The Auburn City Council won’t endorse a referendum on fluoridating the city’s water supply unless voters ask for it.

Councilors David J. Dempsey and Thomas D. McNabb said they would support a referendum if they believed residents wanted to vote on the issue. Mayor Timothy C. Lattimore and Councilor William J. Graney said they want a better idea of where voters stand before deciding whether to support a referendum.

Councilor Matthew C. Smith opposes a referendum, saying the people elect officials to make decisions in the public interest.

In 1972, city voters changed the city charter and banned fluoride. City Corporation Counsel Thomas Leone has said a referendum would be needed to lift the ban. In 1997, a push for a referendum stalled when city officials said state law required an environmental study before such a change could be enacted. The matter went no further.

A new state Department of Health report shows 72 percent of third-graders in Cayuga County have had at least one cavity, the highest rate of tooth decay in the six-county Central New York area. The same report, which is to be released officially in the spring, shows that no public water systems based in Cayuga County add fluoride to the water.

By contrast, in Onondaga County, where 93 percent of the population gets fluoridated water, only 42 percent of third-graders have had at least one cavity.

Fluoride, a chemical compound added commonly to drinking water, is believed by many dentists and others in the medical community to retard tooth decay.

Lattimore, who opposes adding fluoride to the water supply, said the real issue is hygiene.

“I’m for widows and orphans . . . but I’m not going to add fluoride because 2 percent of our population doesn’t know how to brush its teeth,” he said.

Here’s what Lattimore, Dempsey, McNabb, Graney and Smith had to say about holding a referendum.

Timothy C. Lattimore

” I’d be glad to debate it on the floor of the council. If they have an issue, bring it forward. I’ll debate it. I’ll test what kind of response I get from the general public from there as to whether a referendum is the way to go.”

David J. Dempsey

” I would certainly support a referendum if the people supported that. Obviously, I would want to check with our officials and find out from them from a chemistry perspective what we need to do to make our water the best that it could possibly be.”

Thomas D. McNabb

” If there is sufficient public support for a referendum, I would support that. I’m not sure how much support would need to be shown to say there is enough to put it to a vote. There is a cost to consider, however. I have no thoughts either way. This topic hasn’t come up in several years.”

William J. Graney

” I want to get more information, but I’m not crazy about the idea of adding more chemicals to our water. It’s a medication, and people won’t have a choice. I’d want to see what the public says before I’d support scheduling a referendum on fluoridation.”

Matthew C. Smith

” I do not favor fluoridation of our water. The literature I’ve read indicates there are some harmful effects. I hate to say ‘no’ to giving the public a voice in a referendum, but I don’t favor a referendum on this issue. People elected us to represent them, so there should be some trust in what we decide.”