Snyder could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Poresky maintained City Council has “the power and responsibility” to override the city solicitor’s opinion.

Committee members could not say if they alone had collected the required minimum of 2,000 signatures. But Glenn S. Hunsicker said the committee may gather an additional 1,000 signatures in the next two weeks, for a total of 5,000. He said the deadline for collecting names is Dec. 14.

Jeanette Eichenwald, the only member of the seven-member City Council who has signed a petition, said with 4,000 signatures, “it is 4,000, plus me, against six. I don’t see six and one. I see thousands and six.” She said 4,000 votes can elect a candidate to City Council.

Glenn L. Hunsicker said the 4,000 signatures represent 20 percent of the 20,000 city residents who voted in 2010.

Even if petition drive organizers succeed in getting their initiative question – they no longer refer to it as a referendum -- on the ballot, City Council and the administration could sign a lease with a water company long before the May primary.

But the petitioners hope just having 4,000 signatures proves there is enough public concern to convince council to delay approving any water and sewer lease until after a vote on their question.

Mayor Pawlowski hopes to receive bids before the end of this year and award a lease to the highest bidder by March. City Council must approve that lease contract. The mayor thinks the majority on council will do that because “they realize there are no other options” to solve the city’s pension crisis.

Committee members said if the mayor presents City Council with a contract for its approval, they can initiate an injunction to prevent council from moving forward on approving that lease agreement until after the May vote.

On Wednesday afternoon, city communications coordinator Mike Moore declined to comment on what, if anything, the administration will do in response to the petitions.

In a statement released through Moore, Mayor Ed Pawlowski said: “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.

“The minimum payment on that debt will soon consume nearly 30 percent of the general fund budget. If not addressed, it will affect city taxpayers dramatically. I am convinced that the proposed concession and lease is the best way to solve that problem without burdening city property owners with an enormous tax increase of 100 percent or more.”