Grant issue spurs discussion among commissioners
Houston County Courier
By Jenna Duncan
Houston County commissioners spoke during the Tuesday, April 9 court session at length with consultant Ray Vann about how each precinct will use Hurricane Ike Round 2.2 grant funds to repair county roads. The discussion centered around whether each precinct would hire outside labor through a general contractor or have county employees complete the projects, with some of the commissioners disagreeing on what would be best. Using internal crews to complete the construction would cost less money and therefore allow the county to fix more roads. But by not contracting out the labor, Vann explained, there is a risk of receiving reduced funds, or none at all. "Without a doubt, the easiest, safest thing to do, but not necessarily the best for the money, is just to let the thing go in the direction it's going, the way it was originally budgeted, and have it bid out," Vann said. The county received $2.4 million from the grant to repair county roads, and construction must be completed by Dec. 3, 2014. Vann is overseeing the grant process on behalf of the county, through his firm, Raymond K. Vann and Associates, LLC. The initial plan an engineer drafted will have a general contractor handle all aspects of the construction, including labor. By April 19, the engineer must submit another rough draft to the state, which would be more detailed and is a 30 percent submittal. If some of the commissioners decide to bid out just the materials, there are two options for how to proceed. The commissioners could have the engineer redo the plan so they only need to bid out materials and amend the current plan so it includes more roads. This could delay the start date by up to six months, Vann said. "I don't like the idea of stopping the process, and I don't think the state will either," he said. The second option is to proceed with the current plan of roads scheduled to be fixed, and just amend the plan so just materials are bid out. Once bids come in under budget the court can add amendments to add more roads with the leftover funds, according to Vann.. Changing the plans so county workers complete the labor has several risks, Vann said. Vann said he understands the benefit of fixing more roads, but explained the crews are liable for any mistakes and could lose the county the entire grant. Even if the crews complete the work exactly to the engineer's plan, they also run the risk of seeing a reduced amount of grant funds because the approved project was less costly than estimated, according to Vann. "We're kind of in a gray area when we're making this change because we will be bidding out raw material, not the actual work itself, so it's not quite as clean cut as what is actually going to be done and if there's going to be any money leftover, or rock leftover in the end," he said. "One of my concerns in changing this, if we do find a quantity that is under budget or something of that nature, we could lose opportunities to possibly use the funds for something else." Precinct 2 Commissioner Willie Kitchen raised an additional issue with making amendments to the proposed plan. In his precinct, his crew can't complete the work needed on the roads so he must contract out the labor. This means if other commissioners decide to bid out just materials, the engineer would have to complete two separate plans. Vann said this is possible, but is up to the engineer's discretion. Because of this and the potential risk of losing funds, Kitchen said he thinks using in-house labor is an unnecessary risk. "I think (Vann's) trying to tell us something without saying it," Kitchen said. "It's a gamble to mess with it." Precinct 4 Commissioner Kennon Kellum spoke in favor of using in- house labor. He said he performed a cost analysis of using in-house labor versus contracted labor. For the same amount of money, internal workers could fix seven miles of road while contracted labor could complete one and a half miles. Kellum said he would rather gamble and have more miles of road fixed, even though there is potential it could cause a decrease in funding. Precinct 3 Commissioner Pat Perry also said he would prefer trying to get more mileage than settling for the current plan, telling Kitchen that the construction needed in Precinct 3 is different than what is needed Precinct 2. Houston County Judge Erin Ford asked Vann to send the court a letter detailing all of the options, and his opinion on each route the county can take. Vann concluded by giving his final suggestion to the court on how to proceed, which would be to decide as soon as possible what precincts will contract out labor and which will not, and move forward with the current roads the engineer has planned to fix. "This thing is moving forward as we speak," Vann said. "The engineer is out working. They have a deadline that they're supposed to submit 30 percent submittals by, and I think that if y'all have a real desire to change we need to address that sooner than later. I hate to say now, but now."