City & County

County questions $73K bill for repairs to jail plumbing

By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian

In a special-called meeting Thursday morning, Clark County elected officials gave unanimous approval to proceed with paying an invoice totaling $73,477 for a five-week plumbing job at the county jail.

The Arkadelphia-based Bonner Plumbing Contractors Inc. performed the work.

The Quorum Court last week appropriated the funds, but county Judge Troy Tucker had questions about the invoice before he would sign a check to pay the bill. Tucker was adamant that he wasn’t questioning the quality of the work but rather some of the charges — particularly a $15,000 charge for the use of a jackhammer and air compressor.

Steve Smith, supervisor for Bonner Plumbing, spoke on the behalf of owner Pete Bonner, who was unable to attend the meeting due to a family medical emergency. Smith fielded questions from Tucker and several justices of the peace as Tucker questioned each line item from the invoice.

The company charged $40,680 in labor, at a rate of $120/hour for 339 hours. During questions, justices learned that a journeyman and an apprentice typically comprise the two-man crew, and that the rate doesn’t necessarily reflect that each employee was paid $60/hour. Prisoners reportedly volunteered for some of the work and were compensated with lunch paid for by Bonner. The company carries a one-year warranty on labor, Smith said.

The 40 hours of jackhammer usage at a rate of $175/hour cost a total of $7,000. The air compressor used to power it and other air tools cost a total of $8,000, with an hourly rate of $200 for 40 hours. Tucker questioned these charges, saying he had since gotten estimates from a North Little Rock rental company that quoted $877 for 40 hours to rent a jackhammer and air compressor both similar in size to what was used for the jail project. Tucker said he also found a second estimate with similar rates.

Smith argued that rental companies charge daily, weekly or monthly rates, and that the 40 hours Tucker got an estimate for would be a weekly rate; Bonner Plumbing used the air compressor for five weeks. Still, the rental company’s weekly rates would have totaled $4,385 for five weeks for both the jackhammer and air compressor. Smith said he couldn’t be held responsible for other company’s rates. “I can’t speak to what they charge,” Smith said. He added Bonner didn’t charge the county for the 16 hours the air compressor was used to operate a sandblaster. “I’m glad you didn’t,” Tucker replied. The sandblaster usage totaled $2,400.

Other costs were use of a concrete saw, 15 hours at a rate of $200 for a total of $3,000; a camera inspection, three times at a rate of $250 for a total of $750; a one-time use of an excavator for $600 total; and $7,080 in parts.

Tucker also took issue with the cost of the concrete.

The invoice reflects a charge of $3,967 for the new concrete poured on top of the plumbing work. Bonner hired Smith’s Ready Mix for the concrete work. Tucker provided a separate invoice he had gotten from Smith’s reflecting a total of $2,433. “Why were we billed an additional $1,500 for concrete that came to the jail?” Tucker said. Smith’s answer was that it could have been markup; it was noted that he isn’t responsible for billing. (Ed: After the meeting, Smith discovered there was a second invoice from Smith’s Ready Mix that had not been sent to the county judge’s office. That second bill, he said, made up for the difference.)

The current work at the jail was an extension of a 2015 job that cost $67,410. Smith said that, given inflation since then, he was surprised that this job didn’t cost more. He gave several examples of plumbing materials that have greatly increased in price since the pandemic. Smith also said that Bonner charged $10/hour less for labor compared to the 2023 job, and that the company has never charged the county for overtime, even when called out at odd hours of the night to make repairs.

At the motion of Justice Jenna Scott and a second from B.J. Johns, the court voted 9-0 to continue payment to Bonner.