On Monday evening, District 1 Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumert held a virtual town hall meeting to discuss several topics including rental assistance, a review of CARES spending, and updates on the Oklahoma County Detention Center, the Juvenile Justice Center, and county road and school projects.
Blumert took questions from participants for approximately twenty minutes of the hour-long event.
Blumert began with an update on the extended rental assistance program funded by the county with federal dollars earmarked for this purpose. Oklahoma Community Cares is administering the $8 million program, as they did with the previous assistance program through the CARES Act.
The assistance is for persons 18 years of age or older who have experienced a loss of income over the last year due to COVID-19. Monies distributed by the program will be paid directly to landlords and utility customers.
The website for the assistance program is live now at okccp.org. Potential applicants may visit that website to find if they are eligible and to learn what documentation they will need to provide.
As of yet English and Spanish are the only languages in which services are provided.
For people who have been served an eviction notice already, Legal Aid of Oklahoma is offering free representation. Legal Aid can be reached at (888) 534-5243.
Under the 2020 CARES Act, Oklahoma County received approximately $47 million. That money was used for many purposes including some small business assistance, rental assistance, and health upgrades to the Jail.
While the County acted on the original directive that the deadline for spending those funds would be the end of December 2020, the Treasury extended the deadline to the end of 2021.
The County has approximately $5 million left over, some of which is being used to improve health and safety protocols and infrastructure in County buildings.
Last year, according to Blumert, the County elected officials discovered it was legally difficult to spend some of the money awarded in the federal relief act, which is why some public trusts were given significant amounts of the funds.2019-district-1-map
Blumert said that this year there is a bill in the State House of Representatives, HB 2233, that would allow counties more freedom and discretion in the application of federal funds.
Blumert talked about the small business assistance program from late in 2020. She said that over the course of three days the website received 800 applications. The website actually crashed due to the overload of traffic.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough money to assist all the applicants. Blumert is hopeful that the new federal assistance act signed by President Biden will provide more help for small businesses.
Blumert stated that she has been in contact with businesses that received assistance, and said that those businesses report that the assistance was life-saving for many of their businesses and employees.
Blumert pointed out that none of that assistance money went to businesses inside Oklahoma City, but only to other municipalities and unincorporated parts of Oklahoma County.
Blumert began her update on the Jail by saying that some 200 detainees have been vaccinated against the deadly pandemic still ravaging our country. The Jail is receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which works well for the transient nature of the Jail population, as that version of the vaccine only requires one dose.
Recently, Jail Trust Chair Tricia Everest and CEO Greg Williams appealed to the County Budget Board requesting $5.8 million for non-CARES-related updates to the Jail. Those improvements included new locks, new central control panels for each floor, and updated security cameras and visitation cameras.
Blumert said that while the entirety of the Budget Board believes these updates are a necessary and good thing, the County simply doesn’t have that amount of money in their reserve. The Board chose to give the Jail enough money to replace locks and the control panel for one floor, which includes four pods.
The money requested was in addition to the annual budget already set aside for Jail operations. That budget is approximately $30 million.
The population count on Monday was 1622. Blumert said this is an improvement in lowering the number of detainees at the Jail.
Blumert reported on the Jail’s experience during the winter storm in February. The Jail lost effective water pressure for several days. Blumert said Everest and Williams and the Jail staff worked hard to make sure detainees had bottled water to drink and water for the manual flushing of toilets. Blumert pointed out that the water issues are the responsibility of the City of Oklahoma City, and not of the Jail or the County.
Blumert said that the Juvenile Justice Center houses detained juveniles, and also juvenile courts. Blumert informed listeners that the current count of juveniles at the juvenile center is 39.
There are currently nine juveniles being held at the County Jail. Blumert said that juveniles being detained at the County Jail are entirely separated from the adult population of the jail, stating that they can’t even hear the adults in the Jail.
Roads and Schools
Blumert said that District 1 road crews are currently working on a large project in Del City. She explained that often municipalities in the County don’t have the resources of crew and equipment that the County has, so those municipalities will contract with the County for road projects.
Similarly, some school districts need resources that their townships don’t have. Currently, District 1 crews are working at Jones doing dirt work for a new football field. They are also working at Star-Spencer doing the groundwork for a new soccer field.
Several attendees of the meeting asked Blumert about lowering the population at the Jail.
One questioner asked if money could be diverted from the Jail to Court Services. Court Services offer a means of check-in for detainees who have been released from the Jail on “Own Recognizance,” or OR Bonds.
Another asked about the potential for eliminating cash bail, an effort that was recently undertaken in the state of Illinois.
Blumert agreed that the majority of people in the Jail are awaiting trial, and by law are innocent.
While the County could feasibly divert budget funding from the Jail to Court Services, the Jail has no say in detainees being released on OR Bonds. That is at the discretion of a judge. The Jail is required to take any detainee brought to them by a police department in Oklahoma County.
Similarly, cash bail is not controlled at a county level, but at the state legislative level. Blumert encouraged attendees who were interested in ending the cash bail program, which she admitted inordinately affects the poor and people of color, they should be communicating with their legislators.
Blumert took a question from a 3rd-grade student named Henry, who asked Blumert what is the most important part of county government.
Blumert summed it up by saying that it’s about using tax money to best serve the needs of the people of Oklahoma County.
Blumert’s next Town Hall has not yet been scheduled. The Board of County Commissioners meets next on Monday, April 5 at 9:00 a.m.
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Last Updated March 23, 2021, 12:08 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor