Whangārei District Council (WDC) is pushing back against the Government’s directive to fluoridate the district’s drinking water.
A fractious council meeting last Thursday decided on a month-long halt to any decision to progress the roughly $5 million mandated fluoridation of its drinking water.
In July last year, the then Director General of Health Sir Ashley Bloomfield directed WDC, among 14 councils, to fluoridate water under the Government’s Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Act 2021.
Two councillors called for a community referendum and Cr Marie Olsenraised the prospect of a High Court injunction, claiming the Government had the council by “the short and curlies” over mandating fluoride.
Cr Deb Harding said the pause was necessary to make sure councillors were fully educated on the fluoridation kaupapa so they could make an informed decision.
Bloomfield’s directive requires the addition of flouride to Whangārei and Bream Bay drinking water, supplied to about 60,000 people, before the end of next year.
Fluoridating will cost $4.6m, excluding GST and it will cost up to $1m to fluoridate the council’s Poroti drinking water during the plant’s upgrade.
Fluoridation will also cost $100,000 a year.
Olsen said the mandate resulted in a loss of democracy.
The Whangārei community should first be consulted on the decision, she said.
The Director General of Health has the power to direct councils to fluoridate. WDC must comply and doesn’t need to consult the public.
An $11.3m Government fund for fluoridation introductionwas set up at the time of the mandate.
WDC initially applied for $3.75m and has since gone back to ask for a revised $4,658,857 - more than 40 per cent of the fund.
Councillors at last week’s meeting were concerned the council would be left to carry the costs if the Government did not come through with the money - which does not include the $1m to fluoridate the Poroti drinking water.
WDC chief executive Simon Weston said the council had not received the written funding confirmation it sought from the ministry.
Council manager water services Andrew Venmore said the ministry gave in-principle support for the construction component of the initial $3m estimate, but had not guaranteed the full amount.
Ministry of Health/Manatū Hauora deputy director general Dr Andrew Old told Local Democracy Reporting Northland the council’s proposal, received on September 7, was being considered and the organisation was in discussion with the council.
Cr Gavin Benney said $4.6m was a lot of money to commit to while Government funding remained uncertain. A change in Government could change the position on fluoride and funding.
He said voting in favour of fluoridation on Thursday could leave the council having to find $3m, GST exclusive, over and above the $1.6 million already budgeted in the 2023/2024 financial year.
Old said a council that did not comply risked being fined up to $200,000 under the Health Act 1956 - plus $10,000 a day for ongoing non-compliance.
Venmore said under the Government directive, fluoridation for the Whau Valley water treatment plant must be in place by the middle of next year and by the end of 2024 for Ruakākā, Maunu and Waipū. It was required for the Poroti water supply by June 2026.
Olsen asked council lawyer Graeme Mathias if the council could take out a High Court injunction to stop the Government fluoridation order but he said disagreeing with a Government directive was not grounds for an injunction.
Benney said WDC needed to develop its stance on fluoridation, as it had done with the Government’s Three Waters.
“We owe it to our people to go to a referendum and let the people decide what goes into our water,” Benney said.
■ Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air