A referendum will be held on whether to continue adding fluoride to the Hastings public water supply.
The Hastings District Council yesterday voted unanimously to hold a binding referendum at the 2013 local elections, a cheaper option than holding an earlier, separate ballot.
Mayor Lawrence Yule said he supported a referendum because the council "haven't actually asked the people for 21 years whether they want it or not".
A vote was last held in 1990, when 56 per cent of those who voted were in favour of fluoridation. Mr Yule said people needed to be given the chance to look at the facts and make up their own minds.
"We're not going to resolve this any other way, and whatever the community decides in 2013 will be the democratic decision."
Deputy Mayor Cynthia Bowers said the evidence on fluoride was too difficult for a lay person to understand, and she wasn't comfortable making a decision on behalf of the community. "I think the position the Government puts us in with this is basically untenable and unfair," she said. "If the Government, through the Ministry of Health, believe that our water should be fluoridated they should be legislating to say we have to do it."
Councillor Simon Nixon was concerned that although water in Napier was not fluoridated, a clear comparison of dental health between the cities had not been presented.
Only those who currently received fluoride would vote in the 2013 ballot. At the moment water is fluoridated in Hastings, Flaxmere, and Havelock North wards, and small parts of the rural ward.
After the meeting, anti-fluoride campaigners said they were disappointed the council had not moved to immediately remove fluoride.
Fluoride Action Network spokeswoman Angela Hair said the council had been given enough information to make the decision.
"We're concerned this is a complex issue and a fair referendum will be difficult given the resources of the DHB and Ministry of Health," she said.
Later, she said the group welcomed the opportunity for a ballot because it was confident Hastings people would vote to remove fluoride "given the strong scientific research showing the practice is neither safe nor ethical".
She said councils were in an untenable situation when asked to mass medicate communities without individual consent, assessment or monitoring of effects.
Hawke's Bay District Health Board chairman Kevin Atkinson, who attended the meeting, said he was disappointed in the decision, which ignored expert health advice and the board's unanimous support for fluoridation.
"Despite this, the council has decided to go to a public referendum and has unfortunately turned a health issue into a political issue."