County signs off on CR 4

1STOCK NEMS Chickasaw Co HOUSOKOLONA – After a lawsuit, court costs and controversy the Chickasaw County Board of Supervisors signed off on work on County Road 4 last week.

Supervisors were approached by County Engineer Ed Springer at their regular board meeting Tuesday, June 24 with documents that will close out work that resurfaced 1.39 miles of County Road 4.

“This letter to State Aid says that a final inspection has been made,” said Springer. “Once they have this on file the project is closed.”

The project was District 2 Supervisor David Gene Walters’ first major road project. Walters is now Board President and signed off for the county at Tuesday’s board meeting that the project is officially complete.

The project rose to prominence after Ausbern Construction was awarded the contract and did the work, but had to sue Chickasaw County for cost over runs on the project. A Lafayette County jury ruled Ausbern Construction was due $570,293.60 in costs and damages in the suit that stretched over two years.

The jury’s verdict specified the county must pay Ausbern $387,793.60 in construction costs and damages. The jury also awarded Ausbern $182,500 in damages from Chickasaw County Engineer Ed Springer.

At the heart of the case was the payment for grading and resurfacing 1.39-miles of County Road 4. Ausbern’s bid of $396,566 for the work was accepted by the county and awarded on Nov. 23, 2010.

The suit filed by Ausbern Construction said the county breached its contract and Ausbern was owed not less than $220,000 in damages. Ausbern’s attorney said damages in the case could top $1 million.

Ausbern’s attorney’s also entered evidence the company failed to get $14.9 million in potential projects due to the unpaid bill’s impact on Ausbern’s bonding capacity.

Ausbern Construction is owned by the family of former Chickasaw County Board of Supervisors Attorney Elizabeth Ausbern. That circumstance prompted the county to hire the firm of Carnathan & McAuley, of Tupelo, to handle legal duties for the Board of Supervisors. Ausbern no longer serves as the board attorney.

The political nature of the case prompted the court to change the venue. Explaining the case involved the county, prominent elected officials, concerns of a tax increase and pre-trial publicity, Circuit Court Judge Andrew Howorth ruled in last fall the trial would be moved from Chickasaw to Lafayette county.

The trial began March 24 with the defense bringing a line of witnesses to the stand over two days. Aubern’s financial records, including tax returns, were discussed at length to show damages.

Chickasaw County’s attorneys and Springer’s attorneys repeatedly said they followed procedures established in the state’s “Green Book” for state-aid road projects. The defense said a supplemental agreement – similar to a change order — was necessary to pay for the excess work done by Ausbern and no such document was ever drawn up.

Ausbern’s attorneys said after the trial the supplemental agreement was never drawn up by Springer and the county never asked him to create one.

Springer admitted in court he figured the project incorrectly and felt Ausbern should have been paid for the work he did.

That hesitancy to resolve the bill was noted by Judge Howorth.

“I thought this case should have been settled a long time ago,” said Howorth in March 2013. “There seems to be some hard-headedness – I don’t know by who – but we need to move forward.”

Herbert said his client met with mediators in Greenwood and agreed to settle for damages of $220,000. Herbert said the county countered with an offer of about $30,000.

Ausbern Construction’s suit said Springer underestimated the amount of material needed to resurface the road, discovered Ausbern Construction put down 19,944-cubic yards of materials on a bid that specified 7,689-cubic yards and that Springer failed to notify state and local authorities of this change so Ausbern Construction could be paid accordingly.

A letter from State Aid District Engineer Joel S. Bridges dated Feb. 2, 2012 recommended payment for 17,700-cubic yards.

On a motion by District 5 Supervisor Russell King and a second by District 3 Supervisor Russell Brooks in January, the Chickasaw County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to hire Springer and approve his bond.

In other business:

• Springer said the county gets a little over $2 million in state aid money for road work every four years. Springer said that amount is figured using a formula created by the state and financed with gasoline tax revenues paid at the pump.

• County Road Manager Kenneth Funderburk said he inspected the bridge at Davis Lake recently and would be returning to the board with a recommendation for work needing to be done.

Funderburk said the bridge is structurally sound, but the surface is coming up due to deteriorating decking. Funderburk said the county would use forestry money to finance the work.

• The county also finished up debris removal following the June 12 storm that swept Northeast Chickasaw County. District 4 Supervisor Jerry Hall asked if the county could claim any damage to roads due to that tornado. Funderburk said we not sure if the county had a claim.

• Funderburk said the county is finishing up the first round of mowing this summer and has purchased a new pole saw to help trim overhanging limbs. Supervisors discussed purchasing a wood chipper to work with the pole saw.

“It is difficult to load a lot of loose branches on a trailer and then you have to haul it somewhere and dump it,” said Funderburk. “It would be better if we could shred those limbs on-site and be finished with it.”

 

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