Bethlehem Press

Thursday, May 28, 2020

LEHIGH COUNTY: Commissioners extend water authority charter

Thursday, March 14, 2013 by ANDREW CASS Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

Lehigh County Commissioners discussed a plan to extend the Lehigh County Authority's charter at its Feb. 13 meeting.

The Lehigh County Authority, which provides water for a majority of Lehigh County, currently has 36 years remaining on its charter, but the charter needs to be extended to 50 years for the authority to be able to bid on the lease for Allentown's water.

Commissioner Percy Dougherty, who cosponsored the bill to extend the charter along with commissioners Brad Osborne and Vic Mazziotti, said it was a bill that caused him a lot of discomfort and required a lot of thought before deciding to endorse it.

Dougherty said he supports the bill for five reasons. Number one, he said, is because the Lehigh County Authority is a local organization and the other organizations expected to bid for the lease on Allentown's water come from outside the area.

"I would rather deal with a local company that's right here in the valley," Dougherty said.

Number two, Dougherty said that the commissioners have partial control over the Lehigh County Authority and appoint the board members. Number three, he said Allentown has a surplus of water that can be shared with the suburbs. Points number four and five, Dougherty said he is a firm believer in regionalization and with regionalization "you can reach an economy of scale."

"Hopefully instead of the prices to the customers rising, we can reach a better efficiency and we will find that prices remain stable," Dougherty said.

Dougherty added that he is not condoning Allentown leasing its water supply, but if Allentown does decided to go down that path, the Lehigh County Authority should be able to make a bid.

"We should at least have a local player in the race," Dougherty said.

Commissioner Daniel McCarthy agreed with Dougherty and said extending the charter would not indicate the board's position on Allentown's water situation. McCarthy said there were other reasons to extend the charter, such as for financing purposes.

Commissioner Michael Schware said he has not made a decision about where he stands on the charter extension, but does have some concerns.

'We've got to consider what the Lehigh County Authority will look like if it becomes too big to fail," Schware said.

Vice Chairman Scott Ott said the board may want to engage in a review process before making a decision on the extension.

"It doesn't have to be a lengthy process," Ott said. "But we may want to review the performance issues, the environmental issues and all those kind of things to make sure regardless of what happens to the Allentown Sewer System, we're exercising our due diligence as the chartering entity to the Lehigh County Authority.

The Lehigh County Board of Commissioners will vote on the bill at a Feb. 27 meeting in the public hearing room of the Lehigh County Government Center in Allentown.