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Lehigh County Authority eases commissioners’ concerns on 43-year extension

Following years of mistrust between Lehigh County commissioners and the Lehigh County Authority, quick action in the last month on a resolution to add 43 years to the utility’s charter may have them closer than ever.The rapprochement was clear following Commissioner Brad Osborne’s decision May 22 to temporarily withdraw his co-sponsorship of the extension, saying certain language needed to be amended in the resolution. On Wednesday, following changes by the authority, the commissioners promised a vote at their next meeting, June 26.The authority amended the resolution quickly, avoiding any disagreements with the board, which improved not only their working relationship but also the board’s stance on the authority’s professional character. “[The authority was] willing and able to go back to make the modifications we requested bringing forward a testimony to the relationship we’ve established,” Commissioner Geoff Brace said. ” … We said 3 weeks ago that this might get a little hairy, that hairiness played its way out.”Authority CEO Liesel Gross said, during the meeting, “It’s been … almost a year and a half that we have been working together on this relationship and I really appreciated the opportunity to do that and develop a closer working relationship with the county, not only with the county executive but the Board of Commissioners.”She praised Osborne and Brace, among others, saying they “reached out to learn more about the authority, visit some of our facilities, ask questions, offer friendly advice, which is very welcomed, and it’s been a real journey that we’ve appreciated being on with you. “I hope that our board’s willingness to very quickly turn around a new resolution with the language we discussed 3 weeks ago is an indication we are here to build that relationship and continue that journey with you,” she said.In an 8-0 vote in April, commissioners displayed a willingness to extend the authority’s charter to 2062 if it agreed to provide the county with annual presentations on finances as well as semiannual reports on addressing the sewage overflows into the Little Lehigh Creek. Under state law, authorities are limited to 50-year lifespans and need periodic permission to extend beyond those timelines.The extension will allow the authority to get loans to address needs in Allentown and the rest of its coverage area, including capital projects mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The authority will dedicate $32 million to improving its sewage systems to prevent future untreated overflow into the Little Lehigh Creek, which has been an ongoing issue during storms. Previously, County Director of General Services Rick Molchany, Brace and Osborne were tasked to work with Gross to investigate the authority’s finances and determine if county administration involvement was required. The group later said that while the authority faces both environmental and financial challenges, the leadership under Gross is acting fiscally responsible and has developed a plan to address the authority’s needs and issues. Gabriela L. Laracca is a freelance writer for The Morning Call.
Source: Morningcall

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