Sections

EDITOR - TODD LIHOU: Time to put the fluoride question to voters

Published on April 18, 2016

As my buddy Bill Kingston rightly pointed out Monday night: "If only people were as passionate about the city budget and taxes as they are about fluoride."

The council chambers at city hall were jammed Monday night as opponents to the return of water fluoridation in Cornwall took centre stage at a meeting that stretched on for nearly three hours.

While one could fire a cannon in the same room during budget deliberations and barely wound a couple of elected officials, Monday night's full house suggests to me the issue of fluoride in our water is starting to gain traction with an electorate that is often as quiet as a mouse.

The good news is Dr. Paul Connett, a university professor and expert in toxicology, made several solid points about the dangers of fluoride and how wasteful it can be to use the controversial product in our water.

The bad news is it probably won't do any good, because fluoride is likely on its way back to your water if the majority of council has anything to say about it.

Some councillors, like Andre Rivette, have made it well-known which way they are going to vote on this issue in the coming weeks (the council veteran is all for fluoride) but many are choosing their words carefully for fear of tipping their hand.

Behind the scenes minds have been made up, and there isn't likely to be enough support to keep dangerously-corrosive hydrofluorosilicic acid (which is used to create fluoride in the water) from being used at the treatment plant in Cornwall.

But there is another option which would cost a pittance (relatively speaking) and take the decision away from councillors and put it firmly in the hands of more important people – you.

For the low, low price of $10,000 a referendum could be held the same day as voters go to the polls in the next municipal election. A referendum prior to that date will cost the city as much as $150,000, but with all the infrastructure and support personnel already in place for voters electing the new council, the cost drops significantly.

So, in just two years, voters could decide for themselves if they want fluoride returned to our water supply. The pros far outweigh the cons on this one.

First of all, city councillors fearful of a backlash from voters (Mayor Leslie O'Shaughnessy correctly pointed out there will be no winners regardless of how council votes) can sit back and let the electorate decide how to proceed.

We've been without fluoride for nearly three years, so waiting another two years for election day isn't going to hurt.

And in that time we can get a true cost of what a return to fluoridated water will mean for the municipal bottom line. Some figures released by the city suggest it will cost about $350,000 to upgrade the water treatment plant with the necessary safety equipment to bring fluoridation back online. That's not including $50,000 a year in operational costs and about $40,000 to remove the 15,000 liters of hydrofluorosilicic acid still sitting in a vat at the plant.

But the real numbers, I'm told, are quite a bit more. Unofficially the cost of the safety equipment has already ballooned to $500,000. The $350,000 figure bandied about at city hall is about two years old and not really considered accurate by some.

Now we're talking about a highly controversial project that could cost as much as $600,000 the first year, with operational costs that will only go up from there.

The voters need to weigh in on this – there's too much at stake to let politics rule the day.

@ST:BENSON CENTRE EXPANSION

@R:After weeks of behind-the-scenes maneuvering proponents of an expanded Benson Centre made their pitch Monday night. My favourite part was when the cost of such a project had to be (almost)pried out of the presenters.

John Dilabio, a very smart man who was instrumental in getting the new (and very successful) Cornwall Curling Club built, suggested the cost of such an expansion would be about $3 million.

A true cost is being put together now by experts.

Dilabio got around to adding that number to Monday's presentation only after being put on the spot by council. A $3-million price tag is something you should be upfront about, not kept under wraps for fear of getting "bogged down" as Dilabio put it.

No one is suggesting the wool is being pulled over our eyes, but at the same time as we are talking about the benefits of such an expansion, we should be talking dollars too. Much of the construction cost is expected to be borne by the private sector and senior levels of government.

We should also take a serious look at how much the operational cost of such an expansion will be over time. While I wish project proponents well, to suggest the expansion will remain revenue neutral forever because rental/user fees will cover costs is just something I can't swallow.

Of course there will be a cost to taxpayers…there always is. The big question is 'Are we prepared to live with those extra costs?'

Tune in later when we start to get some hard numbers.