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State investigating city of Williamsport, River Valley Transit finances

According to sources within the city's government, the investigation involves alleged improper spending of federal and state grants.

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — The city of Williamsport's finances are currently being investigated by the Pennsylvania attorney general's office, according to two sources inside Williamsport City Hall.

The sources say that investigators are looking into spending by the city between 2009 and 2019. During that time span, the city and River Valley Transit, the local bus system, were lumping all its finances into one pot and not keeping track of where each dollar came from or what it was supposed to be used for.

They say state and federal grant money that was issued for River Valley Transit may have been used for other city projects outside of transportation.

William Nichols Jr. was the city finance director and the manager of River Valley Transit during the time period covered by the investigation. Nichols was fired in January of last year.

PennDOT provided millions of dollars in grants to River Valley Transit between 2009 and 2019.

Our sources inside Williamsport City Hall say that PennDOT recently warned the transit system not to use grant proceeds for anything other than their legally eligible purposes.

In addition, our sources say that PennDOT has asked the Federal Transit Administration to investigate if any of the grant money was spent illegally.

In December, the city raised property taxes to help erase a deficit in the 2021 budget. The increase amounts to about $50 for an average homeowner.

IN a written statement just before that budget passed, Williamsport Mayor Derek Slaughter said:

"I have reached out to various government agencies that have provided and continue to provide significant funding to our city, including, but not limited to, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for review, recommendations, and action."

We reached out to PennDOT for more information, and they got back with this response:

"PennDOT cannot comment on any internal review or any potential external law enforcement investigation."

The attorney general's office also refused to comment on any investigation involving finances for the city of Williamsport and River Valley Transit.

William Nichols Jr. did not respond to our efforts to contact him. When we asked Mayor Slaughter to comment, he referred us to the attorney general's office. Although his statement in December did say that there is a current situation that forbids the administration from disclosing certain issues.

Newswatch 16 will continue to monitor the ongoing investigation and will provide more details to this story as it develops.