After months of legal wrangling, a Delaware County judge has ruled: Delaware County cannot muscle its way into conducting health inspections — and collecting the revenue — in first-class townships. The ruling again raises questions about the wisdom of the county’s 2021 decision to create the new multi-million dollar agency.
“This Court herein enters a Preliminary Injunction which enjoins the County of Delaware from conducting any environmental health inspections and/or licensing any food and beverage retail establishments, food stores, public and parochial schools and public swimming pools in the Townships of Springfield, Ridley, Upper Chichester, Aston, Tinicum, Darby and Marple,” ruled Common Pleas Judge Spiros Angelos.
On April 21, Angelos issued a preliminary injunction in favor of the townships blocking Delco’s health department from conducting health inspections and licensing restaurants, food stores, public and parochial schools, and public swimming pools in those communities. The municipalities have argued that their inspection regime can co-exist with the new county health agency, while the county has insisted they have the authority to supersede local control.
In Tuesday’s ruling, Spiros declared the county only has that power over municipalities “where the local administration of health laws is being performed… exclusively by the state department of health in all areas at the time of creation of a County Health Department. A partial control by the state over pandemic and/ or other health issues unrelated to food establishment licenses does not compel the sunset of the local board of health or health official.”
During last spring’s hearing, James Byrne, attorney for the municipalities, complained that “people are being asked to submit to a double inspection.”
“We all have our own health department and our own zoning and code and other departments that are perfectly capable of doing the job and have been doing the job for years. And we think we can do a better job with our local folks being closer to them in terms of distance, response time, and we just think that that’s just better for the taxpayers of each of the towns,” Byrne said.
The judge did, however, deny a request for an injunction from the Township of Middletown, saying the law “mandates that townships of the Second-Class operate under the jurisdiction of a County Health Department.”
And Angelos also directed the first-class towns and Delco to “at all times cooperate and exchange the identification, location and other necessary information regarding of all licensed operations in their respective municipalities.”
Local businesses were taken aback when the county issued its fee schedule for providing the same services carried out by municipalities and the cost of a basic health inspection jumped from $50 to $266 or more, depending on the size of the establishment. “I don’t know how they’re justifying these expenses,” Brian Razzi with the Delaware County Planning Commission told DVJournal at the time. “I think it going to create a huge burden. The fees are going to be way different than they were when the municipalities were doing the inspections.”
The new county health department, which was given state approval on April 2, is expected to cost some $10 million in its first year, with continuing costs of $8 to $10 million annually. While much of the expense will come from state and federal grants, county taxpayers will pick up about 30 percent of the tab. The county also signed a five-year lease on the 11,235-square-foot Wellness Center in Yeadon, paying more than the originally requested rent. Over the course of the lease, the county will pay some $250,000 more than what the real estate company had sought.