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Weber may vote on fluoride in 2002

OGDEN — Weber County residents will probably have to wait until November 2002 to vote on fluoridation, but local fluoride advocates are already gearing up for a petition drive and an inevitable battle with fluoridation foes.

"We know what we want to do," said Clifford Goff, a retired dentist and former member of the Weber/Morgan Board of Health, who is spearheading the 6,000-signature petition drive. "As we look at Salt Lake, we're very encouraged and we know it can be done that way."

A petition drive in Salt Lake County last year was successful in gathering 10,000 signatures more than required to place the issue on the ballot. The measure then passed at the voting booth in November.

Davis County residents also approved fluoridation in November, but instead of a citizen initiative, county commissioners placed the issue to a vote. A bill passed by the Legislature last year made it possible for counties the size of Davis and Weber to put the issue to a vote as long as no water systems in the county could function independently.

The Weber County Commission, however, decided the county had water systems that could function separately and decided not to put the measure to a vote.

"We have at least 12 functionally separate systems in Weber County," Weber County Commissioner Camille Cain said. "It would have been a waste of taxpayer money. . . . It would have been challenged in court."

Although it would be possible for county residents to vote this year if the vote were done by each individual water district, that method would be complicated and puts the burden on the water districts to define their area by voters, Cain said.

Even though a petition drive will set the vote back until 2002, "it's the shorter way in the long run," Goff said.

Goff expects the same kind of opposition that faced fluoride promoters in Salt Lake and Davis.

"The anti-fluoridation people are very dedicated and they are full of a lot of energy. They will definitely be a formidable opposition," he said. "We are prepared for them, and we respect them."

Goff noted that if fluoride were to pass in Weber County, it would ease one of the problems Davis County is now facing.

The Hooper Water Improvement District in Weber County serves not only a number of Weber residents but also 400 homes west of the bluff in northern Davis County. Managers for the company have said it would be too difficult to fluoridate some homes that rely on the system but exclude others.

If fluoride passed in Weber, the water system would be required to fluoridate both its Weber and Davis customers, and the problem would be solved.

Goff said fluoride supporters plan to form a fluoridation committee over the next month, which will consist of health professionals and local and community leaders. The committee will meet with county officials in April to get specific instructions about the citizen-initiative process.