Taber town council will be asking for the public’s input on the water fluoridation question over the next month.

During last week’s town council meeting, a unanimous vote decided the public-consultation issue, which had been previously tabled at the April 11 meeting following the 4-3 defeat of a motion to proceed with the water treatment plant design plans with fluoridation included.

At that meeting, administration sought direction in proceeding with detailed design and construction administration services for the water treatment plant upgrades, at which point the question of the continued inclusion of water fluoridation was raised. The estimated capital cost of the upgrades needed to continue the fluoridation treatment process is $50,000, along with annual operating costs of $14,000.

Director of public services Rob Cressman proposed at the April 25 meeting council begin a public-consultation process on the fluoridation issue.

“With regards to the consultations, what we’re proposing is that with your approval, we undertake public consultation on the fluoride issue, through an unscientific survey through The Taber Times, Cornhusk Chronicles, the town’s website and social media. The survey question will be open to anyone to provide feedback on, and we’re suggesting that survey period conclude on Tuesday, May 31, with the results then being brought forward to your first meeting after that, being June 13, 2011.”

Cressman went on to request the preliminary design report be accepted in a separate motion by council, so administration could get started on the business of preparing for the project.

“Beyond the issue of fluoride, we’re asking for you to consider, first of all, adopting the Water Treatment Plant Preliminary Design Report, and authorizing proceeding with an RFP (request for proposals), for design and administration services, and then come back to you at your second meeting on June 27.”

Coun. Garth Bekkering questioned Cressman whether a specific fluoridation cost could be determined at the design stage, should council not choose to proceed with water fluoridation upgrades.

Cressman could not provide Bekkering with an approximate figure.

“I don’t have a dollar value, an amount, of the design work that would be specific to the fluoridation equipment and space.”

Bekkering continued to pursue the cost issue, and asked Cressman to clarify if fluoridation is a minimal cost in the larger scope of the water treatment plant project.

“It’s such a small component of the overall $7.5 million project — even just based on $50,000 of a $7.5 million project, what percentage of the project that would be,” said Cressman. “It’s less than one per cent, I believe, of the overall cost of the construction. But in answer to your question, yes — it’s a very, very small amount of the overall cost. The costs for those services won’t be coming forward for your consideration until late June.”

Bekkering indicated to Cressman he had not been referring to the overall cost of the project, but rather the design cost aspect of the $50,000 required for fluoridation upgrades. Cressman was unable to shed any further light on specific design costs.

“Until we see the proposals that come in, and what the costs of the overall services would be, then I’d be able to probably estimate what that value might be, or tell you what that value of the design component might be.”

Council voted unanimously on the motion by Coun. Murray Rochelle to adopt the Water Treatment Plant Preliminary Design Report, authorizing administration to proceed with competitive procurement for detailed design and administration services, subject to public input being received with respect to the fluoride upgrades.

Coun. Bekkering took issue with the specific wording of the subsequent public-consultation motion, and suggested it left the consultation open to too broad a segment of the population.

“Regarding the public consultation component of the motion, I think to use the words, ‘For all people to be able to respond’ — if a guy in Calgary wanted to respond, would be taken at face value regarding the issue of fluoridation in the town of Taber. I suggest that only those who are directly affected by the issue, should there comments be taken.”

Coun. Rochelle asked to amend the motion to include public consultation only from residents of the town, something which Coun. John Papp indicated was too specific.

“With regards to the wording, not only is the Town of Taber affected by the fluoride, but we also have the M.D. of Taber and surrounding areas that are affected by the fluoride in the water that is being purchased through the plant,” said Papp.

Bekkering pointed out that the words, “Those who are directly affected,” would be most appropriate as an amendment, which would then include residents of the M.D. of Taber in any public input.

The motion was subsequently amended “All those who are directly affected by water fluoridation,” following a request by Coun. Rochelle, and was passed unanimously.

The survey results will be presented to council at the regular meeting on June 13.