Williamsport, Pa. — Thursday night's Williamsport City Council meeting was heated at times as Williamsport continues to struggle with financial issues stemming from the former administration's 2019 and 2020 budgets.
Some of the tension last night centered around the scoreboard project at Bowman Field. The city has yet to sign off on the project because it is unwilling to use American Rescue Plan funds to foot the bill.
Williamsport received a $600,000 grant with part of that money being budgeted for the scoreboard.
Mayor Derek Slaughter, who wants the project finished, has argued the city cannot appropriate grant funding for the project until a state and federal investigation into city finances is completed.
“When I took over in 2020 as mayor, I uncovered numerous discrepancies related to the finances of the city,” Slaughter said. “We have been under an Attorney General’s investigation for well over a year and a half now. Having said that, I cannot confidently say what is in each of the financial accounts of the city until we have the 2019 audit and the 2020 audit that will give us a baseline into what’s in each account. Until then, my hands are tied.”
Williamsport City Council made a motion to amend that in two weeks, to revisit the funding issue for a scoreboard and foundation project at Bowman Field. The motion passed, but the issue of using ARPA (American Rescue Plan Allocation) money is still very real.
Several members of council, including Liz Miele and Adam Yoder, both members of the finance committee, expressed concern over where the money would ultimately come from.
“We passed this with the caveat we can’t use Rescue Plan money,” Yoder said. “The administration had multiple months to come up with the money. My concern is using Rescue Plan money for projects that have been in progress and need funding, with or without the availability of Rescue Plan money.”
City Council once again felt the administration expected them to come up with funds for a project in Williamsport.
“When we go over the budget, I don’t even know what money we are working with,” Slaughter said. “I take great offense to that with everybody on this call knowing what we have been dealing with related to the finances.”
Miele and Slaughter exchanged heated words over the scoreboard funding.
“The administration has known since May it was going to need to fund the foundation for Bowman Field,” Miele said. “The administration has not found the funding. I expected when the item came, we would have a source for the funds.”
Williamsport has financial issues that run deep, according to Slaughter. This, he said, makes it difficult to come up with funding for projects that had already been given the go-ahead before he took office. The results of this very real investigation could reveal that the city owes money, which makes Slaughter hesitant to spend any on the project.
City Engineer Jon Sander informed the council the scoreboard project at Bowman Field is set to start on Sept. 13.
“There are so many times when things come to us like this and it’s always a time crunch,” Councilwoman Bonnie Katz said. “It really is a shame everybody is put into this position.”
Sander argued he alerted the city several times since May but has not received any updates for funding.
“I did bring two viable options to you,” Sander said about the scoreboard deal.
“You brought one non-viable option and one potential option,” Miele said in response. “All we’re waiting to do is see if the potential option can be ironed out.”
The project was eventually given the go ahead, but Council stressed the importance of locating funding outside of the Rescue Plan funds.
Both sides seemed to calm down after the initial spark, which allowed the project to pass, but with the guarantee different avenues of income would be investigated before the next meeting in two weeks.
“We want the administration to be aware that we feel they should be more responsible looking for things, not us,” Katz said. “We should not have to go looking.”