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Mayor highlights challenges of operating city while state investigates

“The only way is through.”

Those were the words of Mayor Derek Slaughter, when asked by the Sun-Gazette about the challenge to lead the executive branch of the City of Williamsport during an ongoing criminal investigation by statewide grand jury and Attorney General Josh Shapiro into finances managed by a past administration.

“Very challenging,” Slaughter said.

Finances impact about 99% of what the city does from purchasing, daily operation, salaries and budget.

The investigation has been ongoing for most of Slaughter’s term. It began shortly after he took office in January 2020.

The challenge, besides the COVID-19 pandemic, has been trying to work on finances and not knowing, “accurately,” what is available in the city accounts, he said.

In March, city employees indicated that Shapiro’s office was looking at the use of state and federal grant money by management at River Valley Transit between the years 2009 and 2019.

Audits were done and are being done.

“We are working through the audits,” Slaughter said.

For example, an audit of River Valley Transit (bus and tourism) from 2019-2020 showed $11 million that was “misappropriated.”

In the auditors’ words, what occurred on the surface appeared to be “fraudulent spending and a shell game.”

While two years behind, auditors are trying get caught up to determine how the money was possibly co-mingled between River Valley Transit and the city.

Auditors told the administration and City Council they are trying to determine how much on the city side was co-mingled and not supposed to be there.

“Having said that, the only way is through,” Slaughter said.

Still, he acknowledged, “It is really difficult to do that,” especially when the city goes after a grant and requires a match and does not know yet where the money comes from, and if some of that money is supposed to be in there, all of that is supposed to be in there “. . . we don’t know that.”

“Clearly, we can’t shut down the city,” he said, adding he applauded those within the administration who’ve done a “good job” with the limited financial information available.

To assist in his promise to deliver on transparency, Slaughter said he envisions new software that will provide “real time” financial information, such as where each department and how much each department is spending.

“I can’t wait for that day,” he said, of reviewing accurately the revenues and expenditures. He added “at the end of the day, every penny is taxpayer dollars.”

He also does not know precisely when the investigation will be completed.

“I don’t know where the investigation stands,” he said. “I am hoping it wraps up sooner than later.”

This article is based on a video interview conducted by the Williamsport Sun-Gazette, which can be found on the Sun-Gazette’s Facebook and YouTube pages.

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