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Accountant points to unapproved contracts at landfill
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The landfill has been a financial burden on Newton County for years, especially since a leachate spill in 2015 caused millions of dollars in damage.

Muddying the financial waters, according to an accounting analysis by David Sawyer, are payments to Eco Tech and Eco South, businesses related to former county attorney Tommy Craig, emergency services performed by Harbin Engineering and changes in the trash collection convenience center operations contract with Junior Hilliard General Services.

In his report, Sawyer explained that Eco Tech and related company Eco South, both which had contracts at the landfill, have an “interlocking directorship with apparent relations to the then county attorney.” Craig signed Eco South’s original articles of incorporation in Jan. 15, 1992 as the Incorporator. Craig also was listed as a member of the initial board of directors and is on the name reservation certificate for Eco-South, filed with the Georgia Secretary of State on Dec. 5, 1991.

Eco Tech billed the landfill for services in advance of any evidence of approval by the board of commissioners (BOC), Sawyer said. Eco South was paid $112,223.89 from fiscal year 2006 through 2014 and Eco Tech had a proposed cost of $15,400 in an invoice dated Feb. 22, 2016.

Sawyer said each invoice rendered to Eco Tech before Nov. 17 was signed by Newton County Chair Keith Ellis.

Ellis said he signed the checks as a fulfillment of the contract the company had with the county.

“We have contracts, and when they complete a phase of what they’re doing they send an invoice in and my signature acknowledges the fact someone had said this much of contact has been satisfied,” Ellis said. “From that invoice being signed, checks are issued and then the board ratifies those when it approves the finance report, or does not approve the finance report.”

Sawyer’s report recommended that further inquiry be made concerning Craig’s relationship with Eco South and Eco Tech.
The BOC is no longer using Eco South or Eco Tech at the landfill, nor Craig as an attorney.

Another contractor mentioned by Sawyer who the county will soon be no longer using is Junior Hilliard General Services. Last month the BOC voted not to activate another year on Hilliard’s contract, and will let it expire in February.

Sawyer cited four overruns of Hilliard’s contract, one of which wasn’t approved and two more which were approved for less than the actual increase.

“The cumulative amount of the unapproved amounts invoiced from February 5, 2013 through June 30, 2106 is $90,972.09,” Sawyer’s report said.

In referencing Harbin Engineering, Sawyer pointed out that of the 13 invoices for emergency response activities from Oct. 23, 2015 through June 30, 2016 totaling $668,507.25, 44.9 percent of that were bills for subcontractors paid through Harbin Engineering.

“Three of those subcontractors,” Sawyer’s report said, “were established vendors with which the county had paid directly in previous years.”

Along with the funds to pay those subcontractors, Harbin Engineering also charged the county a 15 percent surcharge “to process paperwork from subcontractors,” Sawyer reported.

That practice has since ceased with a change made by the BOC in February.

“If there is going to be an administrative fee charged by a subcontractor, we’re setting up to have the subcontractor bill directly,” Newton County Manager Lloyd Kerr said.

County officials have said several steps have been taken to correct the items pointed out in Sawyer’s report.

“A lot of what was under solid waste (in the report) is Eco Tech and Eco South and we’re not dealing with them; and Hilliard, we’re not dealing with them,” District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz said. “We go through a much more stringent process in how we interview vendors.”

Schulz, who is also a member of the recently formed Solid Waste Authority, said that authority is in the process of hiring its own attorney, ending a conflict of interest such as the county had with Craig being a part of Echo Tech and Echo South, according to Sawyer’s report.