Strife has since grown between Commissioners Carrie Blumert and Kevin Calvey who strongly disagreed about the decision, and public pressure has continued at county meetings.

Blumert said the jail does need some CARES funding but not all of it, and she’s commented on the lack of cooperation, discussion and transparency.

“For us to — in one fell swoop — move all of our CARES dollars over to the trust is an inappropriate use of the money,” she said. “And the trust does not have a plan to spend the money. It would not be a good financial decision for us.”

Now, the trust faces intense scrutiny as it develops plans for the money.

Legal concerns

Spending CARES Act funds comes with three main requirements:

• They must be spent on expenditures incurred because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

• They can’t be spent on anything accounted for in a recent budget.

• The costs must have happened between March 1 and Dec. 30 of this year.

The U.S. Treasury Department has released other guidelines, as well, but it has been clear that local governments must ultimately make the decisions themselves.

The county eventually set up a procedure for a budget subcommittee to vet requests that are then sent to the Budget Board and then to the commissioners for final approval.

Still, opinions from the district attorney’s office have been sought for other CARES Act decisions, like Blumert’s initiative to send $1.5 million to rental assistance.

The $34 million for the jail has not received this front-line vetting from either the DA or its own legal counsel, and county Treasurer Butch Freeman said that “terrifies” him.

“I disagree with Commissioner Calvey and the majority of the Budget Board that voted to give the money to the trust,” Freeman said.

“Nothing against the trust, but the way I read the guidelines, I don’t think those are appropriate expenditures. But at this point, I hope they are legal, because it’s happening now. But I’m still concerned.”

Calvey said he is “100% confident” that the choice to give the funds to the trust is legal and that any money spent on public safety is an approved use of CARES Act dollars.

The U.S. Treasury says the money can be used for covering payroll for public safety employees and “establishing temporary public medical facilities and other measures to increase COVID-19 treatment capacity.”

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