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HUD reviewing questions about Williamsport grant fund

August 25, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

WILLIAMSPORT

andrews@herald-mail.com

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development wants to know what happened to about $183,000 in grant money, most of which the town of Williamsport can't account for.

The review was prompted by a complaint from Councilman Jeff Cline, who e-mailed HUD's fraud hotline last month.

After Cline sent copies of financial records, Robert L. Ashworth, manager of the hotline, told Cline in a letter this month that HUD's Office of Inspector General has "opened a case" to look into questions about the money.

There have been no allegations of wrongdoing.

"Over the last 15 years, Williamsport has just been lax about doing business in a professional manner," Cline said.

"No one did anything wrong, other than they didn't do their job," Mayor James G. McCleaf II said.

The town's HUD fund has about $30,000 left in it, he said. Town officials suspect that HUD money has been mixed into the town's general fund.

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Between HUD, the town's accounting firm and the town attorney, "I'm real hopeful that we can recreate the whole thing," McCleaf said.

The HUD Office of Inspector General would not comment Wednesday on the Williamsport case.

HUD records show that the department gave Williamsport a $425,000 Community Development Block Grant in 1986.

Most of that money was used to improve Vermont Street, according to Donna K. Spickler, who was town clerk when HUD awarded the money.

The rest of the money - about $183,000 - has been used as a low-interest revolving-loan fund for people fixing up properties in town.

Spickler said Tuesday that HUD money is supposed to be kept in a separate account, which she did while she worked for the town. She left her town job in 2002, after 21 years, to become Hagerstown's city clerk.

John W. Slayman, who was mayor from 1985 to 2005, did not return a message left at his home Tuesday.

Ron Shifler of Teti & Carswell, the town's accounting firm, also did not return a call Tuesday.

Neither McCleaf nor Cline knew that the original grant was $425,000 or when the town received it until The Herald-Mail told them Tuesday. Cline immediately went to Town Hall to sift through meeting minutes for more information, which he found.

Cline said the HUD money confusion shows that the town's finances have been managed poorly.

He said it was stunning that some HUD grant records were found two weeks ago in a box in the women's bathroom at Town Hall with several boxes of other records.

"Williamsport went from Mayberry to Hazzard County," Cline said, referring to communities on the "The Andy Griffith Show" (Mayberry) and "The Dukes of Hazzard" (Hazzard County).

The town has filed late, and sometimes incomplete, financial audits to the state's Department of Legislative Services every year since fiscal 1992.

At one point, the department threatened to have the state comptroller's office stop the payment of "all funds, grants, or State aid" to Williamsport. But the town completed one audit and submitted another that was late, avoiding the penalty.

In July, at the town council's urging, McCleaf asked the state to review the town's finances for those 13 years, but the state declined, saying it's not staffed for that.

McCleaf recently vowed that audits would be filed on time during his administration.

But McCleaf said Tuesday there's "no way" the audit for fiscal year 2005 - which ended June 30 - will be filed by the state's November deadline. "And it's no fault of Teti & Carswell," he said. "If anything, they're bailing us out on this."

Cline said Teti & Carswell is "in a quagmire" trying to reconcile July 2004.

The town is paying the firm more money because of the extra work.

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