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Penn. Town Mayor Pushes Privatization to Prevent Falling Off 'Fiscal Precipice'

Allentown is heading towards privatizing its water and sewer systems

Common Dreams staff

(adapted photo from Keith Bacongco via flickr)

The city of Allentown, Penn. is making steps towards the privatization of its public water and sewage systems.

The town's mayor, Ed Pawlowski, has pushed the measure in as the only solution to prevent the town from being pushed off a "fiscal precipice" as city faces a funding pension crisis.

"We have a crisis on our hands, folks. A crisis that's not going to be solved through incremental and small measures," the mayor said. "It is a problem that will push us off the fiscal precipice as a city if we do not address this." He said that if steps aren't taken, "We will destroy the city financially.”

A Fact Sheet from the Mayor's office states:

The Long-Term Leasing of the City’s water and sewer services is the solution that brings both immediate and long-lasting financial relief and enables a sustainable, reliable and enforceable approach to protect the City’s interests.

On Wednesday night the City Council, whose approval is needed to OK the privatization, voted 6-1 to OK getting requests for proposals from companies interested in a 50-year lease, and though the plan is not final, WFMZ reports that the mayor wants a contract signed by March.

The lone dissenting vote came from councilperson Jeanette Eichenwald, who The Express-Times reports cited

environmental worries, and concerns that the lease agreement does not control rates or protect city workers as well as Pawlowski suggests.

"Normally in good decision making you're presented with the pros and the cons of an issue," Eichenwald said. "In this particular issue, the administration has not afforded us the same opportunities to hear the opposing sides as we have heard on the pro side." [...]

Eichenwald repeated her past concern that while the base rate is controlled, a private company could find ways to impose additional fees, such as for maintenance, insurance or equipment.

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