Norfolkans will get to vote next May whether they want fluoride to be added to the city’s water supply.
At Tuesday’s Norfolk City Council meeting, the council voted 6-2 to have the issue placed on the primary election ballot.
That action came after the council was deadlocked 4-4 on a motion that would have had fluoride added to the water supply automatically as allowed by state statute.
That option would have meant those against fluoridation would have needed to gather about 2,100 signatures to have the issue placed on the ballot by initiative petition. The 2,100 signatures represent about 15 percent of the registered voters in Norfolk.
Council member Dale Coy said the issue isn’t about fluoridation so much as it is about whether voters are given a chance to decide.
“The state legislature didn’t mandate that we put fluoridation (in),” Coy said. “They mandated that we decide how the choice is made.”
Mayor Sue Fuchtman, who was called upon to cast the tie-breaking vote, said she agrees with Coy and others who believe that residents should be given a chance to vote on the issue, especially without having to go through the expense of a special election.
On two previous occasions, most recently in 1998, Norfolkans have voted against fluoridation.
At Tuesday’s meeting, council members chose among three alternatives. The first was to hold an election on the issue during the May primary. The second was to hold a special election.
Some council members said they did not see the need to have a special election because of the additional expense, which could be up to $20,000.
The final alternative was to add fluoride to the city water supply as mandated by state law. That alternative, which the council tied on 4-4, would have meant opponents would have needed to gather signatures to have the issue placed on the ballot.
Council member Ivan Van Dyke said he supports fluoridation and led vocal support for it.
During discussion, a letter was read in support from Kathy Nordby, health director for the Elkhorn Logan Valley Public Health Department of Wisner.
In the letter, Nordby said there is some misinformation spread about fluoridation that can make people skeptical and fearful, leading them to take the view of “I’d rather err on the side of caution.”
“In this case, one may think that bringing the issue to a vote is doing a service to the people, when, in fact, a disservice would be done as anti-flouridationists would have the opportunity to resort to their usual method of scare tactics,” Nordby wrote.
Council member Jim Lange said he supported the third alternative because it keeps a “vocal minority” from dictating that there be a special election.
Lange and Van Dyke cast the dissenting votes of having the issue placed on the primary ballot.
Earlier, council members Lange, Van Dyke, Vicki Saunders and Jim Brenneman voted in support of having fluoride added. Coy, Karl Reeder, Dave Fauss and Erik Wilson voted against that option, which then required the mayor to cast the tie-breaker.
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