State billing Como for missing water pipe
More than $4,000 in materials from grant program unaccounted for

Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

April 6, 2004 -- The state's Office of Rural and Community Affairs [ORCA] has sent a bill to the city of Como seeking to recover more than $4,000 in disallowed costs.

At the center of the issue is approximately 1,900 feet of pipe that was purchased as part of a Texas Department of Housing and Community's STEP [Small Towns Environment Program] grant of more than $110,000 awarded four years ago.

"We have identified potential disallowed costs of $4,191.40 for pipe," said Jill McFarren with the Office of Rural and Community Affairs in Austin. "We are currently in communication with the mayor to resolve the issue."

The grant application was written by Kathleen Seal with Raymond K. Vannt Associates. Calls to Ms. Seal were referred to Como Mayor Don Collins Tuesday morning.

Collins acknowledged receiving the demand notice from the state agency but said he did not know much about the disposition of the pipe.

"I have received a bill from the state. They are wanting us to pay for 1,900 feet of pipe that was never installed and is not here," Mayor Collins said. "I'm in process of finding out where it went, why it went and all that stuff. I don't know anything definite right now."

In a Dec. 22 meeting, Gene D. Brown Jr., former mayor of Como, told the Como City Council he had approval from the state to dispose of the pipe.

Brown said the pipe was given to a contractor in exchange for work done, and the pipe was taken to another community.

Mayor Collins said he had located a statement from Stan's Backhoe Service in Chandler for more than $1,700 worth of work on another project.

Stanley McCurley, owner of Stan's Backhoe Service, acknowledged his company did contract with Como for the project.

"We put in some pipe that was left over from another grant project or something up there, but we put it in for the city, you know," McCurley said. "I'll assure you we didn't do anything up there that we did not go through the mayor or the engineer."

The mayor said the additional work done was a bid item, the work was done and the contractor was to be paid the $1,700.

"[The contractor] took pipe instead of money," Collins said. "He estimated the cost at $1,700. I don't know that any money changed hands, but he took that pipe ... There is more pipe missing than that, and he took all the pipe we had."

The contractor said his company was involved in a project in Winnsboro about the same time work was being done in Como and also involved water pipe.

"We sure were, right at the same time," McCurley said. "We might have been trading some pipe, borrowing some pipe."

But McCurely also said he didn't believe the company would have used pipe from Como on the Winnsboro job.

"I don't think we would have done anything like that," he said.

Regardless of the amount of pipe, or its value, the state wants its money back.

"It ended up he got $4,100 worth," Collins said. "That is what the state is on my butt about. They have given me until April 15 to send them a check."

Jill McFarren said a number of options for resolving the problems will be explored with Como officials.

"It depends on what else is going on in the community, what is feasible for the community and for the state," she said. "We're bound by federal guidelines and we are audited every year, so we have to follow those guidelines."

The state agency said there was no firm time frame for recovering the money. She said the primary focus of her agency was to see that the community received the services specified in the grant application.

"Typically, our focus as a state agency is to make sure projects are completed and constituents receive the services that were identified under contract with our grants and such," McFarren said. "As long as we are moving forward in addressing any issues, we're content."

Mayor Collins said he anticipated the city would have to reimburse the state for the pipe, especially since the transaction had the blessings of then-Mayor Brown.

"It looks to me like we are going to have to pay for it," Mayor Collins said.

He also said it was a possibility the city of Como might seek criminal charges in connection with the missing pipe.

"I don't see any other alternative if we have to pay for this," he said. "Apparently [Mayor Brown] didn't have council approval to do this and said he had permission from the state and he did not."

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