SCHUYLKILL HAVEN – The borough solicitor on Wednesday questioned the basis of a request to poll water authority customers on the borough’s decision to stop adding fluoride to its drinking water.
“It does not appear as if there’s any legal authority to request the county to include it on a referendum,” borough solicitor Mark Semanchik said at Wednesday’s borough council meeting.
In February, the borough council voted 4-3 to stop adding fluoride to its drinking water. The borough water authority’s service area includes Cressona. At its April 5 meeting, Cressona council voted unanimously to send a letter to Schuylkill Haven council asking for a ballot referendum on the fluoridation issue.
Semanchik said he obtained information from the governor’s office on ballot referendums and found two key issues.
First, Semanchik said, there is the issue of whether there is a specific statute that allows for a fluoride question on a ballot.
Semanchik said he found no local, state or federal regulations regarding the use of fluoride in water, meaning there was no statute that would allow the borough to ask the county board of elections to create a ballot referendum.
The second issue, Semanchik said, would be whether there are provisions for non-binding advisory questions on the ballot.
Since 1990, Semanchik said, local county boards have not usually had the power to place such questions on the ballot in the absence of specific statutes regarding the issue in question.
“We don’t have those situations,” Semanchik said. “(I would like) to share this information with the solicitor for Cressona Borough and ask him if he has any other legal authority or precedent he would like us to consider.”
Councilman Paul Bedway asked if the borough might conduct an informal survey by including a question with customers’ water bills.
Semanchik said the borough should be cautious if it pursued that option because of potential problems.
For example, Semanchik said, if there were 1,000 customers, and only a fraction responded, the borough might not have a representative sample. It could be dangerous to extrapolate the results from a small sample size, such as if 190 out of 200 responses voted one way.
“Somebody could calculate that to say that 95 percent of the billpayers are either in favor of or against something,” Semanchik said. “But that’s not quite true.”
The board took no formal action Wednesday regarding a ballot referendum or survey.