Mayor Don Delaughter found himself in a position Thursday that he had hoped to avoid.
“I was afraid this would happen,” he said after Town Council split on a vote of whether Timberville should continue to add fluoride to its water.
“It’s a difficult decision for me. … I do believe in fluoridation, and I’m voting for fluoridation,” he said.
Delaughter’s tie-breaking vote comes after several months of impassioned debate among council members, residents and people who work in Timberville.
The town had wanted residents to vote on the matter, but efforts to get it on the ballot this fall were unsuccessful.
Councilwoman Ellen Nash made a motion to continue fluoridation, and she was joined by Robert Blosser and Juanita Price.
Council members Sharon Jones, Tyler Jessup and Carl Turner voted against it.
Fluoride has been added to municipal water supplies for several decades to improve oral health.
Supporters of the practice say it’s been proven safe and effective, and is endorsed by health organizations and agencies, including the Virginia Department of Health.
Opponents say ingesting fluoride is dangerous for young children and can lead to severe health problems.
Both sides claim to have accurate, credible scientific evidence on their side.
Before council discussed the issue Thursday, Delaughter gave representatives of the two groups five minutes to make their cases.
‘Issues Beyond Dental’
Joan Hulvey, a Broadway resident who owns a business in Timberville, urged council to stop putting fluoride in the water.
She presented council with a petition she and others have been circulating.
The petition called on Town Council to pass an ordinance that would prevent Timberville from ever requiring fluoridation. Hulvey said 533 people had signed it.
“It has raised so many issues beyond dental,” she said. “Safety first is what we’re asking.”
‘Safe And Effective’
Alan Robbins, a dentist who practices in Timberville, spoke in favor of fluoridation.
“Fluoride is safe and effective,” he said. “Sixty years of research has shown that over and over again.”
Robbins said that when local dentists have to restore or remove teeth, the patients are often from rural areas without fluoridation.
He also listed organizations and government agencies that support the practice, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Council members then discussed the merits of fluoride.
Jessup and Jones spoke against it, reasoning that people who want fluoride can get it from sources other than the faucet.
But those who don’t want fluoride in their water have no choice, they said.Nash and Blosser spoke in favor of fluoride, saying the town should trust its local physicians.
Blosser also said that the petition that Hulvey circulated contained false or misleading statements.
Petition May Renew Debate
Despite Thursday’s vote, the fluoride debate may not be over in Timberville.
Resident Mike Gray filed a petition for a “writ of mandamus” with Rockingham County Circuit Court on Thursday.
The goal is to get a court order to put the issue to vote by referendum this fall, Gray said, because council previously voted to do so.
Council voted in October to put the issue before residents as a ballot measure. But Town Attorney Mark Callahan informed council members at their November meeting that state law does not allow such a vote.
Jones then went to Del. Matt Lohr, R-Broadway, and asked him to present legislation to the General Assembly allowing the town to do so, but it failed to pass the House of Delegates last week.
Thursday night was the first time Timberville officials heard of the court petition.
Callahan declined to comment on it.
It was unclear Thursday when the court might take up Gray’s petition.