The Williamsport City Council Finance Committee positively recommended that the administration hire UHY councilors to serve as a firm to review compliance and oversee the $25.4 million bailout fund disbursement. city american.
The company responded to a request for proposals and was recommended by Mayor Derek Slaughter, who said he considered its qualifications and certification to be among the best under consideration.
The proposed contract is for $85,000 per year for three years for a total of $255,000, Slaughter said.
Jack Reagan, managing director of UHY Advisors, which works out of an office in Columbia, Maryland, said the accounting firm has 25 offices and more than 1,400 employees. In Pennsylvania, he referenced how he serves the City of Chester and the Township of Upper Darby to ensure compliance in the use of ARPA funds.
ARPA funds were approved by President Joe Biden to help communities recover from the impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. They cannot be used to reduce debt or pay pensions.
Of the work the company representative said he would do, if the rest of the board approved the proposed contract on Thursday, he would take a three-phase approach.
The first phase is to ensure that the government determines a strategy for spending the funds correctly and that there is an element of community engagement such as surveys.
The city has already done a community survey of major projects and held numerous ARPA funding work sessions to evaluate ideas and feedback.
The company then reviews whether the projects are eligible under the ARPA Act and a selection committee evaluates the projects determined to be eligible.
Once projects are approved, the company ensures that accurate information is provided that the city will need to file with the US Treasury.
The company may make possible project site visits, while others only require an internal office review.
“Finally, the last phase is transparency”, said Reagan.
“We are going to help the city do its quarterly declarations. . . the next one is due April 30,” he said.
The company will also help develop regular reports to give to elected officials so they can exercise their fiduciary responsibilities to see how spending is going.
Finally, the firm will help the city create reports to show to the public.
Councilwoman Liz Miele said the city intends to commit a good portion of ARPA funds to economic development.
This would be done to help increase the city’s tax base, as it deals with a budget each year that requires sticking to a certain amount and not going into further debt while maintaining a commitment to serve taxpayers, a she declared.
Reagan acknowledged that this would be part of the company’s analysis. It can also include showing the city where relief funds could be used for downtown businesses, as well as capital improvements and equipment.
These funds could be used by businesses to improve their facades, to renovate – to allow more outdoor dining to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 – and be used to replace heating, air conditioning and ventilation.
Reagan painted a picture of how the company might suggest the city withdraw a maximum amount of ARPA funds allowed as “loss of income” which provides more flexibility and removes administrative requirements under ARPA for reporting to the US Treasury.
“My concern is that we plan to take about $3 million, not lost revenue, to pay for the fire trucks,” said Councilman Eric Beiter. “This is where we want to make sure we’re not doing anything wrong,” he said.
“We’ll look at how this is structured and put it somewhere where it’s allowed under ARPA,” said Reagan.
Slaughter said that as soon as the auditors complete their work, the city could potentially exceed the $10 million allowed under ARPA, as indicated by Reagan, but the city must wait for baseline data to be returned by listeners.
Miele asked Reagan about the company’s knowledge of funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and any state liquid fuels funds and how best to use ARPA funds and community development.
“We know CDBG and any type of restricted fund”, said Reagan. “ARPA is less restricted…you’re going to want to spend the more restricted money first, then move on to ARPA funds.”
Such a move could be significant as the city reviews its budget for capital projects, much of which remained unfundable prior to ARPA’s arrival.
Reagan said the company will help the city examine what makes sense to move into ARPA for “freeing up money in the capital budget for other projects.”
Reagan also foresaw what could be a period of inflation, so bond capital projects, with low interest rates locked in, could be explored.
Former council chairman and councilman Randall J. Allison said he appreciated the documentation provided by UHY councilors ahead of the vote.
Allison said he considered the document to be “dense with information and details.
He also briefed Reagan on what has already happened in terms of ARPA spending. “We started our own internal process with part of the structure in place,” Allison said, adding a question, “How are we going to navigate? »
The city, for example, has approved an ARPA budget that can be modified.
“We didn’t spend a lot, but we had areas and we were careful”, Allison said. “How many resets should we have to get it right, as that has been the goal of the board and administration?” He asked. “We want to do it right, spend the money wisely and appropriately,” he said.
Reagan assured the councilman and committee that he had been doing this kind of work for 33 years, 32 of them as an auditor.
Last year, he said he began working as a consultant for communities with funds from ARPA. He said he hoped to help Williamsport with their projects which can be transformational – provided they are managed.
He referred to the work the company is doing in Bristol, Connecticut, the host community of sports network ESPN.
“When we saw the RFP, I got terribly excited,” he said of the Williamsport proposal.
“I’m a baseball and softball dad,” he said. “Williamsport (home of Little League) is part of the fabric of United States culture.”
Bristol is among the final stops for teams heading to Williamsport and the Little League World Series.
He assured Allison and others that the company would recommend any changes deemed necessary by its staff as possible amendments to any contract in order to protect the interests of the city and ensure that the contractors were in full compliance.
In one example where the city has taken appropriate action so far, police body cameras that were approved as an expense by the council were considered an eligible expense, according to Reagan. “We will work with the mayor and staff to review any of these projects, review the agreements and ensure the required information is included,” said Reagan.
“If we find something that we feel. . . can be improved, I am not shy”, Reagan added.
“You have until the end of 2024 to commit to spending and until the end of 2026 to spend it all.”
Reagan said he also reviewed media reports about the challenges facing the city from a financial perspective. “I understand the financial management difficulties that have occurred over the years and from which the city is recovering,” said Reagan.
“We are used to operating where internally controlled environments are in a state of flux.”
“I audited and was an auditor for Washington, DC when the city was on the verge of bankruptcy and was taken over by Congress and established financial controls where it is financially well run “, said Reagan.
The company, he said, wants to ensure effective management of those funds by Williamsport. His work would include reviewing issues regarding internal control of policies and procedures in addition to what external auditors do, he said.
The Council meets at 7:00 p.m. at the Trade and Transit Center II on the third floor and remotely.