$58K Isaac payment questioned: Leaders say contractor failed to help homeowners seeking help

Published 12:11 am Saturday, July 23, 2016

(Editor’s note — Following publication of the story below, the Parish issued a statement: It was never the intention of the Administration to not pay Providence as suggested in the opening statement of the article. As of Thursday, July 28, 2016, Providence has been paid in full with the exception of $1.49, which is expected to be paid once the remaining funds are received from the State. The contract obligations were fulfilled and payment remitted accordingly.)

EDGARD — St. John Government is contemplating withholding tens of thousands of dollars from a contractor tasked with helping local homeowners rebuild following Hurricane Isaac.

The contractor, Providence Technical Services, was tasked with handling incoming applications from St. John the Baptist Parish homeowners whose homes were damaged in Hurricane Isaac in 2012.

As part of the program, St. John the Baptist Parish received $32,674,000 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to undertake home repairs and elevations parishwide. It was Providence’s job to accept applications from area residents to determine if they were qualified to receive grant-funded home repairs under the program.

The details and effectiveness of the contract were discussed at last week’s St. John the Baptist Parish Council meeting in Edgard.

Providence received 1,190 applications throughout the application period, nearly 600 more than were expected. Parish leaders said Providence was supposed to process and determine if applicants were eligible to receive grant funding to repair their homes.

However, the contractor that eventually undertook the repairs on area homes, Royal Engineers & Consultants, claims Providence failed to properly process several hundred of the applications.

As a result, Royal and parish employees said they had to correct the applications one by one.

St. John Council-woman at Large Jaclyn Hotard said local residents are paying twice if Providence is paid its contract requirements and the Parish also pays staff members to do the same thing.

Hotard said Parish administrators must determine if  Providence fully performed its duties to contract standards before turning over all documents to Royal and the Parish.

“I want to know before you make the payment because it is incumbent upon us as Council members,” Hotard said. “We enter into these contracts, where these are public dollars, and the last thing I want to know happened on my watch is that we had a contractor who didn’t perform.”

Providence is still owed a final payment of more than $58,000, and Hotard is leading a charge to withhold those funds if it is determined Providence failed to comply with its contract.

Parish President Natalie Robottom said the parish’s legal department is looking into the concerns.

“This is an embarrassment, and we will take care of this and get you a response,” Robottom said.

Scott Reddoch, of Royal Engineers & Consultants, said it is clear there are problems with Providence’s work.

“Our contract stipulates that we are going to do a 10 percent quality control check on everything we receive,” Reddoch said. “So, the first three quality control checks we started in February and March of 2016, there was 100 percent failure rate on 100 percent of the applications that we reviewed.”

Robottom promised Parish Council members she would convene her staff to determine if the Parish is able to recoup any of the funds.

“The bottom line is, I feel it is unacceptable,” Robottom said.

In addition, Robottom ordered her staff to complete the files after they were received by Royal to keep the process going, adding if the parish finds Providence did not perform up to contract standard, it will not be paid the $58,000 still owed.

“I think we were all frustrated, and my direction was get them fixed and move the program forward,” Robottom said. “That is what my staff, as well as Royal, did — get the files straight so people who were eligible could begin having their homes repaired.

“We are still withholding funds from Providence. Before they are released, we will make sure the work that was performed constitutes the payment. If the work wasn’t done, then the payment will not be made.”

— By Kyle Barnett