NEW BRITAIN - As the state considers cutting nearly a million dollars to municipal health departments and districts, local officials are digesting what this 10 percent slash could mean for the wellness of their communities.
Public health funding will be $921,020 poorer later this year, if Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed budget is approved. The state currently provides health departments with $1.18 per resident and larger districts that serve multiple towns, $1.85 - rates that could come down significantly.
Officials in New Britain fear a cut to their health department’s funding could pose more than just a fiscal challenge.
“It’s going to have a significant impact to our local services,” Director of Health Sergio Lupo said. “The cost may be passed onto the local taxpayer or potentially impact staff positions.”
The implications of a tighter wallet could impair the department’s regular functioning, according to Lupo.
“My biggest worry is will establishments still be inspected in a timely manner? That’s a liability on the state’s part. God forbid if we have to investigate a foodborne outbreak or lead poisoning in one of the schools.”
The department conducts inspections, infectious disease surveillance and data, tests the quality of water in wells and septic systems and provides other services and programs to the city. Staff also visit the New Britain Senior Center two to three times a week to provide support services to elderly residents. It’s these types of services that such a deep hole in the bank could threaten.
Newington, Berlin, Wethersfield and Rocky Hill are served by the Central Connecticut Health District, which has a similar function but a larger workload – representing over 98,000 residents. The CCHD passed its annual budget last week with a 50-cent rise in towns’ per-capita membership fees. The new rate of $5.75 per resident - up from the current rate of $5.25 - will go into effect July 1. The increase is directly related to the expected drop in state aid.
In order to limit this hike staff are delaying centralizing offices – a move previously considered.
“As we look at being fair to the towns and making sure our district is still well positioned it’s very challenging,” CCHD Director of Health Charles Brown said. “As a health district we’re trying to be as efficient as we possibly can. We are still at a much lower rate than other towns but did need an increase to offset those costs. We’re not looking to pass on more than needed to our member towns.”
That Bristol-Burlington Health District may also have to contend with a cut in state aid.
Bristol Mayor Ken Cockayne is deeply concerned by this and the governor’s budget plan as a whole, considering its wide-ranging ramifications.
“It’s really hitting many municipalities hard,” he said Sunday. “The state, who can’t get their own fiscal situation in order, is passing off their debt to the cities and towns. We mayors, first selectmen and town managers have to balance our budgets every year. Perhaps the state should allow us to come up to the Capitol and balance their budget for them.”
Cockayne said Bristol is slated to receive about $8 million less this year, based on the current proposal. That would raise the tax rate by two mills, even before local budget deliberations are completed. Because of this, city officials are anxiously playing the waiting game.
“We’re going to extend our budget adoption as long as we possibly can in hopes the state has a budget by then so we know what we’re getting cut,” Cockayne explained. “We cannot continue down the road as we are – balancing the state budget on the backs of the taxpayers.”
In terms of the health district specifically, Cockayne said he is committed to smoothing out any bumps that may arise in the agency’s fabric.
“We will do whatever we need to do to ensure the health district continues to function without a hitch. We have some great employees there that look out for the public’s health and safety and we will continue to work with them to try to find some savings.”
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or firstname.lastname@example.org.