The Lehigh County Commissioners tried separating the proposed extension of the Lehigh County Authority from the role the Authority is expected to play in Allentown’s water and sewer lease, but discussion invariably returned to the city’s 50-year plan.
LCA is likely to bid on the lease when the request goes out later this month. But to make the bid, LCA’s Articles must be amended to extend its duration. The Authority, created in 1966, currently exists for just 36 more years. To undertake a 50-year obligation, it must be granted the 14-year extension it is requesting from the commissioners.
“This board is not weighing in tonight on whether Allentown should lease its water company or not. That’s beyond us. That’s a city decision. But I believe that if the city goes forward with that decision, we should allow the LCA to have the potential to weigh in on this matter,” Commissioner Percy Dougherty said.
Commissioner Daniel McCarthy echoed those sentiments, saying that the board’s decision will not translate to support for Allentown’s lease or for LCA’s decision to negotiate with the city. “We are not a super board or an oversight board of LCA,” he said.
“This was one of those bills that caused me a lot of discomfort and a lot of thought to reach a decision,” Dougherty said. He explained that he wants to give LCA an opportunity to bid because he prefers working with a local organization. He said he also supports LCA because, by virtue of appointing LCA board members, the commissioners can maintain some control over the Authority and its responsiveness. Perhaps most importantly, he thinks LCA will keep rates stable.
According to LCA’s General Manager Aurel Arndt, LCA has the lowest rates in the area. “LCA has been very conscious of rates and charges to its customer base,” he said. “We manage as hard as we can to make sure to control costs and still provide effective service for the customer.”
The average customer pays $160 per year, while he estimates Allentown residents and Bethlehem residents pay $210 yearly and $250 yearly, respectively.
The board will vote on the extension on Feb. 27. Per Commissioner Scott Ott’s recommendation, the Intergovernmental and Appointments Committee will hold a performance review of LCA. That hearing is tentatively scheduled for next week.