It could cost the city at least $395,000 to get its flood protection levee system certified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
That's what engineers retained by the city estimate it will cost to complete a certification process that began two years ago.
"If we don't do it, half the city would have to pay for flood insurance," City Councilman N. Clifford "Skip" Smith, chairman of the city public safety committee, said during a meeting of the committee on Tuesday to discuss the situation.
A view of the Susquehanna River Tuesday early Tuesday evening from the levee city officials say could cost almost $400,000 to have certified by the federal government. Mayor Gabriel J. Campana blamed council for not borrowing enough when it floated a $20 million bond for public improvement projects.
"We knew this day of reckoning was coming," Smith added. "We're basically waving the white flag."
Councilman Don Noviello was not happy. He said the unfunded federal mandate amounts to "extortion."
Mayor Gabriel J. Campana said he doesn't understand why the federal government can't help the city out and asked engineers with Amec Engineering to return with "numbers that are easier for us to swallow."
"I can't understand, like many other Americans, why the federal government continues to spend our dollars on special interests outside of the U.S.," the mayor said.
Campana also blamed council for not borrowing enough when it floated a $20 million bond for capital improvement projects, such as repairing the leaking roof at City Hall, and an initiative to add street lights to fight crime.
He said 36 of the lights will be paid for at a cost of $15,000, but $35,000 remaining in the lights budget will need to be diverted for the levee costs.
Later, Council President Bill Hall, who was not present at the meeting, suggested the city should plan ahead and reserve an account in the budget specifically for such purposes.
"We have to figure out how to do that and avoid how to do it in the future," Hall said of paying for the flood levee costs and future certifications.
Hall said he reads horror stories about flood insurance going up tens of thousands of dollars in neighboring communities and doesn't want to see that happen here.
"If we don't do this (certification) then our businesses downtown, on Reach Road, Pennsylvania College of Technology and areas on Memorial Avenue near Lycoming Creek pay flood insurance," Hall said.
Smith said without the certification, which includes inspection of the internal workings of equipment, valves and drainage pipes and use of televised video equipment, half the city population would flee for fear of having to pay flood insurance.
The levee - installed as a result of the devastating 1936 flood and completed in the mid-1950s - makes it possible not to have to pay the insurance for the businesses and homeowners, he said.
"We can't have half the city required to pay flood insurance. They will leave," Smith said.
The committee also wanted the city administration to ask whether the Williamsport Municipal Water and Sanitary Authority has equipment that might be shared to reduce overall cost.