Tupelo’s City Council voted Monday to transfer $521,000 from t

Tupelo’s City Council voted Monday to transfer $521,000 from the city’s reserve fund to cover costs of completing Ridgeway subdivision drainage and street work.

The funds should cover huge overruns that put the project on hold and led to the dismissal of the Public Service Department’s director earlier this month.

Pipes lie scattered along the roadway and yards, ditches remain open, planned curbs and gutters are still undone, and some streets are a mixture of gravel and dirt.

“We decided we needed to go ahead and get it done. You can’t leave the people out there in that mess,” City Council President James Williams said of the specially called council session. “It’s starting to get summer … and it’s going to get dusty out there.”

But city officials, who earlier this month set a completion target of July 1, now say it should be finished “by August.”

“It may be sooner,” city Chief Operations Officer Joe Benefield, who has been assigned to oversee the Ridgeway project, said. “Depending on the weather, or what we run into when we get started … you can’t tell.”

Based on independent engineering reports, the Public Service Department budget revision adds $377,850 for materials, $100,940 for additional labor, $35,005 for new engineering services, and $8,060 for supplies to finish the Ridgeway work.

All the construction work will be done by city crews with city equipment. Officials estimated the additional work would cost $715,193 if put out for bid to private contractors.

The project originally carried a $727,000 price tag.

But city financial officers noticed in late March that project invoices had soared over budget. In early April, Mayor Jack Marshall said the city had logged invoices totaling $1.1 million while only 40 percent of the project was complete.

City Council authorized city attorney Guy Mitchell to try to recover the overruns from the “responsible parties” but no legal action has been taken and some city officials doubt much of the costs can be recouped.

Marshall said last week an internal audit, still to be completed, showed former Public Service Director Randy McMickin directed a contractor to perform work for which no contract had been let. Some work done at Ridgeway was not even on project plans and would have to be removed, the mayor said.

Marshall, who suspended McMickin March 28, fired him on April 22, citing “inefficient management.” McMickin was responsible for the project and therefore for the overruns, the mayor said.

McMickin has been mum since his suspension, although a statement released last week through his attorney contended he was being made a “political scapegoat.”

The council Monday also voted to assess Old Town Estates subdivision residents $325,000 to pay for a similar drainage and street project.

Old Town Estates was on the project list, but Williams said the council wanted to speed the work to clear up street problems left from a sewer line project in the subdivision. City officials met with Old Town residents last week to advise them of project costs and a majority of property owners backed the plan, he said.

The council also ordered the completion this year of a similar project in the Stonebridge subdivision and a much smaller project on Crabapple Drive. The budget already had funds set aside for those projects, city Finance Director Lynn Norris said.

Under the special assessment programs, the city covers part of the cost through its general fund and subdivision residents cover the rest through special taxes on their properties.

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