Council extends consulting firm amid fair queries

Williamsport City Council has approved a contract with Penn Strategies to work on economic development projects for the city for the next two years.

The contract will pay a maximum $200,000 to the firm, a $50,000 pay hike for them.

Given that the city of Williamsport is operating this year with a $2 million deficit-spending budget – a practice that cannot continue – new Councilman Derek Slaughter wanted more proof that the firm had brought “deliverables” to the city through its previous contract.

That did not please Jason Fitzgerald, a city resident and president of the Harrisburg-based firm. He said afterward that the councilman had put on “a show,” emphasizing that he was not approached and questioned beforehand.

Fitzgerald’s firm is charged with many tasks regarding economic development in the coming two years, some of them more quantifiable than others.

The consulting firm is going to try to seek up to $5 million, primarily for costs associated with recertification of the local levee, priced at $10 million in repairs.

Mayor Gabriel J. Campana said Penn Strategies has delivered “millions” of dollars and has the connections to continue to deliver more.

That may all be true.

But given what’s at stake for the city, the needs involved and the price tag attached to them, we see nothing improper with Councilman Slaughter asking a lot of questions.

Frankly, that’s the job of a councilman.

And we don’t think there’s a requirement that the questions be screened before the public meeting.

Councilman Slaughter cast the lone “no” vote on the Penn Strategies contract, which is a professional service.

We certainly hope the firm is successful in delivering grants and other financial packages to the city that are expected with a six-figure contract.

And we understand the need for consultants to help do the city’s bidding on financial packages that involves state and federal money.

Like most cities its size, Williamsport cannot afford the in-office personnel to specialize in such things.

There just isn’t room in the General Fund for a position such as that.

And instead of castigating a councilman for asking realistic questions, we would suggest that the firm and the administration keep a list of items in which the consulting firm plays a major role in the next two years.