September 1, 2014

Essex Selectmen Delay Public Hearing on Regional Health District

ESSEX— The board of selectmen has again delayed scheduling a public hearing on the option of joining the Connecticut River Area Regional Health District.

First Selectman Phil Miller said Thursday the board, which held a workshop on the health district Wednesday, has decided to discuss the issue further at its Dec. 1 meeting before setting the date for a public hearing on the option of joining the regional health district. Miller said the board wanted to review the estimated cost per year of one additional configuration of health services related personnel. This would involve having the town hire a full-time director of health, who would also be qualified as a sanitarian, with a part-time assistant.

During the workshop with Mary Jane Engle, director of the Connecticut River Area Regional Health District, the board received cost comparisons for five configurations of health services related personnel, and later dropped the two most costly options from consideration. Joining the regional health district that was established in July 2006 by the towns of Clinton, Deep River, and Old Saybrook, was the least costly option, with the district providing all health-related services, from septic system inspections to restaurant inspections and public health clinics, for $88,192 per fiscal year.

The town’s current configuration for health-related personnel, including a part-time health director, a full-time environmental analyst, with a contracted sanitarian and food inspector, is costing $113,198 in the current fiscal year. The option of having a contracted director of health, with a full-time sanitarian and full-time environmental analyst, would cost $167,209 per year.

Miller had appointed Engle as the town’s part-time health director on a month-to-month basis in October after Dr. William McCann, a local physician, resigned from the position. The selectmen later agreed to conduct a full review of health services options for the town, and hold another public hearing on the option of joining the regional health district.

Engle told the selectmen Wednesday the regional health district, which has its office in Old Saybrook, employs three sanitarians, and strives for a two-day response for most permit applications and services such as soils testing for residential septic systems. Engle is also a sanitarian, and held the job in Westbrook before the regional health district was established.

Essex selectmen held an initial public hearing on the regional health district in June 2006, before the district went in to operation, and later decided not to join the district based on a generally negative reaction at the public hearing. A second public hearing held last February drew a mixed response, with more expressions of support for joining the regional health district.

Miller said he anticipates the public hearing on the regional health district would be held in January, after the approaching Christmas holidays. The selectmen would then decide whether to bring the issue of joining the regional health district to a final vote at a town meeting.

Public Hearing on Essex Anti-Blight Ordinance Oct. 6

Abandoned, burned out house at the northeast corner of North Main Street and New City Street (Photo by Jerome Wilson)

ESSEX— The board of selectmen Wednesday postponed the public hearing on the proposed anti-blight ordinance to Wednesday Oct. 6, citing a conflict with the zoning commission meeting on Monday.

The board earlier this month set the public hearing on the proposed ordinance for Sept. 20, and also tentatively scheduled a town meeting vote on the ordinance for the same evening.

First Selectman Phil Miller said members of the zoning commission requested the delay because the panel has three public hearings scheduled for  Sept. 20. He said some members of the commission wanted an opportunity to comment on the proposed ordinance, which has some overlap with zoning enforcement.

Miller added that he has received numerous e-mails and other contacts from residents about the ordinance since the draft document was published on the town website and in other media.  “It’s looking like we may have to make some changes and possibly hold another public hearing before there is a town meeting vote,” he said.  Selectmen Norman Needleman and Joel Marzi agreed there should be no plans for a town meeting vote on the ordinance on the same evening as the public hearing.

Abandoned house on Prospect Street, just off North Main Street (Photo by Jerome Wilson)

The ordinance, under discussion since early this year, was prompted by complaints and concerns from residents about three structures in town that were severely damaged by fire, yet remain standing in unsightly condition. The ordinance defines a blighted property, and authorizes the first selectman, or his or her designee, to take steps to remediate the blighted conditions. The ordinance, which includes an appeal procedure to the full board of selectmen, would allow the town to correct blighted conditions, including possible demolition of a blighted structure, and recover costs from the property owner.

The public hearing on the anti-blight ordinance convenes on Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at town hall. A town meeting vote on the ordinance would follow later in the fall.

Sister Cities Relationship with Deschapelles, Haiti

At 1 p.m. on Wednesday Sept. 29, in the Essex Town Hall, First Selectman Phil Miller will  introduce area residents who will discuss the creation of a new, non-profit organization, Sister Cities Essex Haiti, whose first project is the establishment of a library/community center in Deschapelles.

The Town of Essex has formed a Sister Cities relationship with the Town of Deschapelles, Haiti through the efforts of a group of Essex-area residents committed to strengthening community support of Hospital Albert Schweitzer, located in Deschapelles, and improving the quality of life for people of Deschapelles.
 
Electricity is scarce in Deschapelles. It’s not uncommon to see half a dozen children sit or stand trying to study by the weak illumination offered by a lone street lamp. Imagine what it would mean to provide an electrified place of study for children with such a keen desire to learn. This is just one reason why the Selectmen of Essex together with its citizens have joined with the people of Deschapelles to create a library/community center. Through Sister Cities International, the people of Essex and the people of Deschapelles, will work together to continue to support the work of Hospital Albert Schweitzer and Deschapelles.

The following will present the project to the press and be available for questions:
 
Phil Miller, Essex First Selectman
Jenifer Grant, daughter of Hopital Albert Schweitzer founders and Director of SCEH
Kathleen Maher, President of SCEH
Terry Smith, Chairwoman of the Deschapelles Library Committee
 
Prospective attendees are requested to contact Dan Taylor-Stypa 860-767-2075 or 978-766-0412   dtaylor-stypa@sjc.edu to confirm attendance.

Essex Selectmen Set September 20 Hearing and Vote on Anti-Blight Ordinance

ESSEX— After months of on and off discussion, the board of selectmen has scheduled a Sept. 20 public hearing and town meeting vote on a local anti-blight ordinance.

The public hearing convenes at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at town hall.  First Selectman Phil Miller said the current plan is to open the town meeting and vote on the ordinance immediately after the conclusion of the public hearing.
 Miller said the vote could be deferred to another date if comments at the public hearing indicate residents are not comfortable with any aspect of the proposed ordinance. “They could send us back to the drawing board and there would be no vote that night,” he said.

The board began discussing a possible anti-blight ordinance last winter after complaints from property owners about three houses that have remained standing for months after sustaining severe damage from fires.The proposed ordinance was drafted by town attorney David Royston after a review of anti-blight ordinances in other Connecticut municipalities.

The purpose of the proposed ordinance is to “prevent or eliminate blighted premises” in Essex. It defines a blighted structure as one the town building official determines poses “a serious threat to public health and safety,” and contains “violations of the Connecticut Public Health Code” as determined by the town’s health director. A blighted structure could also be “a fire hazard as determined by the fire marshall or documentsed by fire department records.” The ordinance would prohibit blighted structures as a “public nuisance.”

Formal complaints about a blighted structure must be presented in writing to the first selectman, building official, fire marshall, health director or zoning enforcement officer.

If there is a determination that blighted conditions exist at a structure, town officials would then issue a notice of violation to the property owner. The notice of violation would include a description of the violations, and a deadline of no more than 15 days after the notice of violation is issued for correction of the blighted conditions. The deadline for compliance could be extended for up to 60 days by the first selectman or his or her designee.

Property owners would have an opportunity to appeal a notice of violation to the board of selectmen. The board of selectmen is authorized “but under no circumstances is required” to take remedial action to correct a blighted structure, including initiation of legal proceedings in superior court to recover all costs incurred by the town, “including reasonable attorney’s fees,” to correct a blighted structure situation.

The ordinance provides for fines of $100 per day for violations, and authorizes the town to impose liens on properties to recover costs incurred in resolving a blighted structure violation.

During discussion of the proposed ordinance earlier this year. Royston had cautioned the selectmen that the town could be unable to recover all costs incurred in correcting a blighted structure situation if a property owner lacks the assets to cover the costs. The provision for leins on parcels could allow the town to recover expenses if and when the property is sold.

Construction to Begin in September for New Essex Boat Launch

ESSEX– Construction is expected to begin on Sept. 8 for a new town boat launch to the Connecticut River at the foot of Main Street.

The long-awaited project will be funded by a state Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant awarded in September 2009. The town had unsuccessfully applied for grant funding for the boat launch project in 2007 and 2008.

The work will be done by Old Colony Construction of Clinton, which was selected last month from 12 bidders for the project. The Old Colony Construction bid was $92,000. David Caroline, the town’s director of public works, will supervise the project.

The new boat launch will be larger than the existing one, and similar in design to the state boat launch located under the Baldwin Bridge in Old Saybrook. Town officials have been planning for a new boat launch for years, contending the existing one can not accommodate larger boats and is difficult to use at low tide.

First Selectman Phil Miller said the work must be done between Sept. 8 and Oct. 29 to avoid impacting the nesting schedule for bald eagles on nearby Notts Island. The town dock will be closed during the construction period, along with sections of the turnaround circle at the end of Main Street. Most of the construction work will be done during periods of low tide.