Bell says city was 'gouged' by contractor Lawyer's review finds Temp-Air overcharged for building repairs

August 27, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

A rip-off.

That's how Baltimore City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III described yesterday a $3 million city heating, ventilation and air-conditioning bill.

He offered his assessment after an attorney hired by the city to independently review a 3-year-old contract issued a report yesterday accusing Temp-Air Inc. of Baltimore of intentionally overcharging the city for repairs to city buildings.

As a result of the report from Baltimore attorney Howard G. Goldberg, the five-member Board of Estimates unanimously voted yesterday to sever its pact with the Reisterstown Road company.

Temp-Air, which denied any wrongdoing yesterday, told city leaders in 1995 that it would employ apprentice help for repairs and bill the city $1 an hour. Instead, the company used laborers at $20 to $42 an hour, resulting in the city paying $133,000 more than expected, Goldberg's report showed.

Goldberg also said that Temp-Air profited from the city on work that it hired subcontractors to perform. In total, city officials accuse Temp-Air of overcharging the city $408,000.

"This was an obvious attempt to price gouge and rip the city off," board chairman Bell said of the charges.

Temp-Air attorney Robert F. Dashiell disputed the report, saying city officials approved all work and billing. Goldberg found that city officials approved extra billing only for unbid asphalt and pumping work performed by Temp-Air that was not specified in the contract.

"I'm submitting that Temp-Air is not the bad guy, that there is joint responsibility," Dashiell told the board.

Bell suggested that the city contact the state's attorney's office to explore possible criminal wrongdoing in the contract, including whether city workers colluded with the contractor. The board did not decide on that.

The contractual problems are the latest facing the city's Public Works Department, which has been under FBI investigation over the past two years for contract irregularities surrounding Quarantine Landfill, where Temp-Air also did work.

Public Works Director George G. Balog defended his department yesterday, challenging Temp-Air claims that the city endorsed the substitution of laborers for apprentices and related costs. Balog said he opposed the Temp-Air contract from the outset.

"We didn't agree with the markups," Balog said. "And I think it's unfair to come back and point the finger."

Goldberg's review was launched after city auditors in Comptroller Joan M. Pratt's office looked into the Temp-Air xTC contract last year. The company had charged the city $424,000 to remove liquid waste from the landfill, about $100,000 more than a bid on the city received from another company.

Temp-Air also hired outside companies to handle the asphalt paving after it worked on underground storage tanks at the city's Central Garage, rather than bid the two phases of the project separately.

Public Works officials acknowledged that Temp-Air conducted much of the work on an emergency basis. The landfill work was required because the Maryland Department of the Environment set a deadline for the city, and Temp-Air had the pumps.

"I'm not suggesting that this wasn't a mess, because it was a mess," Dashiell said of the contract. "But Temp-Air did not become a construction firm overnight. The city elected [to use this contract] because it was the only source of funds available at the time."

Dashiell intends to submit a written response to Goldberg's report. Meanwhile, the Board of Estimates authorized city auditors to begin documenting the amount the city should recoup.

Pub Date: 8/27/98

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