By Philip Moulden

Daily Journal

Tupelo has logged $1.1 million in costs for Ridgeway subdivision drainage and street work, about $400,000 over the amount budgeted for the entire job, city officials said Tuesday night.

But the job is only 40 percent done, Mayor Jack Marshall said.

The disclosure came following a 30-minute closed session of the City Council, which immediately authorized the city attorney to begin preparing the legal work necessary to recoup the losses from “the responsible parties.”

City attorney Guy Mitchell said an internal audit indicated a loss in excess of $500,000 due to overbillings or unauthorized work on the project.

He said more than one “party” was involved but declined to “speculate” on who might be objects of city legal actions. The city is still awaiting final results from an independent engineering study and a state audit investigator to verify the findings of the internal probe, Mitchell said.

The engineers’ report could be completed next week, but Mitchell said he wasn’t sure how long the state audit will take. Thus far, the findings of the investigators have been consistent, he said.

“Those that have willfully, intentionally and knowingly submitted invoices for work not properly bid or not properly classified” will be held accountable, Mitchell said.

Meanwhile, the mayor said the status of suspended Public Service Department Director Randy McMickin remains the same “as of right now.” McMickin was placed on administrative leave with pay March 28 after finance officials noticed the cost overruns.

An initial probe indicated that contractors had performed work for which no bids had been let or that had been let through bids awarded to other contractors. In at least one case, work was done which apparently wasn’t even in the project plans.

Mitchell said there is still no evidence that McMickin, or any city employee, profited from the project overruns. But he said the probe shows that at least some of the unscheduled work was authorized by a city employee, presumably McMickin.

Reached by telephone Tuesday night, McMickin declined comment on the audit’s findings, citing the ongoing investigation and a lack of knowledge of what the details were.

“I don’t think any comment would be proper at this time,” he said.

The city had budgeted $727,000 for the project, planning to do much of the work with city crews. About $304,000 of the total was to be paid through special assessments on subdivision residents’ properties.

Plans called for extensive drainage work, installing curbs and gutters, and rebuilding streets in the subdivision. If the entire job had gone out for bid, it would have cost about $1.2 million, the mayor said.

Work was halted when the financial discrepancies were discovered. City officials said they hope to restart the job by the end of this month. The completion target date is July 1.

In other action, the council voted its intent to issue $1.6 million in bonds to fund ball fields and other work at Ballard and Veterans Memorial parks. The council had authorized payments on the bonds in last September’s budget, but had never voted to issue the documents.

Council members also authorized the Parks and Recreation Department to use the old National Guard vehicle maintenance center off Joyner Avenue as a center for its grounds maintenance equipment and personnel. The facility will also be used for storage for the Public Service Department.

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