On June 23, the council unanimously approved putting the issue of fluoridation on the Nov. 4 election ballot, allowing voters to decide if fluoride should be added to the water. This came after the Legislature approved a bill to require fluoridate in communities over 1,000.
During Monday’s council meeting, council member Phil Odom suggested that a sentence be added to the ballot language making it clear that if fluoridation was not prohibited that the fluoride would only be added once a central water treatment plant was built.
“I am not trying to complicate things,” Odom told the council. “I know we talked about that last meeting. I’m trying to hopefully clear up the difference between a central treatment facility and fluoride, which are two separate things that can be associated.”
He said many people are making the fluoride debate an issue of cost rather than an issue of the benefits of fluoride. That debate comes from the news from Hastings Utilities that a central water treatment facility will be needed in the near future to combat the nitrate levels that are slowly rising in the city’s water supply.
Estimates from HU staff show that the setup and annual operation of fluoride injection into the city’s 25 wells would cost $1,089,800 at startup and $91,700 each year thereafter.
With the treatment plant, the fluoride would be injected at only one or two sites cutting the cuts by a third. Startup costs for injecting fluoride at two centralized points, including the future water treatment center, would be $317,700 with annual operation and maintenance costs of about $32,700.
Council member Kathy Peterson asked if there was a clear timeline as to when the treatment plant would actually be built.
HU assistant manager Al Meyer said HU is trying to hold off as long as possible on this costly project and at this point there was no set timeline for the project.
“With the rates, we’re trying to delay that very expensive addition but we will need it sometime in the future,” he said.
Odom said he believes his addition to the bill would help the city especially since there is no penalty in the state law if fluoride is not added by June 2010.
City administrator Joe Patterson said he was told by the lawyer for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services that a penalty may be introduced as legislation during the 2009 session. Otherwise, he said HHS may simply create its own administrative penalty.
Odom said he believes Nebraska Legislative District 33, which includes Hastings, has two very qualified candidates in Chuck Shoemaker and Dennis Utter.
“They both would understand our situation and could introduce legislation to help our community and any others that may be in a bind that would keep them from meeting the deadline,” he said.
Several council members, including John Harrington, expressed some concern about adding more words to a ballot question that could already confuse voters. A yes vote would mean no on fluoride, while a no vote would mean yes.
“We don’t need to add any more verbage to make it more confusing but Phil’s added verbage is addressing the water treatment plant and the pending water issues,” Harrington said. “I support the language change.”
Odom said he didn’t think the council needed to make a decision during the meeting.
The council voted 7-1, with Jim Ruberson dissenting, to reconsider the ballot language.
Mayor Matt Rossen directed city attorney Bob Sullivan to work on a revised version of the ballot language including Odom’s suggested statement.