It’s a rare township meeting where talk is dominated by matters that directly do not influence that township. Yet that most unusual scenario unfolded with spontaneous alacrity during what was otherwise a ho-hum South Whitehall Township Board of Commissioners’ meeting on Wednesday night.
Recognizing that private enterprise is not in the business of philanthropy, three residents of the City of Allentown spoke before commissioners about the attempted privatization efforts of the city’s water and sewer systems for 50 years in exchange for up to $200 million in up-front cash to allow the financially cash-strapped city to meet their police pension obligations. It’s a move, the residents argued Wednesday night, that would handsomely profit a private company at the public’s expense.
“We are here tonight to raise awareness,” said Glenn Hunsicker of Allentown. “If this sale goes through the ramifications will eventually impact everyone, not just in Allentown.”
Speaking for nearly 10 minutes, Hunsicker told commissioners the proposal would transfer control over what he called “the world’s most precious resource” to private enterprise, which he said is alarming.
“There are far less expensive and less risky ways to solve the pension problem than losing control of our water,” he told commissioners.
One of those ways, according to literature dispensed at the meeting, would be for the perpetually cash-strapped city to create their own water authority.
“At the end of the day privatizing our water for 50 years, which is what the mayor (Ed Pawlowski) wants to do, is the most expensive option,” he argued. “Plus it puts control of our water in the hands of a private company whose first obligation is to its stockholders, not the people who drink it.”
Hunsicker added that in other communities where waster has been privatized, rates, on average, go up ten percent per year.
Of course no City of Allentown administration official was in attendance to defend their positions or question the facts and figures presented by Hunsicker. When asked by Commissioner Glenn Block what, exactly, they wanted the legislative body to do besides listen to them, Hunsicker’s response was to raise awareness and unity of all Lehigh Valley municipalities in opposing the measure. Hunsicker added that South Whitehall could also consider adopting a resolution in the ballot question’s favor.
And for that petition to be placed on the May 2013 municipal election ballot, the group needs to collect 3,000 signatures of registered Allentown voters by the middle of December.
President Christina Morgan said commissioners would pass along the information to the township’s board of authority.