In early March, leadership in Manheim Township passed a bipartisan resolution that called on Lancaster County commissioners to create a public health department.
The citizens of Lancaster County overwhelmingly favor the creation of a county health department, according to a poll conducted by Franklin & Marshall College in the fall.
“Researchers and public health experts might know the benefits of a public health department, but the public also seems to recognize the benefits,” said Jennifer Meyer, one of the researchers and a government and public health professor at F&M.
While the public can not formally vote on a public health department, county municipalities have spoken about the resolution in board meetings.
Here's how some Lancaster County boroughs and townships have responded to the resolution.
Wants a county health department
Denver Borough Council members joined other local officials calling on Lancaster County to establish a county health department, which county commissioners have been reluctant to do so far, despite a yearlong pandemic.
During their meeting on March 29, council members offered informal support to the March 8 letter and resolution initiated by Manheim Township to create a county health department. Borough Council did not take a formal vote on the resolution.
Councilperson Todd Stewart, who said he’s not always one for more government, pointed out that a county health department could have been useful with the pandemic.
Lancaster City Council passed a resolution on April 13 in support of the “prompt” establishment of a Lancaster County department of health.
“Just so our constituents don't necessarily think we are spitting into the wind … between the four municipalities, (that’s) more than 110,000 Lancastrians — just so far — whose representatives will have resolved directly to the county commissioners,” Lancaster City Council President Ismail Smith-Wade-El said. He noted that the board has signaled a willingness to engage in conversation.
In a unanimous, bipartisan resolution passed on March 8, the Manheim Township Board of Commissioners called on the county “to immediately initiate a working group to evaluate and recommend establishing a county health department by the end of 2021, if not before."
“It’s past time for Lancaster County to create a health department. We have seen the difference good, coordinated public health actions can have over this last year,” said board president Tom O’Brien.
Borough Council voted unanimously on April 13 in support Manheim Township’s resolution to create a Lancaster County health department. Council members said they favor the idea upon introduction, but they are interested in more information about what the department could do for the county.
Council member Bill Dalzell said, “I think the past year has made it pretty clear that this is something that our county needs. We need to tell the county to begin to do this research.”
Similarly, Jeff Marsh lauded potential uses of a countywide department. “The county could take charge of setting up the vaccination clinics and tracing people with infections. I think it’s a positive thing,” Marsh said.
Neutral/no action on a county health department
“I didn’t get the impression there was a lot of support for it,” said East Donegal Township Supervisor Tom Jones on April 1 during the township supervisors' meeting.
Jones based his impression on recent conversations he said he had with the Lancaster County commissioners.
Jones added he will continue to listen to the residents of Lancaster County and especially East Donegal Township. “We will see how municipalities react ... perhaps we’ll draw up a resolution of our own, but we will wait and see.”
Unable to find answers to their various questions and concerns, supervisors at an April 6 meeting tabled a brief discussion on this issue until further information becomes available.
No decision was made on whether board members favor or oppose a county health department. However, township officials will not draft or vote on a formal resolution at this time.
Manheim Borough Council discussed but took no action on a resolution encouraging Lancaster County commissioners to create a public health department, at the borough council meeting on April 13.
Council had mixed thoughts on establishing a county health department. Mayor Scot Funk said he was torn about the proposal. He said the COVID-19 pandemic was a learning curve for all agencies and municipalities, but overall he feels a county health department would provide more control at a local level.
Opposes a county health department
While the letter from Manheim Township urged municipalities to support the formation of a countywide public health department, supervisors in Bart Township moved to oppose it.
During their meeting on April 7, the supervisors declined the request and instead passed a motion to oppose the idea by either joining with neighboring Christiana Borough or drafting a letter of their own to the Lancaster County commissioners.
Members of the Christiana Borough Council rejected the idea of a countywide public health department during their meeting on April 6.
They followed up with a resolution to be sent to the commissioners, asking that the idea of a countywide health department be rejected on the grounds that it is another layer of bureaucracy. The resolution suggests larger municipalities that feel the need for a health department could establish their own.
Borough Council voted against approving a resolution calling on Lancaster County Board of Commissioners to create a county health department at their April 13 council meeting.
“I think this is a knee-jerk reaction to the COVID pandemic,” Mayor Leo Lutz said of the resolution initiated by Manheim Township. “I can’t support another layer of government.” Council member Peter Stahl expressed a similar opinion.
Chair Tom Willig said during a township supervisors' meeting on April 5 that he believed the township is not in the position to make a decision to endorse a countywide health department.
Willig said county commissioners discussing the issue at their meetings is more appropriate than supervisors voting to promote it.
“What would (a county health department) do for the people?” Supervisor Peggy Dearolf asked. Vice Chair Mike Weaver said he would not vote for “something that they (Lancaster County) can’t tell me what it’s going to do,” adding he needed “hard facts."
Editor's note: This story will be updated as municipalities decide whether to support or oppose a county health department.