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Town's finances in a fix

February 14, 2006|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

tiffanya@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSPORT - The town of Williamsport's deficit has risen to about $560,000, more than twice what town officials knew of nine months ago.

An audit report presented at Monday's town council meeting revealed a $300,000 deficit in the town's fiscal year 2005 general-fund budget.

Last summer, auditors announced a $260,000 shortfall in the town's general-fund budget in 2004.

The town's repeated use of the general fund to make up for shortcomings in other budgets caused the half-million dollar shortage, said accountant Ron Shifler, an auditor with Teti & Carswell, the accounting firm now reviewing the town's finances.

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"We've enjoyed money that we probably should not have been using," Shifler said.

As a result, Williamsport residents could see their current trash fees double. They already are paying 5 percent more in sewer and water fees.

Mayor James McCleaf suggested raising the trash collection rate to $30 a quarter, which he said would save the town $20,000 this fiscal year and $70,000 next year.

While most council members opposed doubling the current $15 trash fee, they agreed that taxpayers would end up bearing some of the costs.

They will likely vote on the matter at their next regular meeting.

Departments were already asked to cut budgets by 30 percent after the 2004 deficit was announced, according to published reports.

Shifler said it would take more than increased fees and budget cuts to fix the problem.

"It's not good news, folks," Shifler said before presenting the preliminary findings.

McCleaf said the town, already eight months into the current fiscal year, is running dangerously low on funds.

"I had no idea we were that far in the hole," McCleaf said.

McCleaf, elected in March 2005, said bookkeeping was not done properly in fiscal years 2004 and 2005. The town hired an accountant in Sept. 2005, though the mayor still acts as the town's chief financial officer, McCleaf said.

The mayor said a loss in tax revenue from Allegheny Energy played a key role that year. According to published reports, Allegheny Energy paid the town $90,000 - $110,000 less than in the past.

Williamsport also faces other financial issues:

  • The town was late in filing audits to the state for 10 consecutive years.

  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is looking into a $183,000 grant, most of which was unaccounted for.

  • The town will also have to replace its four out-of-date water pumping stations, which could cost about $4 million to $5 million, said Councilman Jeff Cline.
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