Sometime before April 28, Sparta will withdraw from the county’s health system in favor of reverting back to independently funding and operating its own health department, which it did prior to joining the county in 2009.
In an email to the NJ Herald, then-Mayor Christine Quinn said, “In the first full year of the program, we project the costs (to the township) to be approximately $350,000 to $375,000 which would result in a savings of between $50,000 to $75,000 over the present fee paid to the County for the same services.”
The township will be responsible for all health functions, including food inspection (including checking all vendors at the Sparta Farmers Market and the Lake Mohawk German Christmas Market, as well as restaurants), septic tank enforcement and record keeping, monitoring immunizations of schoolchildren, among others, and lose access to county personnel and technology.
“I'm not sure they know what they're losing,” said Freeholder George Graham, who was director of Freeholders at the time.
Sparta’s reasoning is that it pays disproportionately into the county system based on its population—county taxes are assessed on property values, not population numbers and Sparta is at the top of the list.
County health officials claim the withdrawal will leave them with a $420,000 shortfall that they will need to make up by decreasing personnel and services or increasing the tax on all other county municipalities. Critics say that while the health department is losing Sparta’s tax income, it is also losing the need to do any work there, and so there shouldn’t be a need to cut personnel or raise additional funds.
Sparta’s council quietly voted for the withdrawal in October, in an unadvertised vote that took place after most discussions happened in closed executive sessions, which council members said was necessary because the talks involved contracts. Given the secretive manner in which the decision was made, and the vague nature of how the township plans to provide services, its questionable whether Sparta residents understand the implications of the governing body’s decision, which will affect the health and safety of everyone who lives within its borders.