LEHIGH COUNTY COMMISSIONERS Lehigh County Authority's charter extension debated
The Lehigh County Commissioners discussed a plan to extend the Lehigh County Authority's charter at its Feb. 13 meeting.
The Lehigh County Authority, a provider of water to the 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 co-sponsored the bill to extend the charter along with Commissioners Brad Osborne and Vic Mazziotti, said the bill caused him a lot of discomfort and required a lot of thought before he could decide 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.
Dougherty also said the commissioners have partial control over the Lehigh County Authority and appoint the board members. Thirdly, he said Allentown has a surplus of water and it can be shared with the suburbs. For points 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 he is not condoning Allentown leasing its water supply, but if Allentown does decide to go down that path, the Lehigh County Authority should at least 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 the Feb. 27 meeting in the public hearing room of the Lehigh County Government Center in Allentown.