OKTIBBEHA COUNTY — Clyde Pritchard has agreed to stay on as a contracted Oktibbeha County engineer for another year while supervisors explore the option of hiring a full time in-house engineer.
The board previously voted Jan. 3 not to reinstate Pritchard into his position after some discussion about taking a different approach and potentially hiring an in-house engineer, but, after some discussion, voted Jan. 18 to restore Pritchard to his position. The county has been contracting with Pritchard and his firm, Pritchard Engineering, to manage all engineering projects throughout the county for more than a decade.
District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller, who was recently appointed as new board president, said she wants to see the county research hiring a full-time engineer as a county employee beginning in 2023 instead of continuing to outsource engineering services.
“We’re going to see what hiring an in-house county engineer looks like,” Miller said. “We’ve got so many things coming up that we really feel like that it will move us into a positive, new direction as a unit system.”
An in-house engineer would be a full-time county employee that would work solely on road and infrastructure projects for the county. While the engineer would have to work with outside contractors to execute the projects, the focus of the engineer would be entirely on the county, rather than an engineering company having to share its time with other clients.
Pritchard Engineering’s earnings vary widely from year to year based on the engineering workload the county takes on. In 2021 the county paid Pritchard and his firm more than $194,000, but for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, the county paid the company more than $800,000 for project management and engineering services. Miller said her research of in-house engineers at counties similar to Oktibbeha County revealed a typical salary of around $80,000 per year.
Pending projects in the country that needed more immediate engineering services were a major reason the board voted to retain Pritchard’s firm at least another year.
The county has several upcoming projects aside from just road improvements and replacements, such as addressing drainage issues and potentially demolishing one of the county’s older buildings. The board purchased a new building on Dec. 20 to house county offices, and Pritchard will need to make some structural changes and ensure the building is in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act before the building is ready for use.
“There’s so much you don’t think about, other than just roads, when you think about the needs that come from a county engineer,” Miller said.
With all of the approaching projects, board attorney Rob Roberson said he believes the best decision for the immediate future is to retain Pritchard and explore the possibility of hiring an in-house engineer next year.
“There are so many projects out there, we really need an engineer taken care of,” Roberson said.
“If we eventually go with an internal engineer, we need to have a more solid plan with what’s going on.”
Pritchard accepted the position last week.