Al­len­town ap­peals wa­ter rate de­ci­sion

Court erred in al­low­ing au­thor­ity to change billing to monthly, city claims.

The Morning Call - - LOCAL NEWS - By Emily Opilo

Al­len­town has filed an ap­peal in Su­pe­rior Court chal­leng­ing a Septem­ber rul­ing that cleared the way for the Le­high County Au­thor­ity to in­crease wa­ter rates to city cus­tomers.

The ap­peal, filed in Oc­to­ber, ar­gues that Le­high County Judge Doug Re­ich­ley erred when he de­nied the city’s re­quest for an in­junc­tion bar­ring LCA from switch­ing to monthly billing.

LCA, which leases Al­len­town’s wa­ter and sewer sys­tem as part of a 50-year deal that net­ted the city $211.3 mil­lion, wanted to switch to monthly billing from a quar­terly levy as a way to make more money. That move, which was de­layed in­def­i­nitely due to le­gal wran­gling be­tween the city and the au­thor­ity, would have in­creased the fixed rate LCA charges to cus­tomers by about $13 per month, or $156 per year.

Al­len­town of­fi­cials ar­gued the pro­posed billing change would cause “ir­repara­ble harm” to city res­i­dents.

In a 13-page opin­ion, Re­ich­ley de­nied the re­quest to halt the wa­ter rate hike, stat­ing that Al­len­town failed to prove that an in­junc­tion is nec­es­sary to pre­vent “im­me­di­ate and ir­repara­ble harm” and also didn’t prove that greater in­jury would be suf­fered by the city if an in­junc­tion was not granted — both le­gal re­quire­ments for such an ac­tion.

He also said the city also failed to prove it has stand­ing to pur­sue the law­suit against LCA be­cause tax­pay­ers, not the city it­self, would be harmed by a rate in­crease.

In their ap­peal to Su­pe­rior Court, city of­fi­cials ar­gued that Re­ich­ley erred when he said Al­len­town did not have stand­ing and in his rul­ing re­gard­ing the in­junc­tion.

In Novem­ber, Su­pe­rior Court is­sued an order re­quir­ing the city to ar­gue why the case should re­main there, rather than Com­mon­wealth Court, which typ­i­cally hears cases where the gov­ern­ment is in­volved.

Al­len­town filed a re­sponse to the court’s order on Mon­day, ac­cord­ing to the court docket. On Thurs­day, the court an­nounced the case was be­ing re­ferred to a mer­its panel.

In mid-Novem­ber, LCA’s board adopted both quar­terly and monthly wa­ter and sewer rates that are in­cluded in the lease agree­ment and up­dated for 2019, said Liesel Gross, CEO of LCA.

The lease al­lows LCA to in­crease wa­ter rates an­nu­ally based on the con­sumer price in­dex. The au­thor­ity is also al­lowed to charge a cap­i­tal cost re­cov­ery charge.

“We have not made any an­nounce­ments about the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the monthly rates, pend­ing ad­di­tional dis­cus­sion with the City of Al­len­town re­gard­ing a holis­tic res­o­lu­tion to the lease dis­putes,” said Gross said.

Al­len­town spokesman Mike Moore could not im­me­di­ately be reached for com­ment.

[email protected] Twit­ter @emi­ly­opilo 610-820-6522

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.