Allentown voters are one step closer to getting a say about the city's plan to lease the water and sewer systems.
A committee of Allentown residents who oppose the lease of the city water and sewer systems collected 4, 000 signatures. That's enough to get an initiative on the ballot this May. It would create an ordinance requiring voters to weigh in on any plans to sell or lease city property worth $10 million or more.
"They want to have a say," explained committee member Dan Poresky. "They're concerned about privatizing Allentown's water. They're concerned about quality. They're concerned about rate increases."
The initiative will go before city council on December 19. The committee is urging council to shortcut the process and pass the ordinance.
"What this does is it gives the people in May an opportunity to actually vote on the water and lease agreement," added Poresky.
We reached out to Mayor Ed Pawlowski for comment and were sent the same statement he gave us last month, saying in part:
"The city of Allentown has an immediate $150 million and growing unfunded pension liability problem on its hands. The petitioners' proposed ballot question offers nothing in the way of another solution. "
City council president Julio Guridy says his main concern is that Allentown is financially stable.
"I'm not in a rush for anything. I just want to make sure we do the right thing for the citizens of the city," Guridy said.
If council doesn't pass the ordinance and the initiative goes to a vote in May, a few things could happen. One option, the mayor and council could finalize a lease agreement before May, grandfathering in the agreement even if the initiative is voted in.
The mayor could also conceivably file a legal challenge to the initiative since there's a dispute about the number of people allowed to collect signatures.