Rotorua could have its say on whether to fluoridate the city’s water in this year’s local body elections.
A referendum may be held in October. If it goes ahead, it’s unclear whether the results would be binding.
Submissions on fluoridation were heard by Rotorua district councillors during annual plan hearings in May.
Among them was a submission from Lakes District Health Board member Rob Vigor-Brown who argued fluoridating the city’s water would help solve Rotorua’s problem with rotten teeth.
Members of the finance and strategic planning committee met last week to decide what action was needed on various issues, including whether to fluoridate.
Members were split six-all on the issue, with chairman Charles Sturt casting the deciding vote – to stick with the status quo.
In an unexpected move, the committee then discussed holding a referendum in conjunction with October’s local body elections.
Mr Sturt said if Mr Vigor-Brown was able to collect signatures from 5 per cent of Rotorua’s ratepayers in support of fluoridation, the council could hold a referendum to gauge the community’s opinion.
A referendum during an election would cost ratepayers $5000 compared with up to $50,000 if held outside an election.
To meet the deadline for voting papers, Mr Vigor-Brown would have until the end of August to collect the 2400 signatures needed.
If a referendum was held, it’s unclear whether the outcome would be binding.
Council electoral officer Peter Christophers said under the Local Government Act there were no provisions for a citizen’s initiated referendum.
However, the council could undertake a binding referendum if it wanted to. He is to clarify the issue for councillors at the next full council meeting on June 27.
He plans to recommend any referendum would be non-binding because a new council could be elected in October.
Mr Vigor Brown’s submission is the latest attempt by health professionals to address Rotorua’s epidemic of rotting teeth.
Fluoridation has been in the public spotlight for the past five years, with officials arguing it’s the safest and most cost-effective way to address Rotorua’s problem with tooth decay.
About half of all 5-year-olds in Taupo, where water is fluoridated, have decay-free teeth.
That compares with 39 per cent of 5-year-olds in Rotorua, on average, where water is not fluoridated.