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County OKs payment for generator
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A longstanding issue for Effingham County commissioners has been resolved, after commissioners voted to pay a bill due for a generator installed by a fellow commissioner’s company.

In a 3-1 vote earlier this month, the board opted to remit payment of $49,476.86 to DM Jones Construction for a generator installed at the Buckingham Plantation development in 2006. Commissioner Steve Mason voted against the payment and Commissioner Vera Jones, an officer of DM Jones Construction, recused herself from the discussion.

“I believe this issue has been a nightmare for the last seven-eight years,” said attorney Steven Scheer, who has been representing Jones. “This is a reimbursement of monies that were advanced by DM Jones Construction. This particular item is for a generator the county took title to in 2010.”

A county policy calling for the review of contracts at year’s end brought the topic back before the board. The annual contract review was part of the corrective actions stemming from the 2013 county audit.

County finance director Joanna Wright said the staff did not wish to make an interpretation of the contract’s clauses.

“We are seeking the board’s direction regarding this issue,” she said.

Wright said the county’s financial statements reflect that it has taken in $49,476.86 in impact fees.

Jon Hart, county attorney for Chatham County, had been retained to determine if Effingham County owed DM Jones Construction for the generator. He determined the money was due the company, but it was up to the commissioners when to pay that bill from the October 2006 contract.

In 2012, commissioners chose to move forward on the issue but withhold paying the bill until the county had developed a process to handle this issue and similar outstanding and unresolved matters.

The county paid the company more than $739,000 for water and sewer lines installed for South Effingham Plantation. Scheer represented Jones earlier this year during challenges to her candidacy centered around those payments.

Mason, whose term in office is ending, voted against remitting the payment to DM Jones Construction.

“Due is the key word in all of this,” he said. “I believe Mr. Hart came in and said that this is a debt that is owed but is not due. The total amount there was a prepayment that credited this account.

“In my interpretation, there is still about $600,000 that is still in the balance in the credit for prepakment on the contract. This 49 was part of this contract. While I believe it is a debt that is owed, as Mr. Hart said, it is not a debt that is due.”

Chairman Wendall Kessler said the amount to be paid to the Joneses essentially would be buying out that contract. Mason countered that the county has not paid $600,000 for other such contracts, but Wright said the county has bought out that much in fire contracts. She added the original payment for the South Bend development was comparable.

Scheer urged commissioners to remit payment to the Joneses.

“It is basically money they loaned to Effingham County,” he said. “There is no due date. But six to seven years is long enough. This has been a sad chapter in my client’s life, and we need to put it to a rest.”