The Oklahoma County Budget Board met Thursday to discuss, among other things, what would happen with the remaining $10 million unallocated CARES Act funds. There were proposals on the agenda from County Treasurer Butch Freeman, and from County Commissioner Kevin Calvey.
As Freeman’s agenda item passed, $8.7 million will go to the Oklahoma Industries Authority to continue their small business program and to fund a project for the Oklahoma City-County Health Department.
But the ultimate result remains in question as the Board of County Commissioners takes the report of the Budget Board later in the month.
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Before the meeting, members of the community signed up to address the Board. The first of them, restaurateur Sean Cummings, mentioned the letter supposedly penned by District Attorney David Prater that was leaked to the press yesterday. He said that the District Attorney and the Attorney General had both advised against using CARES money in the manner that Calvey was suggesting.
Gary Wood, an attorney retained by Jail Trust member Sue Ann Arnall, spoke next. He said that he and his firm were retained to give a legal opinion about the use of CARES Funds. He took umbrage at their role being cast as “shopping for an opinion.” He said they were asked to give a legal opinion, not to give a “yes” or to give a “no” on anybody’s plans for the money.
Carol Hefner, local conservative activist, addressed the Board and said that she had spoken to several Attorneys General around the country and she was present to assure the Board that they are in the clear to spend the money on the Jail.
Leslie Nesmith, a small business owner, told the Board that while she understands the struggles small businesses are experiencing, she believes this money should be spent on the Jail since the Jail affects every member of this community.
Jimmy Collins, another restaurateur, told the board that the County has to have a Jail and the Jail has to be maintained. He called giving the money to the Jail the right thing to do.
While an argument had broken out among Cummings, Hefner, and Collins before the meeting, all were civil in their comments to the Board.
An item from County Treasurer Butch Freeman requested that the Board allocate $9 million of remaining CARES Act funds to the Oklahoma Industry Authority for two purposes. First, to continue OIA’s administration of the recent small business assistance program the County authorized weeks ago.
Cathy O’Connor of OIA gave a brief presentation on the success of the program. She stated that the program has so far approved over 260 applications for a total of over $14 million. There are still 19 applications that meet criteria, but the funding is gone. She said, further, that there are 143 applications that need more information to be completed, but that appear likely to meet criteria.
The second part of the allocation would be to let OIA fund a project for the Oklahoma City-County Health Department OCCHD).
The project would be to adopt a tool called MyHealth Access Network. MyHealth is a health information exchange that has already been created by networking with health care services across the state. OCCHD adopting this tool will give them access to data from health care providers across the state, updated hourly. This functions as an early warning system, not just for COVID hotspots, but for influenza, and whatever may be the next health crisis we face.
The total will equip OCCHD to have a warehouse of granular data to stay on top of test results and hospitalizations in various geographies of the state at any given time.
After questions from the Board, County Commissioner Carrie Blumert moved the item with the downward adjustment of $8.7 million. That included $5 million for the small business assistance program and $3.7 million for the health information exchange project.
The motion passed 6-2, with only Commissioners Calvey and Brian Maughan voting against.
For the money to be allocated, the proposition will have to be passed by the Board of County Commissioners, leading most to wonder if that means it will fail at Calvey’s and Maughan’s votes at the next meeting. The Board of County Commissioners will take up the item on Monday, December 21.
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