Questions loom over $154 million in COVID recovery funds given to Oklahoma County and where it will go

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Questions loom Monday as the Oklahoma County commissioners await legal guidance on how and where to allocate $154 million in funds given to them from the American Rescue Project Act.

So far, none of the money has been spent.

There have been discussions on using it to fund a new jail.

However, small town mayors feel they need it more.

“We’re in desperate need for help,” said the mayor of Jones, Ray Poland.

A near plea for help from a small northeast Oklahoma County community’s mayor. Poland voiced his concerns at the county commissioners meeting on Monday morning. Later, he told KFOR that the town is dealing with multiple issues that need immediate fixing.

“Water and wastewater and storm water abatement are our most pressing needs right now,” Poland said.

Oklahoma County was given the funds as a part of the American Rescue Project Act signed by congress earlier in 2021.

“There are a lot of communities who have real needs and they’re also going to be competing for these same dollars,” said Oklahoma County Commissioner of district 2 Brian Maughan.

Again, the commissioners have not yet touched a dime of the money. They are awaiting legal guidance from a national judiciary firm on how it can be allocated.

“We’re doing that because we’re making sure we’re good stewards of these dollars,” Maughan said.

The act said the cash can go toward things like infrastructure, mental health and law enforcement. Maughan said those are too vague and lead to more questions.

“We’re trying to work on getting those things flushed out along with the federal guidelines,” Maughan said. “We certainly don’t want to put the local taxpayers in any kind of a legal bind.”

So far, one idea being tossed around is using it to fund a new jail.

“I know the jail needs some work,” Poland said. “I don’t believe it’s the best way to spend all of the ARPA funds.”

Poland said they just passed a one cent sales tax in Jones to fund their issues.

“We’ve got sewer lines in the ground that have been here for 80 years that we need to replace,” he said.

Poland also said they had to take out a $10 million loan to fix the issues.

“Had we known ARPA funds may be available we could’ve taken out a less loan and asked for a smaller sales tax increase to fund those,” he said.

According to Poland, a hydrology study for their storm water abatement town would cost around $100,000 alone.

Mayors like Matt Dukes of Midwest City went to bat for mayors like Poland at Monday morning’s county commissioners meeting.

Dukes said bigger cities like his can afford project by themselves. However, towns like Jones can’t and may need the help.

“So, I do ask of you that you reconsider my smaller neighbors around me in the distribution of these funds and help them out,” Dukes said.

“There’s nothing that’s been decided on it at all,” Maughan said.

Poland claims that they are not unique in their problems and said that a lot of rural communities are experiencing the same thing. He said he supports all small rural towns in their quest to find funds and fix their problems.

KFOR received a statement from Carrie Blumert Monday afternoon that can be read below. Blumert has the town of Jones in her district.

“I am grateful that leaders across Oklahoma County are paying attention and making their needs known. I hope we can partner with the state and federal governments to make use of these funds in a way that benefits all Oklahoma County residents, especially those in underserved communities. Rural communities in Oklahoma County deserve support and I will work with them to find funding sources for their needs.”

Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumert, District 1

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