The City has approved spending $25,000 on a fluoridation communication strategy.
At Tuesday’s meeting, council debated the merits of spending the money for a third party, Communications Solutions Inc., despite having previously agreed to spend up to $33,000 to engage in public consultation over the practice of fluoridation.
Mayor Kerry Cook and Coun. Tom Barr opposed the motion; however, the remaining council members approved the expenditure.
“I think $25,000 is too much for a strategy. I understand how important communication is but I can’t support it,” said Cook, adding she understood the importance of the City having a hands-off approach on this matter.
Prior to eventually approving the cost, removing some line items for the proposed strategy that includes web and social media content, print ads and radio promotions, as well as insertions in the city’s recreation guide, display boards, a facilitated workshop with the dental and health community, public outreach and an open house was considered.
Coun. Tom Barr suggested bringing some of the communications in-house by utilizing the City’s communication co-ordinator; however, chief administrative officer Brian Carruthers suggested that staff member was “working flat out on a day-to-day basis” on the City’s daily communications.
Barr added that council should have debated the plan and its cost earlier.
Coun. Sue Zacharias said the funds would be well spent if it gave citizens an understanding of both sides of the issue and potentially resulted in a vote to cease fluoridation which would be a cost savings to the City over the years. Zacharias also noted that timing was an issue if the City wanted to combine a referendum on fluoride with the municipal election.
Coun. Laurie Walters said it was to the community’s advantage to have an outside organization prepare and present the material.
“There is a value in taking something like this outside as opposed to doing it by council.”
Coun. Geoff Bourdon, too, noted the importance of neutrality as the City has a vested interest in the outcome.
“To me it looks like a well-rounded plan to cover all the bases,” he said.
Coun. Surinderpal Rathor agreed.
“Our job is to provide the facts to the community and let the community make the decision. There may be an area where we can back out but I don’t know where,” he said.
The $25,000 will come out of the City’s water fund.
In May, the City’s Water Advisory Committee issued a report to council recommending that the City investigate whether to continue to inject fluoride into the City’s water system. That followed a report by the World Health Organization that recommended municipalities examine the use of fluoride as it is delivered in a number of products including food, drink and oral hygiene products.
In order to discontinue fluoridation, the fluoride bylaw passed in 1969 by referendum must be repealed either by referendum or ministerial order.
The City does not currently inject fluoride into the water system due to upgrades required to its fluoride handling and dispensing facilities.
A further complication is fluoride refills in the appropriate container size can now, according to the City, only be purchased from Manitoba at the cost of $94,400 per year.