Giving health boards the power to decide whether public water supplies should be fluoridated would force ratepayers to shoulder the burden without consultation, the Canterbury Mayoral Forum says.
The Health Amendment Bill (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) proposes giving local health boards the power to decide whether fluoride should be added to public drinking water supplies.
The bill is being considered by parliament’s health select committee, which has been urged to ensure the cost of the plan would lie with the decision maker.
The Canterbury Mayoral forum has, in broad terms and in a submission to the committee, supported the move to shift such decisions from councils to district health boards.
Even so, Timaru District Mayor and forum deputy chairman Damon Odey said the forum remained concerned about how fluoridation would be funded and how communities would be consulted.
The bill would take the decision from council but the cost of implementing the decision would be borne by the ratepayers whose supplies were fluoridated, he said.
Councils would have to levy an appropriate rate on their communities to ensure a decision made by another body – a body not influenced by councils’ budget consultation processes – was carried out.
That was “just not on”.
“The cost should lie with the decision maker,” Odey said.
The forum is made up of nine district councils, including the Christchurch City Council and the Canterbury Regional Council (Environment Canterbury).
Odey presented the forum’s submission to the committee in March, while Christchurch made its own submission.
The mayors said the bill did not achieve the objective of “relieving” territorial authorities (TAs) of having to make decisions about public health matters.
“DHBs are not required to make directions (or not) on fluoridation, and there is no clear statement that TAs are not able to make decisions on fluoridation,” they say in the submission.
“Therefore it appears that if the DHB does not elect to use the bill’s new power, the relevant council will remain the decision-maker.”
If decision-making power was being removed from councils, an “express statement” should be made in the bill.
There were mixed views from Canterbury councils as to which agency should be the decision-maker – but most agreed councils should not that responsibility.
“National leadership is required in relation to decisions on the fluoridation of drinking water,” they say.
However, shifting responsibility to DHBs would not rule out a “series of locally fought campaigns over fluoride”, which could influence DHBs to reverse their decisions.
Fluoridation costs would be “forced” onto ratepayers without them having any control over the decision.
“This type of expense has to be planned for, and would usually be consulted on as part of a council’s Long Term Plan (and then Annual Plan),” the mayors say in the submission.
To avoid these issue, the decision-maker should be responsible for funding the costs associated with the decision to fluoridate drinking water supplies.
The mayors recommended it should be made clear who the decision maker was, that it should confirm costs would rest with the decision-maker, and that it would ensure the decision-maker consulted with the relevant council and considered community views.