The plumbers cited a variety of reasons – insufficient pay, too much paperwork, and even protruding bellies – for their lack of interest in helping the city and water supply repair residents’ water pipes damaged by the winter storm.
City officials and Liberty Utilities agents have tried with little success in recruiting plumbers in the Pine Bluff area and beyond.
A United Way official in southeast Arkansas, who helps process and pay bills for plumbing work, said Thursday that the agency wrote a single check to a plumber and the bill was for repairs to two different homes.
Compare that to the roughly 360 people who initially ran out of water due to the bitter winter weather in February and the “over 100” people who were more recently released from Liberty to fix their plumbing with money donated by the utility company has been.
Two weeks ago, the utility donated $ 250,000 to United Way. The money was earmarked for repairs to residents’ water pipes that had cracked and burst from the cold. Liberty has said it would limit the cost of a single repair to $ 500, though the city’s economic and development department has announced that they could step in and make up the difference if a repair is more than $ 500 and the person is qualified for the department from housing and urban development funds that the department would use.
But despite direct calls to plumbers, social media posts, and newspaper ads asking for help, it appears that only one plumber has been involved so far. The owners of plumbing companies in Pine Bluff, as well as the plumbers themselves, said the reasons are varied.
Steve Cope, who owns Winsupply from Pine Bluff, a plumbing company on Midland Drive, said there are three different types of plumbers: those who work on new buildings, those who do commercial work. The ones you can call and they will come to fix something. The others, they don’t play with repairs. “
For those who do repair work, even if they don’t like crawling under a house, Cope said, adding that some are overweight, which makes working under the house difficult.
As he filled out an order and spoke, he pulled out his cell phone.
“I’ll just call a plumber now,” he said.
Then he punched in a number and was soon on the phone with a plumber who said he didn’t want to use his name. Cope asked if the city called him about the project, and the plumber said the city did.
“So are you just too crowded?” Cope asked the person. “I thought to myself.”
Cope hung up, then passed on what the plumber on the phone and others had said about Liberty’s repair project.
“You’re all too busy to bother with the extra paperwork,” said Cope. “A homeowner calls and a plumber goes out and does the job and gets paid and goes. He doesn’t have time for something that can take hours to figure out if he can get the job done.”
At that point, another plumber entered the Cope’s warehouse to pick up an order. The plumber works for another plumber so he didn’t want his name to be used. He said his boss had also been called but declined the extra work, adding that the plumbers did not want to be able to wonder when they would be paid.
“Here you are, a plumber, and you’ve done the job, and now you’re standing in the middle wondering when I’ll get my money?” He said, “and then we wasted half a day or a whole day . “
There was also the question of the $ 500 upper limit, which wasn’t nearly enough for complicated tasks.
“They’re going to ask for $ 250 just to crawl under a house,” said Cope, speaking to the plumber standing in front of him. “And then you won’t be able to do much more than a few patches for the other $ 250.”
The plumber agreed, saying $ 500 wouldn’t affect repair costs if there were a variety of water pipe breaks that could be behind walls or in the attic.
Across town at Jefferson Supply Co., another plumbing store on Plum Street, co-owner Danny Allen shared a similar story about why plumbers didn’t care about the extra work that Liberty was paying for.
Allen said there were good plumbers in Pine Bluff, but many were employed in Sheridan and Monticello, where houses are being built.
“It’s hard to get a plumber to do anything,” Allen said, adding that many are not interested in crawling under houses.
“Some would say, ‘My stomach is too fat. If I get up there I might not get out,'” Allen said with a laugh.
For those kinds of jobs, Allen said, a manageable person fits the bill.
“A lot of these jobs aren’t that difficult,” said Allen. “It’s not difficult to find a good handyman who can fix it and fix it properly.”
Most of all, it would be someone who can handle the rigors of working under a house that may be so low that it requires crawling on your stomach, he said.
“You have to find someone younger, someone who is willing to do it, who is hungry for this type of work.”
Lamont Davis, a Liberty representative, was asked earlier this week how many plumbers it would take to complete the repair project quickly. His answer was 25 or 30.
Everyone scoffed at the numbers.
“He’ll be lucky enough to find five through seven,” he said, adding that plumbers are hard to find no matter who needs them.
“I have a hard time finding one myself,” said Allen.