Editor’s note: This is the second of a series of articles concerning the county’s spending on infrastructure and other projects led by IMS Engineers.
“More bang for your buck” is likely never a bad thing as far as what the average consumer purposes in his or her mind when it comes to spending their dollars.
The same could be said when it comes to infrastructure, which is not cheap and an ever-changing operation depending on many different factors, such as the economy, environment and so forth.
It is well documented that Washington County roads and bridges make up a significant portion of the state’s roads and bridges that are closed because of the need for repair.
During a July regular meeting of the Washington County Board of Supervisors (WCBS), county engineers informed board members that at that time, there were 40 closed bridges in the county, two of which were underway for revitalization.
In an April quarterly newsletter from IMS Engineers, county engineer Lorenzo Anderson recalled a colleague of his — vice president of operations and administration for IMS, Derrick Cannon, had said he knew the WCBS was committed to improving infrastructure in the county.
Anderson said as the new county engineer, the first goal is to improve the infrastructure, noting it would take time.
Any supervisor would affirm his or her commitment to infrastructure in the county among several other things that are vital to taxpayers.
The price tag, however, may not be so easy to commit to as the county is currently paying 1,200% more for general engineering services than it has in the past, District 1 Supervisor Lee Gordon pointed out.
$108,539.12 of a $35,000 line-item has been expended — $91,051 of which was accrued by IMS Engineers in roughly three months.
As detailed in the county’s general services agreement with IMS, the principal engineer is paid at a rate of $223 per hour and the project manager — $125 per hour. The engineering assistant is paid $52-60 per hour.
The WCBS’ general services agreement with Hooker Engineering provided the principal engineer be paid at a rate of $130 per hour and the assistant engineer, $120 per hour.
In 2019, work done by Hooker Engineering largely consisted of state aid projects (SAP) and Emergency Road and Bridge Repair Fund (ERBRF) projects.
Some projects in 2019, Frazier Road for example, were supported by the Local System Bridge Program (LSBP) fund.
The county was granted $4 million dollars that year to utilize for state aid projects over the years after the Mississippi Transportation Commission approved $250 million in funding aimed to repair or replace 200 bridges contributing to the problem of mobility and safety in counties.
Washington County received $1,200,004.48 for Priscilla Road; $345,781.60 for Smiley Road; $345,781.60 for Bassi Road; $1,420,259.00 for Murphy Road; $404,502.90 for Pete’s Dump Road; $305,921.45 for Stone Airport Road; and $345,781.45 for Eifling Road.
In June 2019, for preliminary engineering services rendered such as designing, specifications and conducting bids, etc, Hooker Engineering submitted invoices of $17,500 for Pete’s Dump Road; $32,500 for Priscilla Road; $15,000 for Smiley Road; $15,000 for Bassi Road; $12,500 for Stone Airport Road; and $12,500 for Eifling Road.
Other projects in which Hooker’s services were rendered in 2019, but not state-aid related, include the North Theobald Road Rehabilitation project and the Producers Road Rehabilitation project which were billed to the county at $16,838.21 and $50,477.19, respectively, in September.
BOS president Carl McGee noted how significant the Producers Road Rehabilitation was, even from an economical standpoint.
“Before that road was fixed, they had a problem getting raw materials in and finished goods out over the roads because it damaged the trucks,” he explained.
McGee said it was a matter of protecting those jobs at Producers Rice Mill and letting the corporate entity know the county would do what was needed to keep them there.
“It came in under budget, which was good,” he said of the project cost.
Hooker submitted an invoice of $79,505.78 for final engineering services on Abide Road (MS031-076) in May 2019 and in August, an invoice of $7,460 for work on the ABW building, which entailed topographic surveying.
From January 2019 to November 2019, Hooker performed work on Reed Road, a state aid funded project in which invoices totaled $156,161.57.
With the number of closed bridges in the county, it could be said its engineers will have a tall task in front of them for a while.
Gordon said plainly, “I’m very concerned about what it’s costing the taxpayers,” as it pertains to the cost of engineering services.
But progress seems to be paramount to the BOS as they have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers residing in the respective municipalities and especially the county.
District 2 Supervisor Tommy Benson said the county’s progress in infrastructure is “solid” and while it appears slow in the Mississippi Delta, it’s steady.
“The problems in the Delta are systemic and have to be corrected, but they have to be corrected at a gradual pace,” he added.
At a July regular meeting, the county engineer informed the BOS that the Office of State Aid Road Construction requested a plan of action for how the county will address its closed bridges, which determines funding for such projects.