The city of Claremore has received more than $1.4 million in federal money from the CARES Act. Now, it's in the process of deciding how to spend it.
"While there's no solidified plans, I have had very preliminary conversations," said Acting City Manager John Feary, who said he is taking a cautious approach initially but believes public safety should receive the money.
Claremore received the federal money as part of the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funds. It is intended to be spent for costs incurred as a result of the pandemic. Oklahoma received more than $250 million from the federal government, according to the governor's office. The state was in charge of distributing the funds to cities and counties throughout Oklahoma.
Before the spending starts in Claremore, Feary said he wants to be sure state or federal officials aren't going to ask for the funds to be returned.
"We want to make sure if that happens, that we're prepared, before we go on a spending spree," Feary said.
The city had about $125,000 in unexpected expenses as a result of the pandemic, Feary said. Those departments' budget shortfalls will be paid with the relief funds. That leaves about $1.3 million for other projects. Feary said the city used public safety budgets to claim the money so he thinks the remaining balance should be spent on public safety projects.
"… The remainder of the funds we will utilize and identify a public safety … probably a capital project, something along those lines," he said. "Again, this is not money we were budgeted to have. But in order to be a good steward … we ought to take a hard look at using that money for a public safety project or need."
Feary said department heads would discuss possibilities for how to spend the money, but "I do have an idea of what my No. 1 recommendation will be."
He said he hadn't discussed that idea with the city council, so he declined to provide specific details. But he said, "It's been a project we've been talking about for many years and probably needs to be done.
"So, this is an opportunity to say, 'Hey, here is some money that we didn't count on getting. And while it's taxpayer money -- there is no free money -- this is money that the feds handed out for us to use for the betterment of our community.' "
Feary said the city's initial claims to the state were for unbudgeted expenses related to COVID-19, but state officials provided more information on the process.
"Originally, we understood the state's intent was to be actual incurred expenses," Feary said. "Well, it was later made clear to us, 'No, no, no. These are for public safety concerns, whether that is budgeted or unbudgeted.' "
The city has more than 80 people in the police and fire departments, so "you're going to have exposure" to COVID-19, Feary said. "That's going to require some maneuvering and some overtime and some additional shift work. So, it was nice to know we had that covered without negatively impacting our overall budget."
Claremore received the second-most funding in Rogers County. The highest total went to the county, which is eligible to receive more than $4.2 million. As reported by the Progress on Sunday, more than half the money will be spent renovating the jail and the remainder will be allocated to various agencies and projects throughout the county.
Verdigris is eligible to receive nearly $354,000 in Coronavirus Relief Funds. According to a city official, the money will be used for city payroll costs for work related to COVID-19.
The state's formula allocates $77.08 per person and used 2019 census estimates. Claremore's population was reported as 18,743. Verdigris had 4,590. Rogers County received funding based on 55,064 residents living in unincorporated parts of the county.
Here is a look at how much money cities and towns in Rogers County are eligible to receive through the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funds. The funds are calculated based on population data from 2019 census estimates. Each jurisdiction can receive up to $77.08 per resident.
*Owasso city 240,567.38
Valley Park $5,549.78
Rogers County $4,244,345.55
* Cities with residents in two counties. Data above reflects city's residents in Rogers County.
Note: Rogers County funding was calculated on residents living in unincorporated areas.