WATSONVILLE — A City Council committee is recommending Watsonville move forward with a contract to pay for fluoridation of the public water supply.
The 2-1 decision by the committee came Monday, a day after a deadline set by the state Department of Public Health for the city to commit to fluoridating its water.
The contract with the California Dental Association Foundation won’t come before the City Council until Sept. 28, meaning Watsonville also will miss a second deadline in September to supply state public health officials with a timetable for implementation.
“I can’t give state officials full assurances because I don’t know if the City Council will approve the contract,” said City Manager Carlos Palacios.
The city is under pressure from the state to sign off on the contract, which will provide $1.6 million to build a fluoridation system.
Cities with populations of 10,000 or more are required to fluoridate if an outside entity is willing to pay. The California Dental Association Foundation offered the city money to construct the system and operate it for two years. In January, the City Council in a 4-3 vote rejected a contract that had been two years in the making and appointed the committee to negotiate with the foundation to resolve outstanding issues, such as liability protections.
As negotiations dragged on, state officials became impatient, and on Aug. 19 issued the city a citation and warned of $200 a day fines.
“They are very serious. They want us to move forward with fluoridation,” Palacios said.
Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Bilicich served on the ad hoc committee with Councilman Manuel Bersamin and Councilwoman Kimberly Petersen, and opposed the contract.
Bersamin and Petersen, who voted for the contract, could not be reached to comment.
Bilicich said she didn’t think the contract gave Watsonville enough protection against liability if any lawsuits were filed.
Though Bilicich said the committee was close to a final decision before the citation and wasn’t influenced by it, she said the city’s in a tough spot. The issue of whether to fluoridate has been contentious.
“If we agree with the contract, someone in the community is going to file a lawsuit,” Bilicich said. “If we don’t agree, the state is going to fine us.”