DUNEDIN — City leaders will settle Dunedin's fluoride controversy once and for all with a vote during a special meeting late this month.
The meeting, set for 6 p.m. Nov. 29, will be the second meeting in a months-old debate over whether to stop fluoridating city water to avoid spending $50,000 to replace the city's aging fluoride storage tank. Budget planners, asked this summer to submit cost-cutting ideas, said nixing fluoride also could save the city nearly $17,000 in annual costs for the additive.
In September nearly 40 people, including residents from North Redington Beach and Tarpon Springs, attended a City Hall workshop where they decried fluoride as unnecessary and potentially harmful. Only one person, a local dentist, spoke in favor of keeping fluoride in the water.
The Dunedin City Commission called for another workshop, this time in the evening at the larger Hale Activity Center, so more residents could express their views. The commission can't take formal votes during workshops, so officials had planned to either follow up with a vote during a regular commission meeting or possibly send the issue to a voter referendum.
However, commissioners last week decided to change the scope and location of the Nov. 29 gathering, after city spokeswoman Courtney King raised concerns about logistics. They decided to change the planned workshop to a three-hour special meeting so they could vote that night.
Officials will devote two hours to public comments and one hour to commission discussion. Piggybacking off a request from the last fluoride discussion, they'll use color-coded speaker cards to alternate pro and con speakers. Public comments will be capped at three minutes each, with priority given to Dunedin residents.
"We should make sure Dunedin residents get their say," Commissioner David Carson said.
"I think the people who came out the first time came out for change," Mayor Dave Eggers said. "I think you'll see the other side at that second workshop."
After a lengthy debate, the City Commission also voted 3-2 to move the meeting back to City Hall to avoid spending at least $1,500 on extra staff and other television production costs for the Hale Center.
Capacity at City Hall is 80 people. But unlike the Hale Center, it's already set up with the equipment needed to stream the event live on the web and to record it for rebroadcast. King said the 125 to 150 residents who turned out for a recent commission discussion on the controversial Patricia Avenue road closure seemed "pretty happy" with City Hall's overflow outdoor seating and audio system.
In light of Pinellas County's recent decision to stop fluoridating water, Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski called the venue change a mistake. Eggers also voted no.
"We're fooling ourselves if we think we're not going to have more people than Patricia. We're going to have people from all over the county," Bujalski said.
"If it storms … you've got no place to put all those people. I was slightly embarrassed to see all those people sit outside for Patricia Avenue when we have all these buildings we pay a lot of money for."
Coupled with the time limits on public comments, "I just think we're not being very friendly to people who want to talk about an issue," she said.
Her colleagues countered that they want to hear from everyone, but they also want to avoid endless hours of redundancy and to use existing television and web resources to provide meeting access to as many residents as possible.
"I think we're being accommodating. We could be more accommodating," Commissioner Ron Barnette said. "But, pragmatically, I don't think we should."
Keyonna Summers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4153.