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July 17, 2013

Health board mulls lawsuit

METHUEN — The Board of Health is considering whether to take legal action against the City Council in response to last month’s budget cuts that slashed nearly $100,000 from the Health Division budget.

At a meeting last night, health Chairman Ray Wrobel told board members they could seek a court injunction in an effort to reverse the cuts — which trimmed Health Director Brian LaGrasse’s $73,149 annual salary to $1, effectively eliminating his job. Councilors also reduced public health nurse Amy Ewing’s work week from 35 to 20 hours, saving $25,000.

“This is a paradox,” said Wrobel. “A board of the city is going to be suing the city.”

But health board members Joyce Hersey, Cherie Lynn Monahan and Karen Ferullo said they want answers from the City Council before taking the matter to the courts. They also questioned why councilors never consulted the board before approving the cuts, which came as the council trimmed just $189,848 from the mayor’s $145.3 million budget proposal.

“They treated us like nonentities,” said Hersey. “I don’t believe in tit-for-tat. I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. I think (legal action) would be a last resort.”

Ferullo said it will be much easier for the city to restore Health Division funding than to pay for a legal battle.

“It’s going to cost a lot more money to get a lawyer and go through all that, when someone can just get their job back,” said Ferullo. “I think there’s definitely an easier way. I just wish the council would have come to the board first.”

Also last night, the board discussed how to run the Health Division without money for a health director and full-time nurse.

While Mayor Stephen Zanni has said he intends to make budget transfers to temporarily fund the positions, details of that plan have not been released.

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