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Group: Let voters decide future of Allentown's water, sewer system

By Jaccii Farris, Reporter, JFarris@wfmz.com
Published On: Oct 25 2012 05:46:31 PM CDT

One group says Allentown voters should be the ones to decide if the city's water and sewer operations are leased.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

One group says Allentown voters should be the ones to decide if the city's water and sewer operations are leased.

A group of residents is passing around petitions in hopes of getting the issue on the ballot next May.

"Whether or not our citizens are for privatization or against privatization, they should be glad to put their names on this petition," said Allentown Councilwoman Jeanette Eichenwald, who is among a group of citizens hoping to put the issue of leasing the city's water and sewer systems on the ballot.

"The ballot question will ask whether or not the city must come to the voters before it can sell or lease any property or asset worth $10 million or more," said Dan Poresay, of Allentown.

The petition was sparked by a study by public interest advocacy group Food and Water Watch in Washington, D.C.

The focus is Mayor Ed Pawlowski's proposal to lease the water and sewer systems for 50 years to help pay for a spiking pension problem. Without it, the mayor said taxes could go up 100 percent.

The study takes issue with the mayor's assertion that any rate hike after three years would be close to the consumer price index.

"We found that in the first 10 years of this deal, rates would double. In the first 20 years rates would triple," said Sam Bernhardt, a representative of Food and Water Watch.

"Our study and research shows the lease concession is the best solution," said Pawlowski's spokesman, Mike Moore, who added that voters approved a charter that "puts decision making in the hands of the mayor and council."

As far as putting it on the ballot, Moore said: "It is problematic to present decisions on requests for proposals to the populace for a vote."

The group needs 2,000 signatures to get on the ballot. If that fails, the group said it could take the city to court.