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Supplemental funding requests for six state agencies top $32 million

The dome on the state Capitol fades into fog in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019. [NATE BILLINGS/THE OKLAHOMAN]
The dome on the state Capitol fades into fog in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019. [NATE BILLINGS/THE OKLAHOMAN]

Six state agencies have submitted requests for supplemental funding totaling more than $32 million to help get through the current fiscal year that ends June 30.

The total would have been larger, but a request for $7.5 million to renovate Oklahoma's 90-year-old governor's mansion was withdrawn after Kevin Stitt was elected governor.

Built in 1928, the governor's mansion is showing its age with problems like rotting window sills, creaking floorboards and water infiltration issues. It is also in need of major updates to electrical, mechanical, plumbing and life safety infrastructure, officials said.

Donelle Harder, spokeswoman for Stitt, said the new governor was not involved in the previous funding request or bid and "has requested a new bid for the mansion to ensure we are being responsible with taxpayers’ money."

A new assessment of the property currently is being done to determine what improvements are needed, both short and long term, said Shelley Zumwalt, spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services. That's going to take time, so the supplemental request was dropped, she said.

By far the largest remaining supplemental funding requests come from two agencies, the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) and Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education.

OMES is asking the Oklahoma Legislature to tap the state's reserve funds for $16.041 million to increase funding for the agency's information services division. The need for increased cybersecurity to prevent data breaches is one of the major reasons the agency cited for its request.

OMES also cited increased usage of the agency's informational technology services by various state agencies, insufficient rates charged for its services and a decrease in revenue available in the Joint Computer Enhancement Fund.

Meanwhile, the Department of Career and Technology Education is requesting $11.8 million in supplemental funds to cover what its officials describe as an underfunded mandate from the Oklahoma Legislature.

Since 2004, the Legislature has required the department to fund the medical insurance flexible benefit allowance for employees in the career technology centers, said Paula Bowles, spokeswoman for the agency.

Initially, the Legislature provided the agency with extra funds to cover the cost, but those costs have increased as health costs have gone up, Bowles said.

The Legislature provided additional money to cover those increasing costs through 2009, but then stopped, she said.

The agency needs $25.4 million to pay for the benefit allowance but lawmakers only appropriated $13.6 million for that purpose this fiscal year, so the agency is asking for the $11.8 million difference in a supplemental appropriation, she said.

The agency has made similar requests in past years, but has been rejected, she said.

"That means less money is available for classrooms," she said.

Also requesting supplemental funds are the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA), the Oklahoma Merit Protection Commission, Board of Medicolegal Investigations, and district courts.

OETA, which has been involved in a legal dispute with its foundation, is asking for $1.705 million to replace a 15-year-old transmitter that is located on top of what is known as Blue Mountain in a remote area of the state near Enterprise in Haskell County.

It's the only remaining tube transmitter on the OETA system and the broadcast engineer who maintains it is scheduled to retire in April. A new engineer may not have the skill set to maintain it, OETA representatives told state officials.

The transmitter is one of four on the OETA system. It serves the Eufaula area, a large rural portion of eastern Oklahoma and parts of Tulsa County, said Dustin Pyeatt, the agency's director of communications. A lot of people rely on OETA for emergency alerts, especially in rural areas, he said.

The Oklahoma Merit Protection Commission, a quasi-judicial body that investigates and seeks to resolve state employee grievances, has submitted a request for $90,000 for an additional person to investigate and mediate complaints.

Carol Shelley, the agency's executive director, said the agency really needs about $150,000 to hire two people and pay for their benefits. She said the agency would have enough money available to hire one person if that person didn't have any dependents, though she acknowledged that wasn't an appropriate question in a job interview.

The Board of Medicolegal Investigations is asking for a $651,000 to help recruit and retain forensic pathologists to perform medical autopsies. Agency officials say there is a nationwide shortage of about 1,200 forensic pathologists and the agency has lost five physicians in the last two years because they can go elsewhere and receive higher pay.

District courts are asking for an extra $2.5 million.

Jari Askins, administrative director of the courts, said a small portion of the requested money would be used to give pay raises to court reporters who were omitted from last year's state employee pay raise while the bulk would be used to cover normal court expenses.

Askins said requesting a supplemental appropriation is something the court system has to do practically every year because the Legislature routinely fails to appropriate enough money to cover all court expenses.

Randy Ellis

For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two... Read more ›