A Common Pleas judge ruled Thursday the Delaware County Health Department can’t bigfoot local municipalities when it comes to health inspections of restaurants, businesses, schools, and public swimming pools.

Judge James P. Bradley enjoined the Delaware County Health Department from inspections in the municipalities involved in his ruling after a Feb. 1 trial.

The towns include Middletown, Thornbury, Clifton Heights, Eddystone, Prospect Park, Ridley, and Lower Chichester.

In 2022, Judge Spiros Angelos ruled the county could not take over health inspections from first-class townships unless the townships agreed.

The DCHD was accredited on Feb. 28, 2022, and obtained state approval that April. It costs $10 million or so each year, but much of the funding comes from state and federal grants. Democrats, who swept county council offices in 2019, ran on creating a county health department.

Once inspectors were hired, the county began conducting health inspections in the 49 towns in the county. However, the municipalities mentioned above and a handful of others already had health departments in place and fought to continue performing the inspections locally.

Lower Chichester received a letter from the state Department of Health confirming it was entitled to continue the health inspections. The county then sued it, bringing it into the litigation. Other towns had sued the county to stop its inspectors from performing inspections.

Jim Byrne, the lawyer representing Springfield, Ridley and Aston, said he was “very pleased with the court’s ruling. I think it is consistent with facts and law.”

Jeff Seagraves, Thornbury Township manager, said, “We’re pleased with the outcome of the trial.”

Frank Catania, solicitor for Lower Chichester, said the municipality tried to work cooperatively with the county and even asked the state Health Department for guidance, only to be sued by the county.

Township administrator Joseph Possenti Jr. said they were “very disappointed” when the county sued them.

“We didn’t want to fight,” said Possenti. He said they tried to arrange talks with the county about the health inspections but were unsuccessful.

After the county sued Lower Chichester, county Councilwoman Christine Reuther brought up the litigation at the Dec. 6, 2023, council meeting and told her fellow council members that she objected to giving Lower Chichester a $45,000 grant to tear down a derelict building on Green Street.

“Lower Chichester is one of the municipalities which is refusing to allow Delaware County Health Department health inspectors to do their inspections,” said Reuther, saying the town had sued the county rather than the other way around. “They’re costing us to spend a considerable amount of money in legal fees.”

After listening to Reuther, the council voted against the grant.

Business owners were shocked to find that health inspection fees increased significantly when the county took over. Lower Chichester charges $75 to inspect a business. But the county charges $300 or $400, said Possenti.

“That’s what they charge some of these restaurants and bars,” he said. “It’s a lot of money.”

“I’m very happy with the judge’s decision,” said Possenti. “We’ve been doing this (health inspections) for a number of years… It’s small businesses in Lower Chi that get inspected, a pizza shop, and the elementary school. We’ve been doing it for years and doing it well. We’ve never had any issues with food contamination. Our health officers do a great job, and we don’t make money off it. We cover her fee and charge the customer.”

“The county is currently reviewing the opinion with its attorneys to determine whether to appeal,” said spokeswoman Adrienne Marofsky. “The county and the Delaware County Health Department remain committed to its mission to build healthy and thriving communities throughout Delaware County.”

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