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Plane proposal crashes

By February 18, 2024February 19th, 2024No Comments

A plane for the sheriff’s department to transport inmates appears to be dead.

Commissioners have now done a great deal of study on the proposal, learned some of the costs involved, and appear to be opposed to it moving forward.

People don’t often see this part of their county government, but it is, in fact, precisely how county government was designed by Oklahoma lawmakers.

Many people think of county commissioners only pertaining to roads, but when all three show up at a county commissioners’ meeting each Monday, their chief roles are quite different: They become the protectors of taxpayers, decision-makers on contracts and agreements, and one part of two checks and balances that lawmakers have put into place to deal with unwise spending.

The system is designed that way.

Once county departments and offices decide on what they want to spend on particular items, the purchase orders are reviewed each week by county commissioners.

This is the first of two checks and balances on spending.

The second is the county excise board, which is made up of one member appointed by county commissioners, one appointed by the district judge, and one appointed by the Oklahoma Tax Commission (usually with a recommendation from the state senator).

The excise board – which Oklahoma attorneys general call the “watchdog agency” of county government – also makes sure that spending stays within the amount of revenue available to the county.

These two boards review all spending. Perhaps 99.9 percent of the time, they approve the huge amount of spending that they review, as matters are usually routine.

But not always. For example, if an item has been purchased for which bids were required but not taken, they can and do say “No” and refuse to sign.

They can also refuse to sign if they simply think particular purchase orders are bad for the taxpayers.

After doing research of their own, commissioners have begun to reject any and all spending on a proposed plane.

Normally, when department heads want to do a renovation or other major project, or otherwise have an unusual item of spending, they come before commissioners and discuss it so commissioners can ask questions about it.

Once commissioners are OK with it, bids are taken on major spending items.

But even though the plane would obviously cost a lot for operation and maintenance, the sheriff did not bring those items before county commissioners in advance.

When District 1 commissioner John Williams asked the sheriff why he didn’t bring the proposal to commissioners, he said it was because the plane hadn’t even arrived yet.

After the sheriff did discuss it, but without providing documentation on anything, commissioners began to do their own checking.

They were alarmed when they learned what the 2023 maintenance and operations costs were ($1,541 per hour of flight) in North Dakota, and then alarmed again when they checked on what insurance would be for transporting inmates.

The sheriff had not presented these figures to commissioners; in fact, it appeared he hadn’t even checked on them.

He had only checked on insurance sufficient to get the plane from North Dakota to McCurtain County, not on insurance that would cover the transporting of inmates, which was supposedly one of the prime reasons for getting the plane.

Commissioners now feel they understand why the largest county in Oklahoma doesn’t transport inmates with its own plane, and why it isn’t financially feasible for McCurtain County, either.