It’s been more than a year since the Torrington City Council voted to consider putting a fluoride supplement into the city’s water – an issue that sparked quite a bit of local controversy.
The subject has been sitting on the back burner since then, Mayor Leroy Schafer said Thursday, and for a lot of reasons.
“One of the issues is that our water department has a very big workload at the present time with the prison coming online and the water treatment facility,” Schafer said. “We also have a large debt in the water department and we want to make sure that anything that we do that is non-essential doesn’t increase that debt.”
He explained that installing a fluoride system would cost an estimated $50,000 plus a very small annual cost, which would also have to be absorbed by the water department.
“At this point I think that the major issue is that the city needs to have time to completely evaluate the cost and the benefit and because of everything that is going on in the city we just haven’t gone any further,” Schafer said.
In 2008, the city added a citywide survey to the June 1 water bill, asking residents to mark a yes or no to whether they wanted the fluoride supplement added.
Only about one-third of the 3,500 residents who received the bill responded.
The results showed 412 yes votes and 995 no votes.
“Even at this point in time, that had to change the priority in terms of how we attack this,” Schafer said. “I think the bigger impact though is just the workload on the water department in terms of what we are doing.”
The water department debt came as a result of a federal order for Torrington to put in a water treatment system. According to Schafer, in the late 1990s atuthorities discovered the nitrate level in the city’s water was too high. The Environmental Protection Agency “forced” an executive order mandating the installation of a water treatment system that would take care of the problem.
The city chose to put in Reverse Osmosis Units at a cost of about $6 million.
At the time, the city was forced to take on 100 percent of the cost because it had no reserve fund to support a state match for a loan.
“Most grants ask for a 20 to 25 percent match for the monies you get and if you don’t have that money then you have to borrow the whole thing and that’s essentially what happened to Torrington in those days,” Schafer said.
The city has paid the debt down to about 3.5 million, he added, and is working to pay off the last water development loan in the 2009-2010 Fiscal Year.
The water department may also have to increase the size of its water waste ponds – a project that could cost anywhere from $2 million to $10 million.
But this time around, the city will have 5th penny tax funds to provide for the state match.
“The fact that our county has passed the 5th penny tax for the second time had a dramatic impact and could have really lowered the cost of (the water treatment facility) project from the beginning if there had been matching money,” Schafer said.
As far as the fluoride issue goes, it will continue to be deferred until each of these other issues is resolved.
“It’s kind of a controversial subject. I guess from my background (as a chemist) I happen to favor it but I’m sure there are a lot of people from around Torrington who don’t,” Schafer said. “But whatever we do I want it to be a decision that does not increase cost or diminish the health of the people of Torrington.”