NEOSHO, Mo. – The people of Neosho are destined to hear plenty of talk about fluoride in their future.
The Neosho City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to put the question of adding fluoride to the public water system on the April 2005 ballot. People on both sides of the issue said they plan to try to rally support for their positions.
About a half-dozen members of Operation Smiles, a Joplin-based organization encouraging a number of area towns to fluoridate their water systems, approached the council a month ago, asking that council members add the mineral to the municipal water system.
At that meeting, a number of fluoride opponents voiced concerns about the cost of fluoridation, and said that fluoride is toxic and would harm the public.
In the interim, people on both sides have been lobbying council members. Mayor Howard Birdsong, holding up a thick stack of papers Tuesday night, said he’s been flooded with letters and information.
“And that’s not counting the phone calls and conversations on the street,” he said.
Mike Hightower, city utilities superintendent, estimated that fluoridating the water would cost the city about $51,000 in capital expenses and about $17,500 in annual operating costs.
Aaron Farber, a local attorney and fluoride supporter, said he thinks Hightower is “not completely qualified” to estimate those costs, and said Hightower’s estimates are inflated. Farber also complained that, despite several letters sent to the city asking that the Missouri Department of Natural Resources evaluate the costs, no response had been received.
“We need to have a second evaluation to look at the cost of this,” he said.
City Manager Jim Cole said he believes Hightower’s cost estimates are accurate.
On Tuesday night, all the council members present said they see the medicinal benefits of fluoride, but they supported putting the measure to a vote of the people.
Councilman Jeff Werneke said he gives fluoride to his two children, but said he supports putting the issue on the ballot because it has raised so much concern in the community.
“We need to give citizens time to do this investigation on their own,” he said. “The only way to address this issue is to go to the ballot box.”
Fluoride proponents and opponents said they were disappointed that the council didn’t vote to either fluoridate the city’s water or strike down the measure, but most said they were glad that residents will have a chance to vote on the issue.
“I’m only half satisfied,” said A.W. Lavender, a vocal fluoride opponent. “I’d rather that they would have dropped it.”
Janice Walker, chief operating officer of Freeman Neosho Hospital and a fluoride supporter, said she’s confident that the public will vote in favor of fluoridation in April, and that she and others will work to rally support for fluoridation.
“We’re not going to lay down and wait for election day,” she said.
Birdsong and Councilmen Bill Carlsten, Jim Smallwood and Werneke attended the meeting. Councilwoman Sherry McCormack was absent. The council’s next meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Nov. 7.