About 24,000 Salt Lake Valley residents will not get fluoride in their water for at least a year.

Or will they?

The Salt Lake County Council ruled Tuesday that the Holliday Water Co. and the White City Improvement District could delay adding fluoride until Dec. 31, 2004. But the Salt Lake Valley Health Department says it may ignore the decision and force fluoridation because its regulation supersedes county ordinance.

Meanwhile, at least three Salt Lake County cities — Riverton, Sandy and West Jordan — say they want fluoride back on the ballot next year. The countywide measure passed 58 percent to 42 percent in 2000.

The council voted 7-2 to exempt the two water providers, which complained their annual water bills would shoot up $40 to $70 per homeowner if they must fluoridate.

Additionally, White City said it may cost a homeowner up to $366 for start-up costs alone.

But Health Department officials warn that the council’s decision may not hold water.

“We’re extremely disappointed with the council’s vote,” said department Executive Director Patti Pavey. “It has far-reaching ramifications. It politicizes public health decisions.”

Pavey said the Health Department would consult with the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office about what options it has and would debate the issue at a Jan. 6 board meeting. State law says decisions by the Health Department’s governing board trump local ordinances, she said, a point that could mean the department could ignore the council’s vote and force fluoridation.

“The statute is quite clear,” she said.

The board previously rejected the two water companies’ request to opt out of voter-mandated fluoridation. Karl Hendrickson, the county district attorney’s civil litigation chief, said Tuesday it was unclear whether the council had authority to grant exemptions.

The water companies were elated with the one-year delay.

“It’s a good vote,” said Paul Ashton, White City’s general counsel.

“It gives us the time to deal with it. And it sends a message to the board of health that costs matter.”

Water officials cautioned that their objections to fluoride concerned the high price tag, not the additive itself.

The County Council plans to hear from Riverton and Sandy city councils, both of which sent letters requesting fluoridation be put on the November 2004 ballot. Also, the West Jordan City Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday night asking for a revote, citing concerns about cost and “potential health risks.”

City officials fear fluoridation has not been “adequately examined” by voters. In Sandy, for example, the city has 23 wells used almost exclusively in the summer when most of the water is sprayed on lawns, according to city spokesman Ryan Mecham. The cost for adding fluoride to those wells would be $1.4 million, Mecham says.

If there is another vote, Pavey says it should come from a residents’ petition.

County Council members seem split on whether they want the issue back on the ballot. And County Mayor Nancy Workman worries about perennial votes on the issue but says she will support another vote if city and county leaders want it.