Action Report: Questions over bid awarded by Jackson County Utility Authority

Action Report: Questions over bid awarded by Jackson County Utility Authority

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Gautier city leaders and the owner of Apple Construction in Gulfport are not happy with the Jackson County Utility Authority.

About six month ago, the city received a rate increase of 19.5% from the utility authority and had to pass it along to its citizens.

WLOX has learned that a bid to refurbish a lift station in Gautier was awarded to a company in Jackson, a bid that was much higher than the lowest bidder.

The larger sum means the citizens of Gautier will most likely have to pay the additional fee.

John Boothby is the owner of Apple Construction, a company that is licensed by the state of Mississippi in municipal and public works contracting. The company has an A-plus rating by the Better Business Bureau.

Boothby said, "We've been in business since 1989. We've had a state license to do this type of work since 1994 and we've completed 100% of our projects without exception."

In October, Boothby says his company submitted a bid on a rehabilitation project on Pump Station #15 in Gautier.

"When we turned in the bid to the Jackson County Utility Authority, we supplied a bond that in the event of our first-ever default, they would have been covered by our insurance company," stated Boothby.

Five bids were submitted and reviewed by the Pickering Engineering Firm in Flowood, Mississippi. That's the company the utility authority hired to review the bids.

Apple Construction of Gulfport submitted  the lowest bid of $530,681.00. Hemphill of Flowood turned in a bid of $579,200,00.

WLOX contacted Jackson County Utility Authority Executive Director Tommy Fairfield. He told us the engineering firm, Pickering, made the final decision in selecting the contractor.

Pickering engineer Gregory Brown emailed WLOX a letter that was delivered to the Jackson County Utility Authority in December. It stated that Apple Construction was the low bidder and Pickering requested additional information.

The letter goes on to say, "Apple Construction responded in a timely manner to all requests for information." It stated, "After reviewing the responses, Apple Construction offered no project experience similar to the scope of work for this project," although it says, "Employees of Apple Construction did offer related experience."

In the end, Brown recommended that the bid for the pump station project be awarded to Hemphill Construction.

Boothby wants to know why the Jackson County Utility Authority would reject Apple's bid, knowing that his company does have experience and it was the lower bid.

Boothby said, "I don't see how they can raise rates to all the different citizens of Jackson County and than justify paying an additional $50,000 just to get one lift station repaired."

Gautier Mayor Gordon Gollott and some other city leaders in Jackson County aren't happy with the Jackson County Utility Authority and they want a thorough investigation. They are hoping House Bill 74 will pass in the state legislature, calling for a special investigative study into the operations of the Jackson County Utility Authority.

Gollott said, "That would create a task force, an investigative committee which includes local officials, members of their organization and also local legislators to review the entire process of what's going on with the Utility Authority."

Gollott wants everything out in the open.

"There's really no transparency in the day-to-day operations of what they're doing, "said Mayor Gollott.

Jackson County Utility Authority attorney Jimmy Heidelberg says all cities in Jackson County have a representative on the Authority that meets twice a month and every project is reviewed and financial reports are submitted.

Meanwhile, the city of Pascagoula has awarded Apple Construction a $2.1 million drainage project.

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