NORTH ATTLEBORO – The department of public works was served this week with the board of health’s lawsuit to stop fluoridation of the town’s public water supply.

The board of health had filed a lawsuit in Bristol County Superior Court asking a judge to determine whether it has the authority to end fluoridation. A majority of the board of health opposes fluoridation.

“I don’t like to use the word lawsuit. We’re just asking a judge to hear the issue, ” health board Chairwoman Diane Battistello said.

“We think the board of health has the authority to make this decision, while town counsel has a different opinion. We’d just like to ask a judge whether the board has the sole right to stop fluoridation,” she said.

The public works department has 20 days to respond to the complaint, which has been forwarded to Town Counsel Robert Bliss.

“I’d like to stress that we have a great relationship with the DPW,” Battistello said.

“We work together on a number of issues and this is not a personal attack,” Battistello said. “We have a disagreement on the issue of fluoride and we’re asking a superior court judge to resolve it.”

Board of public works Chairman Michael Thompson said it is unfortunate that the health board decided to file a lawsuit, rather than put the issue back before the voters at this month’s town election.

Voters approved fluoridation in November, 2000.

“I think they had an opportunity to bring it back before the voters and that’s where it should be,” Thompson said. “If one board is given the opportunity to override a vote of the people, then we’re all in trouble.”

Battistello and fellow health board member Susan Shaw, both fluoridation opponents, voted last year to send the department of public works a cease-and-desist order telling it to stop fluoridating the town’s water.

The department of public works has refused the order, following the advice of Bliss, who said the final authority rests with the town’s voters.

Taunton attorney David Gay, who is representing the board of health at no charge, says the board of health has jurisdiction over health issues and should be the final authority on the matter.

The only way to resolve the issue is to file a lawsuit, he said, because there is no precedent on the issue and state law does not include a provision for stopping fluoridation once voters approve it.

In October, the board of health voted 2-1, with member Donald Bates opposed, to sue the town to stop fluoridation of the public water supply.

Officials say it will be months before a decision is reached in the case, not counting any appeals that might be filed.