May 25, 2022

Essex selectmen postpone public hearing on Regional Health District

ESSEX— The board of selectman has indefinitely postponed a public hearing on the option of joining the Connecticut River Area Regional Health District amid a dispute with district directors over problems with the town’s public health files and records.

After weeks of reviewing options for providing public health services in Essex, the board earlier this month scheduled a Jan. 11 public hearing on the option of joining the regional health district that is comprised of the towns of Clinton, Deep River, and Old Saybrook. But last week the selectmen cancelled the hearing after receiving a letter from the district’s five member board of directors that called for Essex officials to respond immediately to any and all questions about the public health files.

The letter also indicated the district would not renew a month-to-month contract that has Mary Jane Engle, the Connecticut River Area Regional Health District executive director, serving as a part-time acting health director in Essex. First Selectman Phil Miller had appointed Engle as acting health director in October, a move that prompted a new look at the option of joining the district. The review of options showed the regional health district was the least costly way of providing all public health services for the town, including soils testing that is required for approval of new or modified septic systems.

Selectman Joel Marzi, the Republican who contested Democrat Miller in the 2009 town election, said Tuesday postponing the public hearing on the regional health district “made sense based on the underlying concerns raised by the letter, adding “one should only proceed with a hearing if there is a positive leaning by the board of selectmen.”

Marzi said the selectmen should have agreed to the meeting requested by the health district board of directors in the Nov. 29 letter, and suggested the town could be left without a health director if the regional health district cancels the month-to-month contract with Essex for Engle’s services in early January. State law requires towns to have a designated health director.

Miller said Engle is continuing to serve as acting health director, working at Essex Town Hall at least one day each week. The board of selectmen is expected to discuss the health department issues further at the next regular meeting on Jan. 5.