Landfill costs go over limit Work stopped after audit

August 14, 1992|By Kris Antonelli and John Morris | Kris Antonelli and John Morris,Staff Writers

County officials have ordered a Baltimore contractor to stop work on environmental safeguards at the Millersville Landfill after receiving invoices for nearly $2 million in work that was not properly authorized.

Potts & Callahan Inc. was hired in April under an emergency contract to stem erosion problems at the 567-acre facility and to bring it into compliance with state law. Under the contract, the county agreed to pay the contractor up to $957,000 for its time and material.

But when that money ran out, employees with the county Department of Utilities, which operates the landfill, asked Potts & Callahan to do additional work without going through proper procedures, said department spokeswoman Jody Vollmar.

"Basically, our checks and balances failed," said Ms. Vollmar, whose department was brought in as a "trouble-shooter" in April to resolve numerous management and environmental problems at the landfill. "We didn't have good control over the contract."

Utilities and finance officials discovered the problem after an audit late last month and ordered work stopped July 31.

"This doesn't mean that Potts & Callahan did anything wrong," Ms. Vollmar said. "They've done excellent work."

The work was necessary to comply with an April 15 order from the state Department of the Environment, Ms. Vollmar said. The state cited the landfill for poor sediment control and other environmental infractions, directing the county to open an environmentally safe disposal area by mid-September.

"This would have been authorized anyway if the proper procedures had been followed," Ms. Vollmar said, adding that landfill fees will pay for the work. "We just didn't do the paperwork."

Citing laws protecting the privacy of employees, Ms. Vollmar declined to say who asked Potts & Callahan to do the additional work or if any department employees were reprimanded.

Ms. Vollmar said Bruce Wile, the department's chief engineer, will take over as project manager when work resumes. She would not say whom he is replacing.

Sam Minnitte, an aide to County Executive Robert R. Neall, said internal procedures in the Utilities Department and the purchasing office are being reviewed. "We're a government entity with specific laws on how we spend money," Mr. Minnitte said.

Other contractors objected last spring when the county hired Potts & Callahan, bypassing the normal competitive bidding process. County officials responded that Potts & Callahan is on a list of contractors the county calls upon when emergency work is needed.

Although additional erosion controls remain to be installed, Ms. Vollmar said, the emergency work has been completed. The remaining work will go to bid.

Mr. Neall transferred responsibility for the landfill from the Department of Public Works to the Utilities Department in April "to restore public faith" in the facility's management.

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