The fluoridation of Prescott’s drinking water could become an issue for a referendum due to a faulty regulator.

Whether the town should continue to put fluoride in its water as it has for four decades became a topic when the cost of replacing a fluoride regulator was announced at a Monday night budget session.

“I don’t like things being dropped on us,” Councillor Garry Dewar said.

Comments at the meeting, however, indicate the regulator hasn’t been working for about a month and fluoride has been applied manually some days by water treatment staff. “There have been no health hazards whatsoever,” chief administrative officer Robert Haller said.

“Some days it’s working. Some days it isn’t,” Haller said. He noted fluoride may not have been added every day but too much fluoride is more of a health concern than a lesser amount.

Councillor Jim French defended Haller, saying the CAO was only notified of the equipment failure last week and has immediately brought it forward to council.

“I wouldn’t remove (fluoride) just for the capital costs but it was a reason to put it on the table,” Haller said.

“It should be brought before the public.

“We need to start planning now if there is to be a referendum,” said Haller, noting he will file a report within the next week, have presentations on the pros and cons of fluoride at upcoming council sessions and then, depending on the outcome of these sessions, possibly schedule public meetings.

Both Dewar and French are also arguing the cost isn’t the most important issue.

“It should be for the health of people, not $15,000,” Dewar said.

A new regulator will cost about $10,000 while an improved alarm system on the mechanism will cost $5,000, bringing the total up to $15,000. Annual operating costs are $3,000.

“If we stay with fluoride we have to spend some money,” Councillor Terry McConnell said.

Gananoque held a referendum on the fluoride issue during the 2000 election. A majority of residents voted in favour or stopping fluoride in water treatment.

Prescott engineer Clyde Solomon outlined the cost during his presentation of the proposed environmental budget, which sits at $488,746. He was told to include the regulator expenditure in the budget until further notice.

Sanitary sewers, sewage treatment plant, storm sewers, waste management, the water treatment plant, tower and distribution system are all included under environmental spending.

Prescott’s water tower needs $125,000 in repairs, Solomon said.

“The ministry is going to insist upon it,” Solomon said of the tower repairs. The cost could be moved over to capital expenditures but the work cannot be put off, he said. The total cost of upgrades to the tower is approximately $240,000 but the work can be done over two budget years.

About $220,000 of the budget is for water-related expenditures.

The town’s sewage treatment plant needs upgrades totalling more than $16 million.

“At some point the sewage treatment plant (repairs) will be a reality,” Solomon told council, urging them to consider putting some money in reserves to help cover the cost.

Solomon outlined preliminary transportation operating budget figures showing an increased cost of $49,327, or about a 4.8 per cent increase over last year. Last year’s transportation operating budget was just over $1 million. Solomon has cut this by 16 per cent, down to $800,800 for 2003.

Community services director Randy Pelehos outlined early budgets for the marina, pool, arena, parks and recreation. Some repairs to the fencing around the pool may be required, he said. He is also suggesting playground structure upgrades and the replacement of the electrical panel at the Kriska ball field because it isn’t safe.

“Right now to turn them on and off you have to go to the breakers,” Pelehos said.

There are no other major expenditures under community services and Pelehos said he is attempting to keep contractual costs down by having qualified staff make equipment repairs.

This was the first in a series of budget meetings. Additional sessions are planned for later this month.