HAMLET — Less than a month after Lumber River Council of Governments planners informed the city council it would need to come up with $40 million to update water and wastewater infrastructure, LRCOG representatives returned to explain why their assessment plan cost more than twice the amount agreed upon two years ago.
Jim Perry of the LRCOG said informal discussions with former Hamlet City Manager Marcus Abernethy had given him the impression the city understood the project was going to cost far more than the amount in the contract. Perry explained that the lack of existing information about the location of water and sewer lines throughout the city had required planners to put in more man hours with Hamlet staff than anticipated.
“Normally, I might make two visits to public works staff and sit down with maps,” he said. “Because usually we walk in with a map that’s already in pretty good shape. In your case, we had to come back to the very start and start with nothing, so it was four or five visits. Our mapping and GIS took a lot more time than we anticipated.”
Perry said the lack of maps and condition of Hamlet’s assets — some of which are so old no information exists about them at all — caused the bulk of the expenses that more than doubled the contracted cost.
Current Hamlet City Manager Jonathan Blanton said that when he received the invoice from the LRCOG on Feb. 22, he invited them to Friday’s annual budget planning meeting to address the council regarding the overage of the contract.
During the Feb. 14 meeting of the city council, the planners did not mention they had incurred costs in excess of those in the signed contract, Blanton said.
“They sent an email and a letter to me here as city manager,” he said. “In June of 2015, we agreed to $28,975. We paid half up front, and then they sent us a revised and detailed, itemized cost break-down — and the total cost was showing $75,179.98.”
Blanton said the amount was not delivered in the form of an invoice, but rather as a collection of costs the LRCOG had incurred and indications they were willing to negotiate.
“But I recommended to council and council concurred that we were not going to make any type of negotiation on it, as that is two-and-a-half times over,” he explained. “In November and December of 2014, the COG came and spoke with then-City Manager Marcus Abernethy about potentially doing this asset management plan.”
The LRCOG, he said, spent two months assessing lines and assets before making a formal proposal for the $28,975 project, which the city accepted. Work began July 1, 2016 and was to end June 30, 2016 — but when June arrived the project was incomplete.
“We renegotiated the end date of the contract to Dec. 31, 2016,” Blanton explained. “Then they made their formal presentation to council in February of 2017, and then sent us this itemized sheet with the price two-and-a-half times what we had agreed on. But I was of the opinion that the COG assumed the risk of the project when they met with us in 2014, prior to submitting the proposal.”
He said the LRCOG believed it “may have” mentioned to Abernethy that they were over budget — but Abernethy, when asked about it, said no specific figures were mentioned and no one ever suggested such a large gap between the contract price and the one came across Blanton’s desk.
“Anything regarding a change in price should have been disclosed, discussed and renegotiated at the time we renegotiated the end date of the contract,” Blanton said. “We are very grateful for their hard work. We’re just not able to put the financial burden on the people of Hamlet because they misestimated after having two months to look at it.”
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673.