Ashland residents could be the ones who decide whether or not to fluoridate their water.
The Ashland City Council discussed fluoridation at their July 10 meeting. The Nebraska Legislature passed LB245 during their last session that requires all cities with populations of 1,000 or more to put fluoride in their water.
Cities like Ashland can go ahead and install the equipment to fluoridate the water, or they can put the issue to a vote of the citizens, according to LB245.
After discussion, the consensus among city council members was to put the issue on the Nov. 4 ballot.
City Administrator Jessica Preister told the council she spoke to Eric Obert with JEO about the installation of fluoridation equipment. It could cost the city up to $15,000 per well. Ashland has four water wells. Additional costs may be needed to build separate rooms to house the fluoride. Three of the well houses would need to be altered to provide storage area.
Council Member Sue Brauckmuller said many citizens in Ashland have expressed concerns about fluoridating the water supply.
“I think it would be wise to put it on the ballot,” she said during the meeting. “If we’re going to spend the money, let the people vote on it.”
Preister said this issue has been a “hot topic” among city administrators across the state.
“It has split communities,” she said.
But Ashland may be different, Preister added.
“I don’t really foresee that here in town,” the city administrator said.
City Attorney Mark Fahleson provided some insight into the controversy. He said in during the Cold War era, stories circulated that fluoridating water was part of a “communist plot.”
“There is that sentiment out there, right or wrong,” he said.
Preister said cities with fluoridated water report favorable results.
“The communities that do have it have said their dentists are very pleased with it,” she said.
Cities that have natural fluoride in the water are exempt from this law. Ashland has about 1/5 of the required amount of fluoride in its water naturally, Preister said.
The council will vote on a resolution next month that could put the issue on the ballot during the November general election. If the council votes not to put the issue to a vote, then they will automatically approve fluoridating the water.
“You can’t decide no,” Preister told the council. “You have to decide yes we will do it or we’ll let the people decide.”
In other action, the council heard concerns about upkeep of parks, trails and downtown planting areas from a citizen.
Jonathan Pingel spoke during the public comment section of the meeting. He was not on the agenda, therefore, the council could not directly address his concerns.
Pingel said he has observed tall grass and weeds at the local parks in Ashland, as well as broken equipment and trash. On the trails, he said there are areas that are impassible due to lack of crushed rock, overgrown weeds or downed tree limbs.
Pingel also said the downtown islands, which are planted with trees, shrubs and flowers, should be maintained more regularly.
“I just know there’s a big problem and we need to do something about it to keep our town looking great, because I’m really proud of this town and I’m proud of our parks,” Pingel said.
Mayor Paul Lienke said the council would take Pingel’s suggestions under advisement and would discuss them at a later date.