.”
Sheriff PD Taylor, who recently handed the jail over to the trust, says the vote proves his point that the jail needed more money.
“In kind of sick kind of way, I really want to thank Mr. Calvey for proving my point, that that jail needs about $70-80 million to operate, and he just delivered that money to Trust,” Taylor said. “In my opinion, they’re saying, ‘Sheriff Taylor was right, it’s going to take a whole lot more money than we’ve been giving him, so we’re just going to up close to $80 million.’ That’s probably where the budget should’ve been all these years.”
County Treasurer Butch Freeman says there are questions about whether the funds fall under what CARES Act dollars can be used for.
“Is this really legal?” he said.
The Jail Trust says they will work with the county to figure out what the money will be used for.
“It’s a tremendous responsibility and should the county choose to go in that direction,” Tricia Everest with the Jail Trust said. “It still is related to the COVID relief. We won’t do anything with it that we aren’t legally able to do. We will be responsible stewards and work with them on use of the funds.”
The County Commission will vote on the funds again before it fully goes into effect.
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