Lyme residents approve budget, joining Ledge Light

Lyme — Town residents voted at the annual budget meeting Thursday in favor of joining Ledge Light Health District and approving the 2018-19 budget of $11,722,962.

The tax rate for next fiscal year, which the Board of Finance set after the meeting, will increase from 18.25 to 18.6 mills under the budget.

More than 50 residents attended Thursday's meeting at Town Hall, with a few asking questions or weighing in on the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance's proposal to join the regional health district that serves East Lyme, Groton city and town, Ledyard, New London, North Stonington, Old Lyme, Stonington, Stonington Borough and Waterford.

In response to a question regarding experience, Lyme First Selectman Steven Mattson said Ledge Light Director of Health Stephen Mansfield brings years of experience; Selectman John Kiker, who has a master's degree in public health, will serve as Lyme's representative on the regional health district's board of directors; and Town Sanitarian George Calkins will work for Ledge Light at Lyme Town Hall and continue to perform the same duties for the town.

Mattson has said the town proposed joining Ledge Light, as Calkins is nearing retirement and it is difficult to find a replacement and the state is advocating for municipalities to join regional health districts. 

Resident Edward Rodriguez said he felt that while well-intentioned, Lyme would be making a big mistake by joining the regional health district, which takes away authority over enforcement of health regulations from the town and Board of Selectmen and gives it to an agency that the town has virtually no power over. He raised several concerns and said the town instead could search for a replacement for Calkins for when he retires, rather than having Ledge Light pick the next sanitarian.

"Preserving our independence from the rest of the state I think is important to the character of this town," he added.

When asked by another resident if the town can leave Ledge Light if it doesn't work out, Mattson said the town is entering into a two-year contract with Ledge Light. Leaving would carry penalties, but they are not greater than what the town is paying Ledge Light for services. 

But Mattson cautioned that exiting Ledge Light would require the town to find more people, at a higher cost, to meet health code requirements. He estimates that membership in Ledge Light will save the town a net of $10,000 annually.

By majority voice vote, residents approved joining a regional district and repealing the town's 1968 health ordinance.

Residents also supported the acceptance of the Emerson Cemetery property donated from the Jewett family.

At the beginning of the meeting, EMT Carter Courtney received a standing ovation, as Tom Darna, chief of service for the Lyme Ambulance Association presented Courtney with an award for his over 30-year service, responding to more than 2,000 calls, and regularly being the top responder.

"I believe that the success of Lyme Ambulance Association can be attributed to the volunteers, especially veterans like Carter who have held a number of positions both in operations and on board and have mentored many new volunteers during his many years of service," ambulance association President Andrew Smith said.

At the end of the meeting, Rowland Ballek announced that he has moderated the town meetings for 46 years — which earned him a round of applause — and said it's time to turn over that duty to someone else.

k.drelich@theday.com

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