ROCKPORT — Town residents have asked selectmen for a referendum on whether Rockport should continue its community-wide fluoridation program, after those attending Fall Town Meeting approved calling for such a vote late Monday night.

Members and supporters of the Cape Ann Fluoride Action Network, who’ve been pushing for the removal of fluoride from Rockport and Gloucester drinking water, burst into a loud and enthusiastic cheer after their motion calling for a referendum gained approval by a vote of 116-97.

The debate and the vote highlighted a lively Fall Town Meeting that began with a tribute to Police Chief John “Tom” McCarthy, who announced his retirement after 37 years on the force and 17 as chief, effective Nov. 4. The meeting also saw the approval of 12 other articles, including all allocations for funding under the town’s Community Preservation Act.

Thirteen articles were on the town meeting warrant, but one issue stuck out like a sore tooth.

The fluoride issue was a hotly contested one, with the Cape Ann Fluoride Action Network urging a vote and the removal of fluoride, and dentists and some townspeople supporting continuing the current and longstanding fluoridation program.

Action Network members don’t dispute that topical fluoride use can reduce the risk of cavities, but say they should not be forced to ingest the chemical. At Monday’s town meeting they got their wish for a referendum on the issue at a date to be announced.

Reconsideration vote

A large percentage of the attendees poured out immediately after hearing the final vote count, held at 9 p.m. Resident Cameron Smith made a motion to reconsider the article at 10:37 p.m., after many involved in the fluoride debate had left. But that motion failed, and moderator Robert Visnick noted that, because reconsideration failed, the vote cannot be reconsidered again.

The pro- and anti-fluoride speakers left no doubts as to how they feel about the issue.