ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The Allentown, Pa., City Council near midnight Thursday approved a $220 million, 50-year water-and-sewer lease deal with the Lehigh County Authority after an emotional four-hour public meeting.
Mayor Ed Pawlowski intends to use upfront money from the public works agency to eliminate its unfunded pension liability, which he has estimated at between $160 million and $180 million.
"We have to do this. If not, we'll die financially," said Pawlowski, who has indicated that without the measure, pension obligations could consume up to one-third of Allentown's general-fund budget by 2015.
The seven-member council heard arguments for and against the concession, which Pawlowski has championed over the last year.
Proponents cited the need for Allentown to avoid the fiscal calamity that such Pennsylvania cities as Harrisburg and Scranton have experienced. Opponents, among other concerns, said the deal was hastily crafted, would burden ratepayers and the authority's debt load, and deprive the city of local control.
Jeanette Eichenwald voted against the deal. One of the yes votes came from councilwoman Cynthia Mota, who participated by phone from a hospital bed in Venezuela. Others voting favorably were Julio Guridy, Ray O'Connell, Jeff Glazier, Joe Davis and Peter Schweyer.
"This is not perfect, but we can't let the 'not perfect' stand in the way of what's absolutely necessary," said Pawlowski.
Allentown, population 119,000, is the seat of Lehigh County.
The authority won the bid after a best-and-final-offer round during the bidding process. Pawlowski said the price exceeded his initial expectations of $150 million to $200 million.