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Commissioners talk grant app, in-house engineer

The Claiborne Commission spent some time discussing the merits of hiring an in-house engineer to handle future projects. The discussion broke during consideration of Resolution 2020-100, calling for approval to submit an application for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) not to exceed $630,000.

Commissioner Steve Brogan asked just who determines the ultimate hiring of an engineer for any one project. He pointed to the waterline extension completed in the Springdale community by the Claiborne Utilities District (CUD).

The result was nearly half the cost of hiring an engineering firm, according to Brogan. County mayor Joe Brooks agreed, saying the Springdale project came in $352,000 cheaper than it would have done.

Commissioner David Mundy quoted from the Tennessee Codes Annotated to explain the reason for naming Vaughn & Melton Consulting Engineers in the resolution. The firm has worked on several county projects in the past.

Essentially, Mundy said that a city or county may continue to use an engineering firm who has had a satisfactory working relationship, according to state statute.

The only way to allow the CUD to do the job, Mundy said, is to bid the project, then go back to the state to see if it can be done in-house, at cost.

Brogan said he has a problem with the issue.

“It is high time that we hire an engineer to work with the county. That’s just a waste of money (to hire outside sources). That is ridiculous. There is no sense for somebody to pay (in excess of) $300,000 less on (the Springdale) project (than on those done with the help of outside engineering firms). And, that is taxpayer money,” said Brogan.

Mundy responded, reminding the commissioners that the two projects were like comparing apples to oranges.

“You need to go back and see exactly what they bid. They lowered the price of compensations and I don’t know what all (else) they did,” said Mundy.

Mayor Brooks explained the concept of forced account.

“If the utility district wants to and can do the work in the allotted amount of time, you don’t have to submit it out to bid. The utility is going to own it, so they’re paying their employees on the clock to put the waterline (in). And, they can get the supplies cheaper because they’re a wholesaler for that equipment, which is why you saw the difference of $320,000 (on the previous project),” said Brooks.

Commissioner Whitt Shuford asked whether there are other engineering firms that should get in on the bidding process. Or, will Vaughn & Melton be the go-to firm for all future CDBG grants.

Mundy said the firm had been in on this particular project for the last couple of years.

County attorney James Estep III reminded the commissioners the resolution up for vote is simply to agree to submit the application for the CDBG money.

Estep added that he believed Vaughn & Melton is listed as the engineering firm in the resolution because of the firm’s ongoing efforts during the last two years.

Brooks addressed Brogan’s suggestion to hire a county engineer. He said the budget committee spoke about the issue and that its members plan to dig further into the matter during the next slate of budget meetings.

About $70,000 goes into the county landfill budget to pay for engineering costs, he said, adding the county road department also pays for ongoing engineering services.

“I think Claiborne County would be money in the bank by having a full time engineer. And, it would go a long way with developing a 5 or 10 year growth plan for all our infrastructure needs,” said Brooks.

Commissioner Kim Large said she felt it would be impossible to expect one in-house engineer to build the waterline. She added that any engineering firm will likely charge the same 8 to 12 percent fee as Vaughn & Melton.

Large said the reason that CUD worked on the Springdale waterline project is because several of their customers were having natural gas installed in that area and the work could be done at the same time.

The resolution was adopted by a vote of 19 for, with Brogan voting against the measure. Commissioner Stacey Crawford was absent during the meeting.

If the application is approved, the county will match the grant with $54,782, or 8 percent of the grant limit. The money will fund a waterline extension project in the areas of Pine Hill, Johnson, Loy and Iron Works Roads.