The decision by the Buffalo Board of Aldermen to halt the addition of fluoride into the city’s water supply has caused some to wonder if the city’s aldermen have the right to halt a project that was approved by the city’s voters.
Voters approved the issue in April 2000 by a vote of 330 to 279.
The Dec. 10 decision to stop adding fluoride when the city’s current supply is depleted came about when the city was notified by the Dallas County Health Department that it would no longer pay for half of the supplies to place fluoride in the water system. The city could either stop adding fluoride, or take on the entire cost of adding fluoride at an annual cost of about $5,000. The board voted at its Dec. 10 meeting to stop adding fluoride to the city’s water when the supply of fluoride on hand is depleted.
The council discussed putting the issue before voters in the April 2004 election, but it was not decided. Aldermen voted to continue the program unlit the fluoride supply was depleted.
The city approved placing the item on the April 2000 ballot during its January 2000 session after meetings with then Dallas County Health Department administrator Bob Warrner, and Kathleen King, of the Missouri Department of Health.
Minutes from the Nov. 19, 1999, study session held by the council stated that the cost would be $1,400 to $1,500 per year.
During the Jan. 10, 2000, meeting, approval was granted for the issue to be placed on the ballot, with the wording, “Shall the City of Buffalo, Missouri add fluoride at a safe level to the city’s water supply to help prevent tooth decay?” No sunset date was placed in the ballot wording.
Dallas County Health Department’s current administrator Cheryl Eversole said the original agreement to fund the project with the city was for two years, up $750 a year, for a total of $1,500.
According to Missouri Municipal League the city was well within its rights to discontinue the project because there are no state statutes dealing with the addition of fluoride to a municipality’s water supply; also there was no need for the issue to be placed on the ballot because a vote of the people was not required.
Buffalo Mayor Jimmie Beckner was an alderman when the issue was brought before the board of aldermen and said there was a lot of controversy it was first brought up, so the council opted for it to be put to a vote of the public. He also stated that the city would no longer be able to fund the project without matching funds from the county health department.
In addition to the cost of the fluoride, Beckner said the fluoride was “hard on the city’s equipment,” and that maintenance costs of the equipment was also a factor.
“We are going to stick by our vote,” he said. “We feel that we were within our rights to discontinue it.”
Eversole said the department would like to see the city continue with the fluoride program, but state budget cuts prevent the Dallas County Health Department from funding the project. She also said that the city has not asked the department to consider continuing the program.
“It would be very difficult for us to continue (to offer financial support),” she said. “We haven’t been asked to help. The initial agreement was for the first two years and nothing has been presented to us from the city, even after the first two years. We have paid out $2,890.76. It was initially $1,500 for two years. We have almost paid double of what was agreed on.”
She also said that the citizens of Buffalo have received not only dental benefits from the addition of fluoride to the water supply, but money as well.
“For every $1 invested in fluoride, it yields $38 in savings in dental costs,” she said. “I would like for the city to follow through on the ballot issue, which was to supply the citizens with fluoride. We live in the greatest country in the world, and I believe in the democratic process. I think it was put up to a vote of the people, and I would hate to think that vote could be rescinded by a few elected officials. I would hate to see that. The majority voted… We have met and exceeded our initial obligation and have not been approached by the city since.”
Floyd Sweaney, a current member of the health department board, who was also a member in 2000, said the fluoride program benefited more than just those who reside in the city limits.
“It was a good thing for the children of the county, not just those who live in Buffalo, but to all because of the water that went to the schools,” he said. “I would really like to see the city keep the fluoride in the water system of Buffalo.”
Despite paying more than was initially agreed to, Eversole said the health department has not asked for the city to return any funds.
“It was an oversight on our part,” she said. “It should have been caught. When I got here, I thought that was a little excessive, but we never asked for it back. We never in our wildest dreams thought (the city) would stop it. We had an agreement to pay up to $750 for the first two years, that is it.”
At this point, Eversole said the department would be open to any suggestions from the city on how to continue the fluoride program.
Beckner said the city has received very few complaints from city residents about its decision to halt the addition of fluoride in the water supply.
Eversole added that the department has only received one comment on the issue, which asked why the department discontinued funding.
The Dallas County Health Department’s Board of Trustees met Tuesday evening and the fluoride issue was on the agenda.