A divided city council has moved city water fluoridation a step forward. With a 4-2 vote they passed a resolution at Monday night’s meeting “affirming council support for fluoridation of the public water supply to improve oral health.” The resolution directs the city manager to hire a qualified professional engineering firm for up to $50,000 to help determine the impacts and requirements of adding fluoride to the water system in terms of equipment, training, infrastructure, and safeguards. It also directs him to report back to the city council on all grants and other funding sources available for subsidizing the costs.
Council members Robert Valdatta and Linda Amberg voted against the resolution. Mayor Willard Dunham and council members Jean Bardarson, Vanta Shafer and Marianna Keil voted for it. Councilman Tom Smith was absent. Earlier, Bardarson, a dentist office employee, asked the council whether anyone felt that she had a conflict of interest, as some in the community had alleged. None present said they believed that she did, as such conflicts are generally defined as elected officials who would gain significantly financially from a vote’s outcome.
Amberg tried to amend the resolution to delete all statements of city support for water fluoridation, leaving only the engineering study and grant search. That failed, with her and Valdatta the only supporting votes. The advisory vote in the October 6 regular election October that favored city fluoridation was “hastily made,” Valdatta said. In the final count, 279 city residents voted for Proposition 1, and 234 residents voted against it. Watching the water truck unload outside the downtown city building, it is obvious that the city is the biggest purchaser of bottled water in Seward, said Valdatta, raising his voice in anger or frustration. There are still a lot of unresolved issues, and pros and cons to fluoridation, and there may also be a certain amount of risk, Amberg said.
City Manager Phillip Oates said he needed the council show of support in order to obtain financing to pay for an engineering study or for related grants. Oates promised he would come back to the council for approval prior to hiring a firm, and also to prioritize water department needs, and decide where fluoridation fits into the overall picture. The city might decide it needs a new water tank before proceeding with fluoridation, he said, but he didn’t want the council returnto debating the entire concept.
“I think we’re shortchanging the public if we don’t find out all the facts and put it together so we can make an honest opinion,” Dunham agreed.
To illustrate the still divided nature of community sentiment, 10 local residents took to the podium to voice their opinions on the topic at Monday night’s meeting. Seven were strongly in favor of water fluoridation, three were strongly opposed…