There are two things wrong with the Brooksville City Council's decision to take fluoride out of the municipal drinking water. It's the wrong public policy that will prove costly to residents' oral and financial health and it was done in a clandestine manner to avoid public scrutiny. The council should be ashamed for ducking a debate on an imperative public health issue.
Here's how it happened: Nearly two hours and 40 minutes into a public hearing on the Brooksville city budget 16 months ago, council member Lara Bradburn expounded on the need for a "diligent discussion'' on paying for improved roads. And, while she had the floor, she followed up with a motion — to eliminate $6,000 for adding fluoride to the municipal water system.
The entire debate, from motion to explanation to unanimous vote, took 78 seconds. So much for diligence in vetting public policy.
Bradburn's end-run — overturning a 2008 council decision maintaining fluoride additives to the city water — came with no advance notice on the agenda, no documentation to council members, no input from the public and no notification afterward to dentists or health officials. The Hernando County Health Department just recently learned of the decision after being notified by its state counterparts in Tallahassee that the city had ceased fluoridating its water.
It's a sham. Bradburn should be embarrassed for championing this lack of transparency. Her explanation now is that it was a prudent cost-savings and the matter had been thoroughly dissected three years earlier.
Nonsense. Two of the council members weren't in office in 2008 when health-care advocates persuaded the city to keep fluoride in its water. Those newer council members' only public exposure to the issue lasted 78 seconds. Likewise, Frankie Burnett, who provided the swing vote in 2008, flip-flopped in 2011 with no public explanation. How is that transparent?
Professed fiscal prudence is pure bunk. The fluoride money was in an enterprise fund that does not affect the property tax rate. Exactly how were council members being good stewards of the public purse by saving $6,000 for fluoride just 21 months after the city agreed to spend nearly $16,000 to buy equipment for on-line analyzing of water fluoride? At least give Bradburn credit for consistency; she was the only dissenter on the 2009 equipment purchase.
If Bradburn wants to look out for her constituents' pocketbooks — cutting out fluoride did not result in a rate decrease for water customers — perhaps she and the council should consider research from the Centers for Disease Control and the University of Georgia. It calculated the annual per-person cost savings in fluoridated communities the size of Brooksville to be $16. The study took into account utility equipment and operations and the savings to residents of cavity treatments and time lost to dental visits.
More importantly, the council should consider the health benefits of reduced tooth decay that accompany fluoridated drinking water. It is a benefit available to nearly 13.8 million Floridians, or 78 percent of the state population, but not to Brooksville residents.
Bradburn cites concerns about excessive fluoridation. The federally recommended level of water fluoride is 0.7 milligrams per liter. In the month before the council ceased adding fluoride, Brooksville reported levels of 0.71 to 0.8 milligrams per liter at its three plants, well within a safe range of the optimum amount, according to the Health Department. The council, however, didn't know this because there was no public discussion in its budget hearing.
Instead of blindly following Bradburn, the city would be better served by a council that weighs all of the available evidence on the cost and health benefits of fluoridated water and votes in the best interests of its constituents.