Town Council had wanted residents to decide whether Timberville would continue fluoridating its water, but a legal roadblock has the measure in limbo.
Following a couple of months of impassioned debate, council voted 4-2 in October to put the issue before residents this year as a referendum.
However, at the November meeting, Town Attorney Mark Callahan said that only the council has the authority to decide the issue under state law; residents do not.
“To me, that’s kind of antiquated,” Councilman Tyler Jessup said. “It should be up to the localities, in my opinion, as to what they want to put on referendum, rather than the state dictating.”
Now, the town is trying to get fluoridation added to Virginia law as an issue that can go before voters as a ballot measure.
Councilwoman Sharon Jones approached Del. Matt Lohr, R-Broadway, and asked him to present legislation when the General Assembly meets so residents can vote on it.
The legislature convenes for its 2009 session Wednesday.
Jones said Lohr told her he would present such a bill; Lohr could not be reached for comment for this story.
Council members say they’re waiting to see what happens. “Right now, everything’s in limbo,” Jessup said.
Fluoride has been added to municipal water supplies all over the country for decades as a way to prevent cavities.
Several months ago, Timberville decided to review the practice and decide whether to continue treating its water with the chemical.
Opponents of fluoridation say it’s dangerous, particularly for children and people with thyroid problems.
Supporters, however, say it’s been proven safe and effective.
Both groups include dentists on their side, and both claim scientific research backs their positions.
Some council members say they were elected to make decisions and wanted to vote on the issue back in October.
“Obviously, I feel it was our responsibility,” said Councilwoman Ellen Nash, who voted against putting it before residents.
Nash has presented letters to council that support fluoridation.
However, other council members say the issue is too sensitive, and residents should be able to decide what’s in the water coming out of their faucets.
“This issue should not be decided by six people,” Jones said. “That’s why it has to go before a referendum.”