SHERIDAN — Sheridan City Council voted unanimously Monday night to cease adding fluoride to the city and Sheridan Area Water Supply’s water within 24 hours of the decision, passing Ordinance 24-19 with a resounding yes from the full-seated council.
Frontier Asset Management’s Jim Shellenberger handed Sheridan City Clerk Cecilia Good a USB drive with the results of a survey conducted earlier this year regarding fluoridation of the water system.
Shellenberger reviewed the security measures put in place to confidentially tabulate the results, noting that he was the only person that knew the outcome of the results before the public presentation.
Out of 12,363 surveys sent out to water users throughout the billing cycle in March and April, 4,203 were returned to Shellenberger at Frontier, resulting in a 34 percent response rate. Sheridan City Councilor Clint Beaver said in speaking with Sheridan County Elections Office staff, that response is around the same percentage usually recorded at a special election, which council considered holding for the fluoride decision. The cost of organizing a special election for one ballot measure, though, was estimated to cost between $40,000 and $45,000. Instead, the city spent $11,413 on the mailed-out survey, according to City Utilities Administrative Coordinator Jennifer Rizer.
The survey, distributed along with customer utility bills or by separate mailers between March 11 and April 3, had two questions for respondents to fill out, including whether they would like the city to continue fluoridating its water supply and whether the respondent was a business or residential location. Out of the total 4,203 responses, 3,905 responses came from residential water customers and 318 from businesses. Both types of respondents had similar percentages for and against fluoridation of the water supply.
In total, 1,900 or 45 percent responded in favor of keeping fluoride in the water and 2,323 or 55 percent responded opposed to fluoride. In preparation for either decision, City Attorney Brendon Kerns created two versions of Ordinance 24-19 to either keep or remove fluoride from the water supply, which serves both city and Sheridan Area Water Supply Joint Powers Board customers. Council, after brief discussion, chose to remove it from the water supply. The ordinance instructed that the fluoridation be removed within 24 hours of the council’s implementation of the ordinance, which will effectively have the fluoridation process eliminated by around 8 p.m. Tuesday.
City Utilities Director Dan Roberts said a four- to six-week supply of fluoride remains on-hand for the water supply, and disposing of it would cost the city an additional $1,700. Council, with the approval of the ordinance, unanimously decided to have the city pay the additional cost to dispose of the leftover supply. Roberts said the equipment used to fluoridate the water, like pumps and storage containers, could be repurposed for other functionalities of the water plant. Council also approved including the tabulated results from the survey to the ordinance so, in case of a return of the subject, future mayor and council members will be able to refer to the statistics.
The process to add fluoride to Sheridan’s water supply was initiated in December 2010 when Sheridan City Council passed a resolution directing water treatment staff to monitor fluoride levels and the public works department to incorporate fluoridation equipment into its current and future budgets. That resolution was brought about when more than 230 health and dental professionals submitted a petition requesting water fluoridation to help with widespread dental decay being seen by the professionals. In January 2015, the city began adding fluoride to the water system. At the time, then Public Works Director Nic Bateson said the cost of adding fluoride to the system would be about $22,500 per year.
Throughout the discussions about fluoride, many local residents voiced opposition to the water additive. Some cited health concerns, others argued that residents shouldn’t be medicated through the water system and still others expressed the desire to see the issue put on a ballot for voters.
After years of debate, Tuesday evening will mark the end of an approximately four-year practice of water fluoridation in Sheridan.