Should Easton join the Westport-Weston Health District?

Easton is heading down the road of turning our personal and environmental health care over to an appointed 6-person Board of Directors where we will have just one representative. A Health District Board is autonomous and has tremendous power. According to Chapter 368(f) of Connecticut General Statutes, Section 19a-241, affairs of District Departments of Health are managed by a board, and “boards of health exercise all public health authority as municipalities and have the powers as set forth by state statute, law and/or regulation.” (quote from the WWHD Presentation)

  • As one of the benefits of joining, WWHD touts increased eligibility for state and federal funding. That funding will always come with strings attached and the board will look to the federal and state governments for guidance, never to the citizens of Easton.
  • Our elected leaders will have no control over the health decisions for our town.
  • Our citizens will have no control over the Health District Board decisions that will impact our personal and environmental health services. We will become insignificant in the healthcare decisions made for our town.

We are currently in a consortium with Trumbull and Monroe for recycling. When Easton citizens call the Easton Department of Public Works with a recycling problem, they are told to call the recycling company themselves because DPW has no power or influence with the company. Is this the situation we want to create in our health department?

Joining the WWHD is the first step in turning the health of our community over to unelected bureaucrats who will not answer to us.

Should we explore another alternative?

While it is no longer advisable for Easton to rely on two part-time employees to take care of the health and environmental safety needs of the town, the answer is not to act quickly to turn control over to an unelected regional board. We need to form a public Health Commission and charge them to:

  • Determine legal requirements and accurate costs for maintaining our own local health department. 
  • Formally evaluate what we need to do to meet state health requirements. Determine where are we falling short and what is required to bring us into compliance.
  • Work with the Board of Finance to investigate the financial implications of this major change to our town.
  • Compare the two alternatives: maintaining our own Easton Health Department or joining a health district.
  • Then hold public hearings and go to the citizens for a vote.

We need to take the time needed to address this situation properly and should not rush into something that has not been carefully vetted by the town. We need to put the brakes on and explore all our options so that we do not end up with buyer’s regret. Monroe and Trumbull formed a health district, but it did not last, and the split was not a simple legal procedure. Due to controversial environmental health decisions made by the district, the towns ended up in a court battle that was costly and resulted in the dissolution of the district. We need a health commission to investigate this prior to hearings and voting.

We need real proposals for a local Health Department that meets state compliance so we can make a thoughtful comparison with what is offered by WWHD. The proposals should be carefully constructed and vetted by the Board of Finance. Citizens should not be pressed into a decision with no alternatives to consider.

WWHD Merger-Acquisition: Numbers to Consider

WWHD Merger Budget

Contract merger with WWHD$100,000
Easton loss of fee revenue$20,000
From the state (approx $1.85 per person)$84,876
Total $$ to the Health District$204,876

The WWHD will receive additional income of approximately $205,000 as a result of Easton joining the district. Because we will be such a minority player in the WWHD, Easton citizens would be wise to view joining as a merger-acquisition. As such we should:

  • Review the contracts between all parties.
  • Review the WWHD financials for at least the last
    3-4 years.
  • Review the total budget for all three towns.
  • Understand how the $205,000 be spent?
  • Will staff be added to cover the additional 7,579 residents now in the district? Will there be an additional nurse and sanitarian hired to serve the citizens of Easton?
  • Will it all be spent on services to the citizens of Easton? If so, how will that happen?
  • If not, what portion will go to serve Easton citizens?
  • Will the district pay the salaries of remaining support staff i.e. assistant and secretary?
  • Will the district cover the full cost the office i.e. space, heat, electricity, phone, supplies?

It is important to note that $85,000 of the WWHD budget will come from the state. CT is broke. How long will it continue to provide that subsidy and what will happen when it doesn’t?

  • Will this go the same way as the educational cost sharing and special education funding where the state leaves our town holding the bag?
  • The state set up those subsidies and then pulled the money. That leaves the taxpayers on the hook to pay for the programs created under the subsidies.

If we are going to pay for it in the end anyway, we might as well have our health department that is controlled by the town.

WWHD Merger-Acquisition: Numbers to Consider

Town Representation on the WWHD Board

TownPopulation% of District
Board Seats% Board SeatsDelta

At just over 16% of the health district population, Easton would hold very little influence on the WWHD Board. We would, however, come closest to fair representation on the Board, with our one seat exceeding our population percentage by just 3%. Weston is over-represented by 11% and Westport under-represented by the same. According to CGS Section 19a-202a the district gets increased funding of $1.18 per person when the district has a population of 50,000 or more. If Easton joins the WWHD, the district will have a population of 45,879, short of the required 50,000. How big is big enough? Will there be a cap on the size of the district, or will it grow each time the State offers money?

Relevant State Statutes

Sec. 19a-202a. Requirements re municipality designating itself as having a part-time health department. Regulations

Sec. 19a-205. (Formerly Sec. 19-78). Salaries of directors of health

Sec. 19a-206. (Formerly Sec. 19-79). Duties of municipal directors of health. Nuisances and sources of filth. Injunctions. Civil penalties. Authority of town director within city or borough. Availability of relocation assistance. 

Sec. 19a-207. (Formerly Sec. 19-80). Duties of local officials. Emergencies. Regulations. (See also Sec. 19a-207a)

Citizens for Responsible Government (CRG) was founded by Easton resident Bud Jennings over 30 years ago and is the oldest PAC in CT. For many years the group acted as a tax watchdog. In more recent years the mission has broadened, and CRG works to protect and sustain the traditional processes of Easton governance, the Town Meeting, by raising awareness regarding important town issues. To see our most recent publication, Important Easton Issues, visit our website at .