CORNING — Opponents of water fluoridation in Corning are waiting for information from Ithaca before launching a petition campaign that could force a referendum on the issue.
“I sent a Freedom of Information request to the Ithaca City Council last week,” said Kirk Huttleston, leader of the anti-fluoride campaign.
Huttleston said he is seeking the legal language of the petitions and referendum proposals that led to a ban on water fluoridation in Ithaca in 2000.
“I’m basically looking for the smartest student’s homework I can copy,” Huttletson said.
The Corning City Council voted 7-1 in May to fluoridate the city’s water supply. The vote followed a lengthy public debate, during which city Mayor Frank Coccho said state law did not permit a referendum on the issue.
The city’s lawyer later determined that a petition signed by 10 percent of city voters — about 600 — could force a referendum on the city’s authority to fluoridate public water.
Huttleston said he’s not certain whether the fluoride referendum will make it on the ballot in Corning at the Nov. 6 general election.
“The City Council has to have received it (the petition) and handed it over to the election board at least 36 days prior to the election,” Huttleston said. “I’ve had a dozen people who have called me and said they are willing to start walking with petitions.”
Huttleston said he’s hesitant to start the petition drive before making sure he is doing it correctly.
“I don’t want to use up the voters’ good will,” he said. “I don’t want to make them read and think and consider more times than necessary.”
Ithaca voters in 2000 soundly rejected two proposals. One would have amended the city’s charter to allow its council to decide on water fluoridation. The other would have given the city’s Board of Public Works the authority to fluoridate water.
Coccho said the city has not taken any steps toward fluoridation since the vote in May.
He said the fluoride project will be done at the same time a new water disinfectant system is installed. That is dependent on when promised federal money for the latter system arrives.
“I can’t imagine the money forthcoming in under a year,” Coccho said.
Given that scenario, the mayor said, it could be two years before water fluoridation is accomplished.
Fluoride proponents, including dentists in the area, raised $100,000 to pay about half the cost of installing a fluoridation system for the city’s water. If there’s eventually no fluoridation project, that money — being held by the Community Foundation of the Elmira-Corning Area — would not be available to the city, said City Manager Mark Ryckman.
Ryckman said the city lost a promised $300,000 grant toward the $600,000 disinfectant system when it was trimmed from a 2007 Interior Department spending bill. He said the city has requested that U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton include the funds in new legislation, but has received no response.