Hamilton City Council could spend up to $300,000 providing a public tap to appease residents unwilling to drink fluoridated water.
The council is today widely expected to vote to resume fluoridation, just four months after seven councillors, two now gone, voted to pull it from the water.
But the waters are looking increasingly muddied, and with five of those involved previously voting to remove fluoride – four of whom also voted against a referendum – there is no certainty that the council will vote on a resumption at all.
Late talk among some councillors behind the scenes was to delay the decision until the outcomes of two judicial reviews elsewhere are known in early 2014.
Whether Ewan Wilson and Martin Gallagher take part adds further intrigue.
Also among the council’s options is the quickly-drafted plan, costed by reluctant staff at between $200,000-$300,000, to install an unfluoridated tap at the water treatment plant. Those staff have raised a suite of concerns about the idea.
It would be costly to implement, “technically and operationally challenging”, and would add significant risk to complying with drinking water standards. Explaining the likely cost and unknown demand, staff said fluoride was added part way through the treatment process, with other treatment stages later.
Therefore a “secondary pathway” would need to be be built for unfluoridated water to ensure compliance with New Zealand’s drinking water standards.
The initial estimate included the physical infrastructure and operating costs.
Staff instead suggested an alternative – an unfluoridated municipal drinking water fountain – that would still be likely to cost $15,000, and $3000 a year.
The cost of the city’s drawn out wrangle over fluoride is beginning to mount.
Lawyers have billed the city council $32,000, the four-day tribunal cost at least a further $6000, the referendum another $14,000, and other there were costs such as staff time, printing and advertising.
Hamilton Residents and Ratepayers Association president Rod Bowman, whose membership is largely anti-fluoride, said the city couldn’t afford to install an unfluoridated supply, and a cheaper solution was to keep fluoride out.
A final word of counsel came from senior Cabinet minister Judith Collins, who in June roasted the “gutless” Waikato District Health Board councillors for claiming conflict of interest. She also described the council’s fluoride decision as bollocks: “It didn’t just ask for central government to make a decision, it made a stupid decision, which I think they will find the people of Hamilton will revisit for them in October.”
Yesterday, she urged the council to make amends: “I suggest they do the right thing by the people of Hamilton and don’t let themselves be spooked by the Antis.”