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Lyme to hold public hearing on joining Ledge Light Health District

Lyme could be the latest town in the region to join the Ledge Light Health District.

The town will hold a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Lyme Town Hall on the Board of Selectmen's recommendation to join the health district, which currently serves East Lyme, City and Town of Groton, Ledyard, New London, North Stonington, Old Lyme, Town of Stonington, the Stonington Borough and Waterford.

The Lyme Board of Selectmen has posted information about its recommendation to join Ledge Light on the town's website and lists the benefits of joining the regional district as: "the ability to provide our residents with a full range of public health services all year long; the ability to offer emergency-related public health services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; lower annual costs for providing public health services to our residents; ongoing access to a team of certified public health professionals; uniform and consistent enforcement of state public health codes and regulations; and the assurance that the town is in full compliance with all state rules and regulations governing local health departments."

Lyme First Selectman Steven Mattson said by phone that the move to recommend the regional district comes as the state has been pushing towns to join regional health districts. Lyme also is facing the possible retirement of its sanitarian, George Calkins, at a time when it is difficult to find a town sanitarian to replace him.

Calkins will either retire at the end of June, or may be hired by Ledge Light Health District to continue to work part time for Lyme, the post says.

Ledge Light Health District is in discussions with the town regarding hiring Calkins — who is a former Ledge Light employee — with his primary assignment and office being in Lyme, Ledge Light's Director of Health Stephen Mansfield said by phone. He pointed out that hiring someone who knows the town's history is very positive in making the transition to a regional health district easier.

Mansfield said the regional health district provides a continuity of services, covering towns from the Rhode Island border to the Connecticut River. With 23 people on staff, the district provides a depth of resources and broader services, including a full-time public health nurse, a full-time epidemiologist and a robust environmental health staff. 

If Lyme joins Ledge Light, it will be the fifth municipality to do so in less than two years. The borough of Stonington, town of Stonington, North Stonington and Old Lyme recently joined, and the district added four additional staff positions over that time period, Mansfield said. He said factors that prompted municipalities to join include budget savings and staff turnover. Joining a regional district takes the administrative burden off the municipalities and allows the district to handle it from a regional perspective, he added.

"We are one-stop shopping for all their public health services," Mansfield said. He added that the towns made the decision about what is right for their communities, and it wasn't mandated by the state.

Lyme estimates it will save about $10,000 annually by joining the regional health district, according to Mattson. He said there will be a slight change in fees, as the town would adopt the Ledge Light fee structure; in some categories, prices will go up, and in others, prices will go down, so the impact to residents should be minimal. Lyme also doesn't have the food service groups, as in other towns, that make up a lot of what a health district covers, so joining the health district is a small and relatively benign issue for the town, he added.

Mansfield and the Lyme Board of Selectmen will be available to answer questions at Thursday's hearing.

A town vote on joining the health district will be held at the annual town meeting on May 17 at Lyme Town Hall. The time of the meeting will be announced later.

k.drelich@theday.com

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