Public Works changes structure in light of Allentown water lease

Posted: 11:37 PM EST Nov 21, 2013
City of Allentown

Allentown Public Works has seen some drastic changes in light of the water lease with Lehigh County Authority. At budget hearing on Thursday night, Allentown City Council reviewed the proposed 2014 budget for the Public Works department, which now includes a new Compliance Department.

The Compliance Department is the city’s end of making sure the LCA complies with the lease, according to Craig Messinger, the Deputy Director of Public Works. The department is made up of auditors who will keep consistent watch over the agreements between the city and LCA.

It is this lease that Mayor Pawlowski credits for balancing the 2014 budget and handling the growing pension funding problem.

“This budget takes into account the positive changes resulting from the concession lease of the city’s water and sewer utility system to address the city’s massive unfunded pension liability and related annual pension costs,” the mayor wrote in his public release of the proposed 2014 budget. “This includes the building of our reserve fund to a generally acceptable level.”

The $211.3 million payment given to the city as part of the water and sewer lease paid off approximately $29 million of water/sewer debt. $170 million will go to pension funds and $12 million will go to various reserves, fund balances and to complete the Automatic Meter Reading project.

The savings from the lease have been reflected in many ways,” said Deb Bowman, the Deputy Finance Director. “First, we are providing services to the residents for the programs we have here, with no additional cost to residents for the programs they receive. Secondly, there has been no tax increase for the pension problem. I don’t even want to think about putting a budget together without the lease.”

The changes brought on by the water and sewer lease have allowed the Public Works department to focus its energies on its storm water program. The storm sewers have more infrastructure than the sanitary sewers with over 8,000 inlets to take care of, according to Messinger.

The Public Works department also included a few less employees than in years past in their proposed budget. Messinger explained that these posts, including three engineering aides, have remained vacant for some time and so it was necessary to remove them from the budget. However, some residents in the audience who work for the city felt that more employees are needed.

Allentown City Council will continue to hear testimony about the various elements of the proposed 2014 budget throughout the next two weeks. Their next meeting on November 26th will cover Community and Economic Development; Mayor, Managing Director, IT Controller and the Solicitor’s Office; and Public Safety, Fire Police, EMS and the Communication Center from 5 to 7 p.m.