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SPLOST management firm vacates the county

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

After months of payment disputes, CH2M HILL, the contracting firm tasked with managing all transportation projects for the 2003 Special Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), vacated the county on Wednesday.

The company, which has managed the lion's share of a $240 million SPLOST since 2004, contends it has not been paid for its services.

At noon on Wednesday, after coming to a stalemate with the county on a payment schedule for completed transportation projects, CH2M HILL packed up its Jonesboro office. Daveitta Jenkins, SPLOST project manager for CH2M HILL, issued a press statement on Wednesday evening, on behalf the company.

"We have, in good faith, been working on the SPLOST Program for the county's Transportation and Development Department without payment since September, when we were asked to submit an adjusted proposal for coordination of right of way acquisition services," the statement read. "Because the county had not paid invoices for services rendered; reviewed or acted upon our proposal; and moved to take action to approve or fund our program management work for 2009, we were forced to notify the county that CH2M HILL would have no other option than to consider this non-action by the county a default under the Transportation Program Management Agreement and immediately start the process of demobilizing our staff from the program."

The current, five-year SPLOST, which began on Jan. 1 2004, anticipated $240 million in revenue, $200 million of which was allotted to transportation and development projects around the county.

Since last year, the company has been at odds with the board of commissioners, as some of its members objected to the company being paid for unfinished projects.

On July 1 2008, the board narrowly avoided a vote to stop all payments to CH2M HILL. Commissioner Wole Ralph questioned whether the county was overpaying the company for its services, and made a motion to stop payments to the company until the issue is resolved.

BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell broke a tie on the board, and passed a motion to hold the matter for 60 days, in order to give the county's lawyers, and CH2M HILL, time to sort out differences.

Those differences were never resolved, however, according to Bell.

"They [CH2M HILL] indicated clearly that we were paying them for work that they had not done," he said. "They had actually collected money for projects they had not yet completed. That was an agreement by the previous council. At the end of the contract, we were supposed to come out even.

"There was a disagreement over the scheduled work and payment to be exact," Bell continued. "I have now turned that over to our attorneys to examine all the issues related to CH2M HILL's contract with the county."

On Wednesday, Ralph, who raised the issue of payment to CH2M HILL over a year ago, said he had not been briefed on the company's departure by the county's legal council. He said he would speak to the matter when he had more information.

While collections for the 2003 SPLOST are expected to end this year, several SPLOST projects have yet to be completed, according to Bell. He said "none of our projects" will be impacted by CH2M HILL's departure.

"We expect to finish all of the projects and I've raised that question with Transportation and Development," said Bell. "They have indicated that they can clearly manage those projects."