Rotorua District Council last night (31 July) voted 7-6 to rule out a binding referendum to allow the community to decide on whether fluoride should be added to the district’s water supplies.
The issue was re-debated at a full council meeting, prompted by a notion of motion lodged against an earlier (16 July) Strategy, Policy & Finance Committee decision supporting a referendum. The new decision followed robust debate with all councillors expressing their views before a public gallery of 60 people in the Council Chamber.
Mayor Steve Chadwick – who supported an amendment for the referendum to be subject to Lakes District Health Board and Ministry of Health funding, and affordability – maintained it was a significant issue which had now been considered and dealt with by the council.
“That’s democracy,” Mrs Chadwick said. “This wasn’t a decision on the pros and cons of fluoride but on the process, and it was certainly not a decision taken lightly by councillors. The debate was spirited and fair, and it’s now time for us to collectively move on to other challenges and opportunities on behalf of our communities.”
Councillors who spoke against the motion were mostly concerned with the cost of the referendum at a time when Rotorua District Council had been through a major restructuring programme and was committed to being more financially prudent. Councillors Charles Sturt and Rob Kent also expressed a view that the potential for subsequent legal challenges could force more financial pressure on to the council.
Councillors Merepeka Raukawa-Tait and Glenys Searancke both talked of the need for Central Government to make the fluoride decision, and to stop the legal costs that were being racked up by local authorities across the country.
Councillors who spoke for a referendum stressed the importance of showing leadership by allowing Rotorua residents an opportunity to engage and have their say on the matter – in a term when the council had committed to better community engagement through its Rotorua 2030 vision and 2016 priorities.
Councillor Mike McVicker added that treatment of dental hygiene was a significant “social cost” to the Lakes District Health Board and it would be better for Rotorua if the money was able to be spent elsewhere.
Rotorua’s water is currently not fluoridated. The council has no further plans at this stage to reconsider fluoridation of the district’s water supplies.