Washington Bureau - February 14, 2024 6:32 am

A half dozen county commissioners from Oklahoma are in Washington, looking to squeeze out the last bit of information from the National Association of Counties (NACo) annual legislative conference.

This annual meeting is an opportunity for county leaders from across the country to network, share best practices, learn about programs and funding opportunities, and also a chance to hear from federal leaders.

The group has had visits with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and on Monday, heard from President Joe Biden, who pointed to some of the ways his administration has worked to improve the quality of life in their respective counties.

“We’re replacing every poisonous lead pipe in America,” Biden told the group, “so everyone can turn on a faucet and drink clean water.”

Commissioners from Oklahoma said they are focused on opportunities to get more funds to address transportation needs.

“There’s just a tremendous amount of money that is being dedicated towards transportation,” said Rogers County Commissioner Ron Burrows in an interview Monday.

District 3 Commissioner Burrows says, for most counties, there’s no greater need than funding for roads and bridges. But he’s concerned that, of the billions of dollars in grants available through the bipartisan infrastructure law, only eight percent has gone to counties so far.

“Counties own 45 percent of all the roads across America and 38 percent of the bridges,” Burrows explained, “they’re owned by counties, and to get 8 percent of that funding is a problem.”

Taking steps to try and change that is one of the focuses of this year’s conference. In the meantime, Oklahoma County Commissioner Myles Davidson says he’s intent on competing better for grants.

“That’s one of the great things about coming here,” Davidson said in an interview, “Is you learn about all these opportunities and how to get in there and how best to fill out your form, some of the tricks, and so on and so forth.”

Davidson was hoping to also use the trip to visit another detention facility in nearby Alexandria, as he says a decision on where to locate the new Oklahoma County Jail is looming.

“February 21,” said Davidson, “I’ve set that date on the calendar and basically said ‘hey, that’s drop-dead day.”

The conference wraps up Tuesday with the commissioners heading to the Capitol to meet with members of the congressional delegation.


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