Monday, December 4, 2023

Double Oak mayor responds to criticisms over use of COVID-19 funds

In a statement on Thursday, Double Oak Mayor Von Beougher defended his decision to use most of the federal COVID-19 relief funds the town has received to give 10 town employees each a $25,000 bonus.

“In my early conversations with Council, there was general consensus that we needed to take advantage of this opportunity to compensate our first responders and essential staff for their commitment to our Town,” Beougher said in his statement, adding that “premium pay” for town employees was the only one of four uses the town could utilize, based on initial federal rules.

Double Oak Town Hall. Photo by Bill Castleman

Beougher came under sharp criticism during last week’s Town Council meeting¬†from council members and residents, according to the Denton Record Chronicle, for giving the $25,000 bonuses when many other towns of similar size were giving bonuses of no more than $5,000. The Town Council called for a $2,000 to 5,000 audit of whether the SLFRF funds were used appropriately, and they are also exploring a new town ordinance that would set limits for funding dispersement.

In 2021, the town received the first of two rounds of $380,000 payments from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds program. Beougher said the SLFRF funds “were brought up at several council meetings as the rules evolved, and discussions included utilizing some of the remaining funds for green drainage projects, potentially for roads, and for improvements to other public facilities. The Town will be receiving further allotments of funds, which can be used for purposes authorized by the new rules.” During last week’s meeting, Beougher also mentioned that he and council had previously discussed the premium pay, but added “We never talked amounts.”

According to Beougher and a presentation by Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Johnson, SLFRF funds initially had four allowable uses: replacing lost public sector revenue, public health and economic impacts, water and broadband infrastructure, and “premium pay.”

“The Town did not experience significant revenue losses during the pandemic,” Beougher said. “The Town does not provide water, sanitary sewer, nor broadband infrastructure, and we do not provide social services that address public health and economic impacts, and so those three options were not even on the table for Double Oak.”

Based on that, Beougher worked with the Town Secretary to fill out federal paperwork this spring to submit the bonus pay before an extended deadline. The premium paychecks were issued on May 13, just days before new council members were sworn in. The funding distribution was not disclosed to council until June 20, according to Johnson’s presentation. After the premium pay, the next highest use of SLFRF funds was $61,000 for roads and culverts, according to the DRC.

Double Oak does not have a town manager or administrator, leaving the mayor to run the town and giving the mayor the authority to make financial decisions, even large ones like this one, Town Attorney David Berman said during last week’s meeting. Beougher maintains that he had the authority to administer the SLFRF funds and that there was nothing improper about the way he used them.

“‘Premium Pay’ is more like hazard pay rather than a bonus, and was the initial use that was clearly allowed by the government, as discussed many times,” Beougher said before reiterating his support for town employees “and their faithful dedication to Double Oak through the pandemic and continuing today.”

Mark Smith
Mark Smith
Mark Smith is the Digital Editor of The Cross Timbers Gazette.

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