January 29, 2023

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.