November 19, 2017

Op-Ed: Old Lyme Should Return to Local Health Department; Dramatic Increases in Ledge Light Fees Adversely Impacting Local Residents, Small Businesses

Editor’s Note: The author, Dawn Root, is the owner of Old Lyme Seafood.

Old Lyme joined Ledge Light Health District (LLHD) on Nov 1, 2016 after approval at a Town Meeting by a margin of only 3 votes (82-79).  The time between the first public hearing (scheduled on Aug 29 during prime vacation season, with only 10 days’ notice) and the Town Meeting vote held on Sept 27 was less than a month.  That’s not enough time for public debate on a fundamental change to our town government that has a direct impact on all Old Lyme residents, businesses and organizations.

At the Sept 2016 Town Meeting, we were told that joining LLHD would result in significant cost savings, but it has not.  Previously, Old Lyme residents and businesses paid fees to our Town that helped offset our local health department costs. However, fees paid to LLHD don’t offset town costs, so become additional costs.

LLHD septic and well permit/review fees typically increased between $25-$150.  High septic and well fees have a greater impact on Old Lyme than other LLHD towns, such as New London, Groton, Waterford, East Lyme, because a greater portion of Old Lyme residents and businesses rely on wells and septic systems.

Most LLHD licensing and inspection fees increased between 2- and 10-fold (e.g.: from $50 to $300, or from $20 to $205-$245), and fee adjustments for seasonal vs year-round, or small vs large establishments were eliminated.  Such dramatic fee increases have been particularly challenging to Old Lyme small businesses and organizations because many are seasonal, or serve a much smaller local population than other LLHD communities.

LLHD also introduced many new fees, including $100 late fees, $100 re-inspection fees, and $50 repeat violation fees. When one considers total costs paid to LLHD, there are no costs savings.  The LLHD fee increases have already become a substantial burden to many local residents, small businesses and organizations, as demonstrated by over 100 Old Lyme residents and business owners signing a petition to bring the matter back to another Town Meeting.

The possibility of a future cost reduction was also mentioned at the Sept 2016 Town Meeting, but it was tied to eliminating an extra payment that Old Lyme makes to LLHD to maintain LLHD staff at Town Hall.  Without these extra payments, on-site health staffing may be significantly reduced; currently, LLHD provides on-site staff in Stonington and East Lyme only 2-4 hours/week.

Importantly, we were told that by joining LLHD, Old Lyme would not lose control of this important town function because Old Lyme would “have a seat at the table” on the LLHD board.  In reality, Old Lyme will have minimal influence over future LLHD decisions regarding costs, fees, staffing, and service, because representation on the LLHD board is based on population, and Old Lyme is by far the smallest town in the LLHD – representing only 5% of the total LLHD population (see table below).

Lastly, we were told that Old Lyme could simply try LLHD for 2 years and switch back to a local health department after giving LLHD 6 months’ notice.  Please join me, and many other Old Lyme residents and small business owners adversely impacted by the LLHD changes, in requesting that Old Lyme return to a local health department that will be more responsive to the unique needs of our small, and very special, community.   

LLHD-Member Town Populations (CT Dept. of Public Health 2016 estimates)

Town Population % of LLHD Total
Groton 39,261 27%
New London 26,984 19%
Waterford 19,101 13%
East Lyme 18,886 13%
Stonington 18,647 13%
Ledyard 14,911 10%
Old Lyme 7,469 5%
LLHD TOTAL 145,259 100%
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