Wichita City Council to decide whether to approve fluoridation or put it on Nov. ballot

A petition drive seeking the fluoridation of Wichita’s water supply has been declared successful, giving the City Council two options: either approve fluoridation or let the city’s residents decide in November whether they want it.

The council will discuss the options at its meeting Tuesday, and public comment will be allowed. The meeting starts at 9 a.m.

“I think it will be a pretty extensive conversation,” City Manager Bob Layton said. “From talking to the council members, they’ve received a lot of e-mails, so they expect significant public comment.”

In July, amid budget-balancing, council members said that they expected to address fluoride eventually, but that it was not a priority for them. A petition drive by a coalition called Wichitans for Healthy Teeth forced the issue.

The group collected 11,000 signatures on a petition calling for fluoridation and submitted it to the city clerk Aug. 3. The requisite number of signatures was verified Thursday, so state statute requires the council to take one of two actions: approve an ordinance to fluoridate the water, or call for the question to be put to a vote. The council has until Sept. 11 to get the question on the November ballot if it decides to go that route.

“The clock is ticking,” Layton said. “If they’re going to … put it on the November ballot … it means they probably have to start that process on Tuesday.”

Only one council member on Friday – Janet Miller – said outright that she would support an ordinance to fluoridate Wichita’s water.

“I am definitely a supporter of water fluoridation,” Miller said. “I would support either of those options. If there are enough of us that want to go ahead and do it (fluoridation), I would vote in support of that. If the majority prefer to put it on the ballot, I support that.”

Council member James Clendenin said he thought it would be best to put the issue on the ballot.

“This is going to affect a lot of people,” Clendenin said.

Council member Michael O’Donnell said he would support putting it on the ballot as well, “mainly because water affects every person. Water is the most basic resource. … Water is intimate.”

Other council members were noncommittal.

“I’m having some quality conversations with some quality people,” Pete Meitzner said. “We’re hearing from all over the world.” He said he was trying to filter out people who would not be directly affected by Wichita’s decision.

Mayor Carl Brewer, Lavonta Williams and Jeff Longwell said they wanted to learn more before making a decision.

“I want to try to give everybody an opportunity to get the message across,” Brewer said. Groups from both sides have met with council members, and material and calls have poured in. People have credible arguments on both sides, he said.

Even if the council wanted to pass an ordinance, Brewer said, he would want to know where the money would come from.

According to estimates obtained by the city in March, it would cost $2.4 million to equip Wichita’s water supply for fluoride. Operations and maintenance would cost $571,000 a year. According to the proposed ordinance, local private organizations have committed to raising “substantial” money for the effort.

The proposed ordinance says that “fluoride has been shown to reduce tooth decay in both children and adults by 25 percent.” Opponents say that fluoride can cause health problems and that fluoridation deprives people of the freedom to decide whether they want to ingest it.

A group opposed to fluoridation, Fluoride Free Kansas, has scheduled a meeting for Wednesday to discuss organizing against the fluoridation effort. The meeting will be from 6 to 8 p.m. at Advanced Alternatives for Health in the Office Park Plaza at 4601 E. Douglas, Suite 122.

“We’re prepared for both situations,” Don Landis of Fluoride Free Kansas said, including another petition to put the question to a vote if the council approves a fluoridation ordinance. But he figures the council will decide to put the issue to a vote.

Then, he said, “we feel, based on historic precedent in Wichita, and the response we have received has been strong, that it will be defeated.”

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