County questions $73K bill for repairs to jail plumbing


By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian

At a specially convened meeting Thursday morning, Clark County officials unanimously gave their consent to proceed with paying a bill totaling $73,477 for a five-week plumbing job at the county jail.

Arkadelphia-based Bonner Plumbing Contractors Inc. carried out the work.

The Quorum Court approved the funds last week, but District Judge Troy Tucker had questions about the bill before he would sign a check to pay the bill. Tucker insisted he wasn’t questioning the quality of the work, but some of the charges — notably a $15,000 charge for using a jackhammer and air compressor.

Bonner Plumbing Supervisor Steve Smith spoke on behalf of owner Pete Bonner who was unable to attend the session due to a family medical emergency. Smith answered questions from Tucker and several justices of the peace, while Tucker challenged each line of the bill.

The company charged $40,680 in labor at an hourly rate of $120 for 339 hours. During questioning, the judges learned that the two-man crew typically consists of a journeyman and an apprentice, and that the rate does not necessarily reflect each employee being paid $60 an hour. Prisoners reportedly volunteered for some of the work and were compensated with a lunch paid for by Bonner. The company carries a one-year warranty on the labor, Smith said.

Using the jackhammer for 40 hours at a cost of $175/hour totals $7,000. The air compressor and other pneumatic tools used to operate it cost a total of $8,000 at an hourly rate of $200 for 40 hours. Tucker challenged those allegations and said he has since received estimates from a North Little Rock rental company that touted $877 for 40 hours for renting a jackhammer and air compressor, both similar in size to the one used for the prison project was used. Tucker said he also found a second estimate with similar rates.

Smith argued that rental companies charge daily, weekly, or monthly rates and that the 40 hours Tucker received an estimate for was a weekly rate; Bonner Plumbing used the air compressor for five weeks. Still, the landlord’s five-week weekly rates for both the jackhammer and air compressor would have been $4,385. Smith said he cannot be held responsible for other companies’ rates. “I can’t speak to what they’re asking for,” Smith said. He added Bonner did not charge the county for the 16 hours the air compressor was used to run a sandblaster. “I’m glad you didn’t,” Tucker replied. Sandblaster usage totaled $2,400.

Other costs included using a concrete saw, 15 hours at a rate of $200 for a total of $3,000; a camera inspection, three times at a cost of $250 for a total of $750; a one-time use of an excavator for a total of $600; and $7,080 in parts.

Tucker also criticized the cost of the concrete.

The bill includes a $3,967 fee for the new concrete poured over the plumbing. Bonner hired Smith’s Ready Mix to do the concrete work. Tucker produced a separate bill he received from Smith’s that reflected a total of $2,433. “Why were we charged an extra $1,500 for concrete that went to jail?” Tucker said. Smith’s response was that it might have been markup; It was pointed out that he is not responsible for invoicing. (Ed: After the meeting, Smith discovered that there was a second bill from Smith’s Ready Mix that hadn’t been sent to the district judge’s office. That second bill, he said, made up the difference.)

The current job at the prison was an extension of a 2015 job that cost $67,410. Smith said that given inflation since then, he’s surprised the job didn’t cost more. He gave several examples of sanitary materials that have risen sharply in price since the pandemic. Smith also said that Bonner charged $10 an hour less for the work compared to the 2023 job and that the company has never billed the county for overtime, even when called in for repairs at unusual times of night.

At the request of Judge Jenna Scott and a second from BJ Johns, the court voted 9-0 to continue paying Bonner.