Officials want a break fTC $1.5M is owed on landfill


County officials will negotiate with a Baltimore contractor to reduce the $1.5 million the county owes for improperly authorized work at the Millersville landfill.

Sam Minnitte, an aide to County Executive Robert R. Neall, said yesterday that the contractor has agreed to discuss "what the county has to pay, what payments can be lengthed out over time and, frankly, what we don't have to pay."

Potts & Callahan Inc., which was hired in April to stem erosion problems at the landfill, has billed the county for nearly $2.5 million, way over the $957,000 limit set by its contract. County auditors discovered the cost overrun late last month and Utilities Director Thomas Neel ordered the contractor to stop work.

Dick Hine, an official with Potts & Callahan, said Friday that he was unaware of any cost overrun. "We were doing work under [county] direction," he said, declining further comment.

But Mr. Minnitte said county employees asked the contractor to do additional work after it had reached the contract ceiling.

One landfill employee has been fired as a result, Mr. Minnitte confirmed. Mr. Minnitte and other officials have declined to say who lost his job and what role he played.

Mr. Minnitte attributed much of the overrun to the emergency nature of the work. In an April 15 order, the Maryland Department of the Environment gave the county five months to bring the landfill into compliance with state environmental laws or it would be shut down.

In their haste to comply with the order, county officials never prepared a list of specific tasks to be performed. Instead, the county relied on the expertise of Ray Riggin, the county's chief sediment control inspector, whose division ordinarily monitors new home construction.

"What we had was a technician, an expert on sedimentation control, at the landfill rather than a project manager," Mr. Minnitte said. A professional project manager would have maintained a tighter control on costs, he said.

"Don't misunderstand me, Ray Riggin did a good job; he did everything we asked him to do," Mr. Minnitte said.

Mr. Riggin continues to provide expertise on the project, but Bruce Wile, the Utilities Department's chief engineer, will take over as project manager when work resumes. County officials say the remaining work will go out for competitive bid.

County officials hope the contractor will assume some responsibility since the contract contained clear limits on costs.

"I would have thought that a Potts & Callahan would have sufficient experience with government entities that they would have raised questions when they were asked to do work in excess of the contract," said Walter Chitwood, the county's comptroller and chief financial officer.

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