OBSERVER CORPS REPORT 2020
One topic that has come up for discussion several times this year has been the problem of the Health Department being understaffed. This has been a problem for a while, but especially this year with the recent departure of assistant health agent Mallory Langler. Health agent Scott McGann would like the office to be open and accessible during all business hours. He is required to be on the road frequently doing out of the office business, such as inspections--i.e. housing, restaurant, and septic. He explained that he could spend at least seven hours dealing with a violation of the state housing code including phone calls, inspections, and paperwork. There is a great deal of paperwork and answering of phones that could be handled by an administrative assistant that would free up the health agents to do the health related business. He is in the process of interviewing candidates for the assistant health agent position and hopes that an increased budget will allow him to hire additional help. Meanwhile, he has asked for a short-term contract with the county for extra help.
The subject of health issues in housing was addressed when a tenant informed the Board that his nine-month-old child had tested positive for lead in his system. Houses that are rented are not supposed to have lead paint but the regulation does not kick in until there is a child under the age of six. The home must then be inspected and if lead is found in the home the landlord must pay for accommodations while the issue is being resolved. If the lead is in the water pipes, the landlord must supply bottled water.
Last summer the Board had to deal with the problem of Eastern Equine Encephalitis when infected mosquitos were discovered in Falmouth. Risk levels were monitored and recommendations were made for times to avoid being outside. The Board voted its support for targeted truck spraying. There was a discussion about the implications of various pesticides and the importance of contacting the state board for assistance before hiring any private contractors.
The Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) presented its annual report in September. The Board asked that amounts spent on the different programs be itemized.
Several shop owners came before the Board during the ban on vaping, claiming that their businesses were being impacted. One shop owner wished to open a cigar bar in his shop. This was not on the agenda so no action was taken but the health code of Falmouth does not allow smoking in the workplace where there is even a single employee beyond the employer. One member of the Board stated that he would never vote in favor of increasing the ease of accessibility to products that allow people to smoke as this would be contrary to the mission of the Board to protect the health and well being of residents and visitors of Falmouth.
There are always ongoing discussions of various septic issues. In areas of the town where the municipal sewer system has been completed, homes are required to connect to it. There is a fine of $300.00/day for failure to do this. One of the regular items of business continues to be the granting of variances for septic upgrades. Installation of alternative technology systems is becoming more frequent and that leads to the problem of non-compliance where the required schedule of inspections is not maintained. The Health Department must follow up on this. Some people come before the Board requesting relief from the number of inspections required. If nitrogen reduction goals have been maintained the relief is granted. It is also important to educate a homebuyer who purchases a home where an I/A system is already installed, as the new owner is responsible for maintaining the system. The Board has found that at times the noncompliance is the fault of the operator and not the homeowner.
Last March the Board instituted a one-year moratorium on the chemical glyphosate. This March a representative from the 300 Committee and from the Association of Golf Courses spoke about why certain chemicals are necessary for targeted areas. They emphasized that Cape Cod has always been at the forefront of responsible chemical use. The Board is willing to grant variances when necessary.
Last June members of the Board attended a forum on sober homes. A lesson learned from this forum was that the lack of regulations and certification requirements for sober homes, as well as legal protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act, make it difficult, if not impossible, to gather data on questions such as how many recovery residences exist in Falmouth. Since these homes do not offer treatment they are considered residences and so the housing code applies because they are people’s homes. The only way the health agent can go into a sober home to determine if occupancy requirements are being followed is if a tenant calls with a specific complaint that requires entrance into the residence.
The most recent issue before the Health Department is COVID19. Scott McGann has been preparing weekly updates. To my knowledge there were no meetings after the meeting on March 9 until May 18 when there was a joint Zoom meeting with the Select Board during which the two Boards agreed to require town residents to wear masks. The Board had its own Zoom meeting on June 1.
Stephanie Miele, LWVF Observer