CHESHIRE — Chesprocott Health District has weathered its recent financial crisis, and officials in the three member towns are cautiously optimistic about its future.
Its three member towns had contemplated breaking up the district after discovering last year that the district had been having financial difficulties that went back several years.
Officials in the member towns of Cheshire, Prospect and Wolcott became concerned last May when they received letters from Chesprocott Director Thomas Wegrzyn, asking them for $55,098 in emergency funds to keep the district afloat until the end of the fiscal year.
Only when they received Wegrzyn’s letter did officials in the three towns discover that the health district had been running operating deficits for three years, depleting a nearly $200,000 reserve to cover overages to its $610,337 annual budget.
Wegrzyn had said that the district’s difficulties came as a result of several factors, including less revenue coming from fees in a sluggish economy and an increase in health benefits for its employees.
The towns had until Dec. 31, to give the district notice that they wished to withdraw by June 30, 2013.
As the deadline passed, all three towns remain in the district and its leaders are cautiously optimistic that the district is on the right path financially.
Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield said things appear to have turned around and district officials had “made, in our opinion, great strides on their budget.”
“I think they got the message that the three towns are unhappy,” Chatfield said.
Cheshire Town Manager Michael Milone said the biggest positive change has been a “very active, very involved and very diligent” board of directors. The board is made up of six representatives, three from Cheshire, two from Prospect and one from Wolcott. In 2011, the board was barely meeting, often because members didn’t show up. With mostly new members, the board is meeting every month and being more active, said Vice Chairman Ray Sima, of Cheshire.
To bring its budget in line, the district raised fees for services and inspections, cut staff through attrition and even got rid of two cars. Besides the special appropriation, it increased its yearly budget request to the towns. The bill for Cheshire, the largest of three towns, went up by $25,000, Milone said.
Last year, the town asked that the district provide the towns with regular detailed information on its spending. The towns have been receiving regular reports on spending but not enough details on projected spending and revenue. Milone wrote to Wegrzyn earlier this month asking for more budget detail and a copy of the audit report.
Milone has also asked for a budget estimate for the next fiscal year by March 1, about two months earlier than in previous years.
Wegrzyn said he is preparing the reports requested by the towns. Financially things “appear to be in healthy condition” he said.
With more diligence over its finances the district is also making sure it serves the 50,000 residents of its three-town district.
It instituted a new code for barber shops, hairdressers and cosmetology shops in October. Sima said it’s looking to fill vacancies, including a part-time nurse and sanitarian.
“We’re still trying to keep improving,” Sima said.