Op-Ed: ‘No Question That We Should Join’ Westport Weston Health District

On Tuesday March 30, Easton will vote on whether or not to join the Westport Weston Health District. I have no question that we should join. As your first selectman you have charged me with providing for the health and welfare of this town. You also have every right to expect me to encourage efficiency in town government and to spend your-hard earned tax dollars wisely. I have committed to doing that, but more importantly I have tried to be transparent and to give you a voice in the town’s spending decisions as a check that you believe I am in fact making good financial decisions. That is of course why we are having a referendum in the first place. 

Our previous part time health department was woefully inadequate. It failed to provide the majority of the health services which we were required to provide. The part time sanitarian was overworked as a resource and the service provided to the town was sub par as well. This is in no means an indictment of the hard-working people who served the town in our health department for many years. It is their own assessment, and it is why they fully support my position that we join the  health district.

If we  have learned nothing else from the pandemic, it is that public health is critical. It has also become far more complex as have so many other things in our world. A town of 7,500 people could go it alone, but public health is resource intensive, and therefore it is inefficient for a town of our size to have an independent health department. Our schools, library and Senior Center have already come to depend on the guidance and assistance of the Westport Weston health district. Their help has allowed us to figure ways to provide services at our Senior Center that were far greater than most towns around us, and to do a better job of keeping our kids in school with in person learning than many neighboring towns. 

That is why joining is supported by our Senior Center leadership. With Westport Weston’s help we have carried out contact tracing and held vaccination clinics in Easton and have helped many of  more of our citizens manage the uncertainties and concerns of the pandemic. In a time of  unprecedented building in Easton, (not just new homes, but pools, generators, and additions, all of which require permitting) we have provided more timely as well as high-quality service with the resources of the health district. 

Although there are very few independent town centric-health departments left in the state because they are so difficult to  maintain, we have looked at other options. Joining Redding is not currently offered to us. Building our own health department from scratch is expensive and would still end up providing inferior service. It is disappointing that while this has been explained numerous times, some continue to pose the question about having an independent Easton health department as if they are the only ones considering it, and as if this has never been discussed. 

These are all practical  reasons to consider when making your decision on how to vote about joining the health district.  Some have reduced this to a decision of whether Easton can maintain its independence from the state, and maintain local control. Illness does not respect town borders. To suggest that because other towns have more citizens our health will be neglected is ludicrous. So is the argument that because the health and sanitation function of the district has to certify the safety of ice cream parlors and beaches, their ability to certify your septic system is somehow compromised.

Of course the health district needs an office to operate out of and state statutes gives them the necessary powers to secure that office space by buying or renting real estate. The health district needs a governing body, and since it involves more than one town, there is proportional representation on its board. I have followed the health district board meeting minutes since we have been working with them. Their decisions are not controversial, and there is no reason to believe that they would become so. The mission of the Westport Weston Health District is to provide for the health of all of their citizens. That is what Easton needs. I have no issue with freedom of speech and high-minded debate.

I trust that that is what you want as well. I also trust that the people of this town will decide this question based on reasonable judgment as opposed to undue fear and manipulation of facts to create a narrative of how joining the health district will lead to the destruction of our town and town values. As your First Selectman I feel strongly that joining is the best way to ensure the good health of our people.

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