EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

July 14, 2013

Health board chairman: City Council put public at risk

Member defends cuts, 'we are here to save money'

METHUEN — The chairman of Methuen’s health board claims the City Council put the public at risk by slashing the Health Division budget by nearly $100,000.

Ray Wrobel handed each councilor “cease and desist” letters Wednesday night, ordering them to restore within seven days funding for the health director and public health nurse positions.

In late June, councilors trimmed Health Director Brian LaGrasse’s $73,149 annual salary to $1 and reduced public health nurse Amy Ewing’s work week from 35 to 20 hours to save $25,000.

Without the funding, Wrobel wrote that the health board “is unable to effectively perform the duties and functions required of them” under local and state laws and regulations.

“As a result, the public health of the residents of Methuen is at risk,” Wrobel wrote.

“In accordance with the Board of Health’s authority to protect public health, the board hereby orders you to cease and desist withholding the necessary funding to fully staff the Health Department immediately,” he wrote.

Local health officials spoke out against the budget cuts at Wednesday’s council meeting, including Wrobel, health board member Cherie Lynn Monahan and Cheryl Sbarra, senior attorney for the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards.

“In a city of 47,000 people, it is very unusual not to have a health director,” Savara told councilors.

Wrobel asked councilors why they made no effort to reach out to the health board before cutting their budget.

If they communicated with the board, Wrobel said the council would have been told about the numerous responsibilities of the director and nurse, and of their involvement with a $325,000 regional state grant.

Before distributing the letters, Wrobel asked the council to reconsider its vote and restore funding for both positions by instructing the mayor to pull the required money from the city’s reserve fund.

Councilors Michael Condon and Jennifer Kannan fired back.

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