The Monticello City Council Tuesday night authorized newly-elected mayor Joe Rogers to get a cost estimate for an attorney and an engineer to represent the city in a $10 million water project under contract with Siemens but stopped short of authorizing the mayor to hire one.

The city last year contracted with Siemens Industry, Inc. to upgrade the city’s water system with new water meters and replace water lines in the “core” of the city where most of the city’s water leaks are located.

The city has already paid $7 million toward the cost but had to send Siemens back to the drawing board to re-engineer the project focusing on the “core” of the city. Apparently, the company was replacing water lines that did not need to be replaced.

Under the contract, the city is represented by an engineer recommended by Siemens but Rogers believes the city needs an independent engineer.

“My personal opinion is we need an engineer that represents the city of Monticello to oversee the project,” Rogers said.

Rogers said he hasn’t seen anything in writing showing which lines will be replaced. “They just have a list showing how many feet of pipe they’re going to do,” he said. “Is that correct, Tim?”

“You’re asking me things that I probably don’t know,” said Ward 4 alderman and former interim mayor Tim Chase.

Chase said Siemens was operating off of a project phase map and lost focus of what the city wanted. The city expected the company to focus on the core of the city where most of the water leaks are located, not in areas where there are no leaks.

The council recently instructed the company to report back to the city council this month with a re-engineered plan representing what the city hired it to do.

“I’m waiting to see the plan like everybody else,” Chase said.

“I still state that the city needs an engineer representing the city of Monticello to oversee the project,” Rogers said.

Ward 3 Alderman Joe Meeks told Rogers the city chose an engineer based on Siemens’ recommendation.

“Exactly,” Rogers said. “Siemens.”

The engineer, according to Meeks, represents both Siemens and the city.

“Then why has (the engineer) not been present at city meetings?” Rogers asked.

“I can’t answer that,” Meeks said.

“That’s why I say you need an engineer representing the city,” Rogers said.

“What are we looking at on cost?” Meeks asked.

“I can’t answer that until you give me permission to check into it,” Rogers said.

Meeks believes it is premature to hire an engineer since the city hasn’t yet seen the revised plan Siemens was instructed to provide the city.

“Even after we see what they say they’re going to do, do you not want an independent engineer telling you at the end of the project that they have done everything they said they were going to do?” Ward 4 Alderwoman Beverly Hudson asked.

“If we can afford to hire two engineers on a $10 million project it would be great,” Meeks said.

Responding to Hudson’s concerns that the engineer is associated with Siemens, Meeks said the engineer is licensed, bonded and paid to represent the city.

Ward 1 Alderman Cedric Leonard said the city needs to request a copy of the engineer’s specs.

“He ordered 45-feet of this and 25-feet of that and he had to know where he was going to put it,” Leonard said. “So it’s got to be in his engineering report. We need to request the engineering report and then have an engineer look at it and make sure if it says 25 feet is going on Gabbert Street then 25 feet goes on Gabbert…”

Meeks said the engineer started out engineering “phase 3” and basically got to $7 million and quit engineering the job.

“That’s when we went to them as a council and said, ‘We want you to engineer the core of the city’ and Siemens said, ‘We’ve got to take it back to the engineer and have him re-engineer it.’ That’s what they’re bringing to the meeting on the 26th,” Meeks explained.

“When he knew it was a $10 million project, how could he come up with $7 million in just phase three?” Hudson asked.

“My understanding — and this is based on opinion, 99 percent — is that they were replacing all of the water pipe that didn’t have a leak and didn’t need to be replaced,” Meeks said.

“Did the engineer know what he was doing?” Hudson asked. “Did he know it was a $10 million project and we wanted the core of the city done? That was the original discussion. Core of the city.”

Chase attributed the problem to miscommunication.

“Obviously, somewhere, the engineer got miscommunicated,” Chase said. “Somewhere, somebody got a lot of miscommunication going on.”

Andrea Chambers, manager of the city’s water department, told the city council that the Arkansas Municipal League could not believe the city did not hire an independent engineer for the project.

“This is the very thing they would have solved,” Chambers said. “If we had had an outside engineer they would have kept (the project) in the core of the city like the city council wanted and we wouldn’t have had the issue to begin with.”

Meeks said he is not opposed to getting an estimate on what an engineer would charge to oversee the project but believes it is premature to hire an engineer and an attorney.

“We just spent $7 million in one phase,” Leonard said.

“Why did the city spend $7 million up front for work that hasn’t been done?” Rogers asked.

“It was in the contract, that’s all I can say,” Meeks said.

“Y’all shouldn’t have allowed that to happen,” Rogers said.

“That’s true,” Hudson said. “We should not have. We did not ask the right questions.”

Chase, like Meeks, said he is not opposed to Rogers talking to an engineer and getting a cost estimate.

Chase also cautioned the council, “Let’s don’t make something bad before there is something bad.”

“But you do have to protect your interests,” Hudson said.

Chase agreed but said everything shouldn’t be painted “doom and gloom.”

“Are we doing that?” Hudson asked.

“Sometimes we do,” Chase said.

“Let me make something clear, if I might,” Hudson said. “If I sound like doom and gloom it’s not because I’m trying to create problems. I want the project to work like they sold it to us. But, when we hear out of Corey’s (Siemens representative) mouth that yes, he did say, it could cost $60 million to finish this project, and then we hear all these other rumors, do you all not think we need to be on this immediately, not wait until we’re halfway through it and say, ‘oh, we have a big problem, we didn’t protect the city in this’? So, I’m really sorry if I sound like doom and gloom but I think it’s very, very important.”

Siemens is scheduled to attend the August 26 city council meeting with re-engineered plans. Meanwhile, Rogers and Meeks will meet with another engineer to determine how much it would cost to review the plans and oversee the project for the city.