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Williamsport money woes require a fuller explanation

August 26, 2005

"No one did anything wrong, other than they didn't do their job."

So said Williamsport Mayor James G. McCleaf II this week, in reference to the latest bookkeeping problem to turn up in that Potomac River town. It is time for town officials to tell citizens all that happened and why.

The federal government is involved as a result of a complaint by Councilman Jeff Cline, who e-mailed the U.S. department of Housing and Urban Development about lax record-keeping in regard to a Community Development Block Grant issued to the town in 1986.

Much of that cash was used to improve Vermont Street, according to Donna Spickler, the former town clerk. The rest - about $183,000 - was put in a low-interest revolving loan fund.

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But instead of keeping that money in a separate account as required by HUD rules, it was apparently mixed in with the town's general fund, making keeping track of it difficult.

According to Cline, two weeks ago, HUD grant records were found along with other documents in the women's bathroom at City Hall.

If this were the only problem that had come to light in recent months, perhaps we could chalk it up to a one-time error. But this is just the latest in a series of problems.

In July, it was revealed that the town has been late in filing required audits with the Department of Legislative Services (DLS) every year from 1992 to 2002.

Those late filings put the town's charter at risk of being repealed and could also have disqualified the town for $370,00 in revenue and grant money.

In July, Cline also said that the town's deficit could balloon to $1 million in future years because the town loses $100,000 annually on trash collection and $80,000 a year on operations of the town pool.

As Mayor McCleaf said, there has been no suggestion of wrongdoing, no allegation that anyone profited from what Cline called the unprofessional manner in which town finances have been handled for some years.

If we were talking about well-meaning volunteers who didn't know what they were doing, this might be excusable. But during those years, people got paid to do jobs that weren't always done well. It's time for town officials to tell citizens what happened and why.

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