Supervisors want to talk to DHS contractor

Published 3:28 pm Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pearl River County supervisors voted on Tuesday 3-0 to subpoena officials from Casablanca Construction Co. of Hattiesburg to explain why construction on the Department of Human Resources building at Millard is running behind schedule.

Mike Beauchamp of JH&H Architects, who is overseeing the project for the board, told supervisors at their Tuesday meeting that the deadline for completion falls in May and the contractor is an estimated 65 percent completed. Thus completion is months away.

“The project is way behind schedule,” he told supervisors, “and fraught with all kinds of problems.”

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He told supervisors that quality of construction was not “being compromised,” but he said the $2.7 million project should be completed by the third week of May and that scheduling by the contractor projected completion by Thanksgiving. He said his assessment shows that it might be possible to complete it by August, if problems are worked out.

County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin, Jr., said that each day the contractor runs over the scheduled completion date, it has to pay the county what is called “liquidated damages.”

Beauchamp said his talks with the contractor had not resulted in solving the problems, and agreed with supervisors, it might be best for supervisors and the contractor to “meet face-to-face.”

Exactly what supervisors can do is not clear, although application of damages charged daily for overruns in the contract deadline can be a severe penalty.

At one point, Supervisor J. Patrick Lee said that the contractor could be fired and another brought in to finish the project, but Beauchamp said it was his experience that sometimes that creates more problems than it solves.

Lee said it looked like to him that the contractor might have underbid the project and is “trying to make it up by nickel-and-diming the subcontractors to death.”

Beauchamp replied, “You have described the situation exactly.”

Beauchamp said on one portion of the contract, the contractor went through three separate subcontractors.

Lee asked board attorney Joe Montgomery whether or not the discussion with Casablanca officials should be held in executive session (behind closed doors), and Montgomery said he would have to review the law on it.

“I have no problem with discussing the problem right out in the open meeting,” said Lee, who, as board vice president, chaired the supervisors’ board meeting on Tuesday in the absence of board president and supervisor Anthony Hales, Sr.

District Three Supervisor Hudson Holliday also was absent, but supervisors Sandy Kane Smith, Lee and Joyce Culpepper were present, constituting a quorum and allowing supervisors to conduct business.

The subpoenas for the company officials will be issued by the chancery court and the meeting is to be scheduled as quickly as possible. The next board meeting is May 2.

The DHS building is being constructed near the county prison at Millard. County welfare offices are supposed to be consolidated in the new facility, along with offices for the Justice Court system and Veterans Administration officials.

Supervisors have subpoena power under state law to compel witnesses to attend board meetings and be subject to questioning by supervisors. If they don’t appear they can be fined.

On another matter, Culpepper told fellow supervisors that rumors last week, that she was supporting selling the Pearl River County Nursing Home and Hospital and that she favored a tax hike to build the proposed courthouse square annexes and expansion, are false.

“I have received a number of phone calls about rumors saying that, and the rumors are not true. They are false. I have not said that. Let me set some people who are spreading the rumors straight: I am not for selling the nursing home and hospital, and haven’t said anything about raising taxes. I think this is a result of it being an election year,” she said.

Culpepper in the last board meeting said she favored the proposed courthouse expansion plan, but wanted to see how the county planned to pay for it before making a decision on it.

Holliday and Hales have said the same thing, saying they favor it, but an acceptable  way must be found to finance it. Smith said he favors a project, but not as large as the $15 million proposed expansion. He has suggested tackling the project incrementally.

On Tuesday, Lee said that he favored the project, but he, like the rest of the board wanted to see how it would be financed before finally voting on it. Lee said he would not vote to raise taxes to build the complex. “This is not the time to be raising taxes,” he said.

So right now, the board has the votes to pass the project, but now has to come up with a viable alternative on how to fund it, hopefully without raising taxes. Both the Item and Democrat have editorially endorsed the proposal.

At its last meeting, the board told Lumpkin to come up with some proposed financing schemes for the project.

During the last board session, Hales floated a trial balloon concerning selling the county hospital as one way of raising funds for the project, but sources close to the board said he and other board members had received negative responses on that proposal.

In other business, the board:

— Said it planned to begin spraying certain highly populated county areas for mosquitoes. Smith asked if it were possible to begin spraying. County Road Manager Mike Mitchell said the county has two new spraying machines, two certified, qualified operators and will begin spraying immediately.

— Smith said that a 1.5 mile section of Sycamore Road was being refurbished near its connection with West Union Road, because the road’s base had collapsed. He said that necessitated major base repairs before putting new paving on the stretch. He said when the road was originally paved, some stumps were not removed and when they rotted out, it caused the road’s foundation to give way. “The only thing we can do now is re-establish the base properly and redo it. It will take a little longer but it will be done right this time and will last,” said Smith.

— Approved travel requests for DUI officer to STORM Spring Conference in Vicksburg, May 3-5; three correction officers to State Jail Officers Certification in Gulfport, May 9-24; and emergency director and fire marshal to the 2011 Miss. Fire Chiefs and Firefighters Conference in Vicksburg, June 2-5.

— Smith said he was serious about seeing whether methane gas naturally produced by the Central Landfill can be utilized for producing power for county buildings and the county prison at Millard, with the balance sold to the power companies. He said methane from the Pecan Grove landfill on Menge Avenue helps power the Dupont plant at Delisle, and a proposed methane plant is being constructed near Houston, Miss. He said Mississippi Power, Coast Electric and Waste Management, which runs Central Landfill, are aware of his proposal.

— Adjourned to Monday, May 2.