A proposal to merge health departments in the state has raised concerns among local officials.
“The state of Connecticut can’t even manage their own budget and now it wants to change a system that is working fine,” Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield said. “It’s totally, totally ridiculous.”
Last month, State Health Commissioner Dr. Raul Pino unveiled a draft plan that would consolidate the state’s 73 local health departments into eight county health districts.
Pino would appoint eight directors to three-year terms for the transition, which could be renewed when executive boards for each county district take control of personnel decisions.
While no bill has been formally introduced to the state legislature, municipal leaders have already voiced opposition to the plan’s potential to increase local costs. The annual fee to be paid by municipalities would be 1.5 percent of their operating budgets, which includes education costs.
Prospect is a member of the Chesprocott Health District, which covers Cheshire, Wolcott, and Prospect. Each town pays the health district based on the number of residents and businesses.
Chatfield said Prospect currently pays about $82,000. Under the consolidation proposal, the town’s costs are expected to be about $477,000, an increase of about $395,000.
Naugatuck wouldn’t fare better under the proposal.
The borough, which is part of the Naugatuck Valley Health District, currently pays $216,864.
Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess didn’t have an exact number, but said the borough’s cost could rise to over $1 million.
“To spend the type of money they are talking about to change something that isn’t broken is absurd and ridiculous and we will do everything in our power to oppose it,” Hess said.
Beacon Falls, which is also part of the Naugatuck Valley Health District, currently pays $36,312 to the health district. The town’s operating budget this year is nearly $21.4 million, which would mean the town could pay more than $300,000 under the state’s proposal.
First Selectman Christopher Bielik said last week he did not have any information on what the potential economic impact would be on the town if the consolidation plan is implemented.
However, he said an increase in the cost the town now pays would not be acceptable.
“If we are going to see a cost increase you can imagine how I would feel about,” Bielik said.
Bielik also wasn’t sure why the state is considering consolidating health districts.
“We have been extremely happy with service we have received from [Naugatuck Valley Health District] over the years,” Bielik said. “I’m uncertain, other than the economic benefit of consolidation, how regionalization will get us better service.”
In a statement issued to the Republican-American, Department of Public Health spokesman Christopher Stan said the plan is in early stages.
“DPH is still in a very preliminary stage with legislative proposals,” Stan wrote. “This concept needs to go through a thorough vetting process, and we need to have several additional conversations with local health directors, municipal elected officials, legislators, and other stakeholders before any concrete legislative proposals for the 2017 legislative session are announced.”
Chatfield hopes the plan won’t make it out of the preliminary stages.
“We were doing just fine now,” Chatfield said. “I hope the legislature wouldn’t even accept the thing.”
Hess said the borough is working with other towns, as well as the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments, to oppose to the plan.
“We already have a regional solution that works for us. We are in a regional health district. So I don’t understand the logic of trying to rearrange it when we already have a solution that works and is economical,” Hess said.
Bielik hopes the state reviews this proposal with the full understanding of what it means to each municipality.
“My hope is that whatever decision is ultimately made it is made with combination of economic perspective and service perspective,” Bielik said.
The Republican-American contributed to this article.