Said Cross: “I think the proof’s in the pudding. When you close on a $220 million cash infusion into a city that needs money in the near future, then it speaks for itself.”
Lehigh County Commissioner Vic Mazziotti, who resides in Allentown, called the lease deal “a shell game. Instead of increasing your property tax bill, we’re going to increase your water and sewer bill. You haven’t eliminated that cost. You’ve just shifted it to another bill. And the same people are going to pay for it.”
Mazziotti maintained when all the costs of borrowing $220 million are added up, including interest, it will be “a $400 million solution” to a city pension debt the administration puts at $158 million.
McGuire got the most applause of the night – applause Guridy discouraged – when he urged the city “to set aside the bullying tactic” of saying either approve the lease or face a 45 percent tax increase. He compared that bullying to North Korea’s nuclear threats.
City resident Nat Hyman praised the lease as a miracle, saying: “The mayor and his administration have pulled a rabbit out of a hat.”
But resident David Melman, a lawyer, said: “There is no magic rabbit out of a hat and if it sounds too good to be true, it is. My fear is that my grandkids are going to be in a room just like this one with a $500 million or $600 million problem, asking themselves ‘how did we get into this to solve a $160 million problem?’”
Hyman said he was attending his first city council meeting because of “the grandstanding and level of vitriol I’ve seen from so many people” – including city council candidates hoping to unseat those on the dais by using the lease as a political platform.
Hyman, who turns old city factories into apartments, said he owns more than 500,000 square feet of apartments in Allentown and pays all his tenants’ water and sewer bills. Financially, he has almost as much at stake as anyone in the room, he said. “I’m not happy if water rates would go up, [but] all the other alternatives are far more offensive. You‘re looking at a real estate tax hike, some level of service hike or potentially bankruptcy of the city.”
Hyman encouraged council to vote for the lease, “because it is far and away the least offensive or obtrusive resolution.”
The mayor has proposed an excellent solution, said Rick Daugherty, executive director of Lehigh County Senior Center who also owns apartments in the city. He noted LCA is non-profit, will provide service at a lower cost and has an excellent track record. Daugherty also asked council to support the lease deal.
Asa Hughes, chairman of LCA’s board, said it has the most financially responsible staff of any municipal authority in Pennsylvania. As a non-profit, he said LCA presents “the best service at the lowest price.”
Arndt said LCA has enjoyed an annual customer service satisfaction rating of 95 percent or higher for the last five years.
Arndt said LCA’s board holds public meetings at noon on the first and third Mondays of each month at LCA’s headquarters in Wescosville.
The 46-year-old authority provides water and/or sewer service to 16 local municipalities, serving 22,500 people. Arndt said most of the documents related to the lease are available at lehighcountyauthority.org or allentownwatersewer.com.