Tri-Town Health Department funding formula proposal: More from Stockbridge, less from Lee

LEE — In all fairness, the Tri-Town Health Department funding formula needs to be based on the workload, not population, of its three-member municipalities.

Tri-Town officials say such an equitable change is overdue to significantly shift the spending burden more on Stockbridge, less on Lee, and with a slight percentage increase in Lenox.

Based on a cost analysis and seven-year average from fiscal 2011 through 2017 of permits issued, inspections and lab work conducted on behalf of each town, Stockbridge should be paying 24 percent of the Tri-Town expenditures instead of the current 18 percent. Lenox should go from 40 to 43 percent. Lee would drop from 42 to 33 percent under the proposal.

"The percentages have been pretty consistent each year, and probably have been that way for many years [before 2011,]" said Tri-Town Director James Wilusz.

Wilusz outlined the revised assessment calculation during his recent fiscal 2019 budget presentation before the Tri-Town Board of Health. Seven of the nine-member panel (three from each town) who were present unanimously endorsed the formula change, recognizing that the decades-old population formula was archaic.

Lee is the most populous, followed by Lenox and Stockbridge. Based on fiscal 2017 workload figures, the ranking is Lenox, then Lee, with Stockbridge a close third.

"I think our [town officials] have had a heads-up on this and they certainly want to make sure all the [health] inspections are done," said Stockbridge board member Henry Schwerner.

Lenox board representative Diane Romeo said the formula change makes sense, given the amount of growth in each community.

"Now that our area is more desirable, the [Tri-Town] workload has steadily increased each year," noted Romeo, from Lenox.

More tourists, second homeowners and lodging in the three-town area have the health agency averaging 3,900 inspections, lab tests and permitting processes in each of the past five years, compared with 3,180 in 3011.

"In the last few years, I had a feeling [Tri-Town] had more work to do, and the numbers bear that out," Schwerner said.

The assessment formula adjustment is one of several factors impacting the three towns' proposed bottom lines for the fiscal year starting July1. Stockbridge's assessment would double, to nearly $94,000, Lenox would increase from $106,000 to $161,000, and Lee would be up a bit, to $116,000.

Annual town meeting voters in each community come May have final approval of their respective Tri-Town assessments.

Overall, the Tri-Town budget is expected to jump $110,000, to $372,000 — a 42 percent increase — due to adding another inspector, a boost in pay to other staffers and a $50,000 hike in employee health insurance benefits.

"We aren't asking the salaries be at the top, just commensurate with similar positions in the county," Romeo said.

The new full-time inspector arrived two months ago to help clear a backlog of 500 pending inspections. Wilusz said the mid-fiscal year hire, paid with surplus funds, has made a dent in the long to-do list. He expects to be nearly caught up with inspections by June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

To significantly offset the budget spike, Wilusz said across-the-board fee increases are projected to bring in an additional $80,000. Since the projected revenue total of almost $197,000 won't fund the entire budget, taxation will cover the rest.

"The $80,000 is a conservative figure, it could go higher," he said.

The Tri-Town Health Department was created in 1929 to contain a hazardous milk outbreak throughout the three towns. Nearly 90 years later, the only regional health department in the Berkshires has evolved by providing a variety of services and educational programs to promote, protect and sustain public health in Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge. Tri-Town also provides tobacco awareness education, training for tobacco retailers and help in crafting local regulations to keep tobacco products away from minors for about a dozen Berkshire municipalities.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at and 413-496-6233.


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