Discussion on Fluoride, Landfill Doesn’t Lead to Action

After a long meeting of Wilmington City Council, no action was taken on the two major topics of the night-fluoridation of the water supply and paying for the potential expansion of the landfill. Both issues have been ongoing discussions, with fluoride appearing on the ballot in an advisory election in November.

The Wilmington Landfill, owned and operated by the City of Wilmington, is growing at a rate that will force the city to expand it in around five years. Because of this, the City has worked on a plan to fund the expansion. The main ways to meet this financial need would be to raise rates, borrow the money, or do a hybrid of the two. During the meeting, Third Ward City Council Representative Joe Spicer, who is the chair of the Solid Waste Committee, spoke about the process. Mr. Spicer focused on the need to be proactive so rates did not have to be raised drastically in the future, but could instead be raised slowly and only as necessary. He discussed wanting to avoid the water rate increase that residents saw recently, as well as the three dollar increase to trash rates that Council had discussed last year. The plan that Mr. Spicer put forth was to increase rates fifty cents per month for a residence and one dollar per month for commercial customers. This, he emphasized, would not pay for the entire project, but would allow the city to borrow less money for the project in the future. Mayor John Stanforth then read aloud a note from the City Auditor’s office, which discussed some of the funding options. The Auditor’s office recommended waiting until 2019 and issue a note then for the full amount of the cost of the project. Mayor Stanforth emphasized that he believes that there is no need to raise rates now. Complicating matters is the recent resignation of Sanitation Department Supervisor Braden Dunham, which is a blow to a department that has a major automation process in the works to add to the discussion about landfill expansion.

After substantial discussion, Council decided to table the issue until the new Sanitation Department Superintendent is hired and is able to look at the finances and plans for the landfill. There was significant disagreement between the administration, council, City Treasurer Paul Fear, and the City Auditor’s office. Frustration boiled over for many who have been in the city government for a few years because of the lack of forward movement or solidification of a plan. Councilman Spicer has asked the administration to have a plan by May, so it appears that the discussion will be taken up again then.

During the Water Committee reports, Councilwoman Kelsey Swindler reported out on a “preliminary opinion of probable cost” and engineering report from Strand, who has been working on the report since after the first reading of the ordinance to fluoridate the water supply. There were two main points in the report that caused Swindler to ask to table the third reading of the ordinance to fluoridate the public water system. Ms. Swindler reported that the initial capital costs, according to the report, would be roughly $315,000 and the Ohio Department of Health would not be able to cover nearly that. Since Council got the report yesterday, Ms. Swindler decided to give them time to read over and respond to it, and to allow the administration to look at more potential funding sources before deciding on a way to move forward. Previously, some of the members of council expressed concern about the potential costs, so this seems like a solid move. Now, council will have to decide how to move forward knowing that the people voted to fluoridate the water system. Hopefully, some positive news will come from the administration’s search for new funding sources, and the City of Wilmington can finally join most other municipalities in Ohio and fluoridate its public water system.

One important piece to watch on Council is to see whether there is any movement on these issues over the coming months. Mr. Spicer and Ms. Swindler have made it clear that they will continue to pursue a resolution to the two major issues discussed at council. However, at a time where not spending money is the rallying cry for many on Council, will they be able to find allies as they work towards the future? The next few months will be a vital time for both of those issues, and will show the true willingness to problem-solve by members of council and the administration.

City Council has First Reading on Fluoride Ordinance

City Council passed the first reading of an ordinance to mandate that city water be fluoridated. This vote came after an advisory election, which passed 57% to 43%. This first reading will (hopefully) be the first of three readings, and will allow Safety and Service Director Brian Shidaker to work with an engineer to get an estimate on costs for the implementation of a fluoride program.

For anyone that reads this blog with consistency, I have (and continue to be) supportive of adding fluoride into the public water supply. The voters showed up on election day and told council, by a 14% margin, that they want fluoride in the city’s water system. So how, after supporting the move to go to the voters, did two council members still vote against a FIRST reading on this ordinance?

One council member, Lonnie Stuckert, has embarrassed himself throughout this whole process. He continued to do so with his behavior and statements on Thursday night. The week before the election, he wrote a letter to the editor that would have been bad anyway, but was made worse by his position on city council. He showed that he is more willing to listen to conspiracists and bloggers rather than the CDC and other public health organizations. This was in stark contrast to the pro-fluoride letters from a variety of physicians, dentists, and public health professionals in Wilmington. He doubled down on many of those statements Thursday night, which included him insinuating that Council member Kelsey Swindler was unethical and that those of us that voted for the fluoride measure were misinformed.

One statement from Mr. Stuckert that stood out to me was when he said the Society for Toxicology had said that fluoride was as bad as lead. This was shocking to many in the audience, and I immediately took to Google. I couldn’t find anything that indicated they had an official position on this, other than that their website still has educational materials that were pro-fluoride. I believe, although I am not certain, that Mr. Stuckert found an article from the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, which is cited frequently in the anti-fluoride literature as stating that the Society for Toxicology has come out against fluoride. A long search of their website did not lead me to finding anything of the sort. I did, however, find that the Journal has advocated such positions as linking vaccines with autism, saying HIV does not cause AIDS, and linking abortion and breast cancer, among a much broader list of scientifically unfounded and discredited claims.

So what do with a council member who refuses to represent his ward, but instead himself? With someone who has become so contrarian as to get personal with his fellow members of council, and say that voters who disagreed with him (the majority) have basically been duped? Who, in part, must blame the local medical professionals who have supported fluoride as part of this conspiracy to mislead the voters? I believe the voters in the 2nd Ward will know what to do if, hopefully, he sees challengers in next year’s election. He has shown that he is not interested in representing the most vulnerable residents of his ward–children who have difficulty accessing medical care, but instead wants to represent the bloggers and questionable science. We cannot afford to have someone who neglects to represent their ward like Mr. Stuckert.

Council needs to take control of conversation on City’s CVB Funding

For the past several months, the issues surrounding the funding of the Clinton County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has gotten to a point of embarrassment for the both the City and the CVB. This week, Judiciary Committee and full Council will both discuss changes to the legislation on the funding to the CVB , which is mandated by the state to be 50% of the lodging tax collected by the City.

The City’s Proposal

The City has decided to legislate that the CVB will get the state-mandated 50% of the lodging tax revenue, with 49% going to tourism more generally (and 1% going to administration). The CVB could apply for that money, along with other local organizations. Some that have been brought up as examples are the City Parks and Recreation department and Main Street Wilmington, with whom the CVB has had some collaboration in the past.

The CVB Response

The CVB has pulled out all of the stops trying to stop this change from being put into the legislation. Their concern is their loss of around $50,000 worth of income, out of an approximately $300,000 budget (this assumes that the city would not allocate any of the aforementioned 49% to the organization). The CVB and its representative on Council, Joe Spicer, have continued to put up nearly conspiratorial arguments about why the city shouldn’t take away their funding. Bob Heyob, the organization’s treasurer, went so far as to say the city would lose $2 million in tourism with the cuts. That number is ridiculous, and when questioned on it at a Judiciary Committee meeting, it was ignored. Spicer has said that the other money would go to “pet projects.” Debbie Stamper, the Executive Director of the CVB, has written letters to the Wilmington News Journal touting dubious economic impact numbers and saying that other organizations, specifically the Parks department, does not have any oversight of their budget. She also claimed that the money from the lodging tax was not public money, which drew a rebuke from several members of city government.

Where the City went wrong

From the beginning, the City lost the message of the issue, making it about moving money for tourism from the CVB to other organizations. As Wilmington faces a potential financial crisis, why have we decided to not use the rest of that money for the general fund? Instead, Council focused the discussion on using it for Parks and Recreation, as long as that money was used to draw tournaments to the City. Instead of having a conversation about the best use for that money, Council immediately capitulated to the belief that all of the money must go to tourism.

I have had conversations with several members of Council about waste in the CVB. Many have received or seen the organization’s Christmas cards, which are pointless and wasteful. Also, the organization spends over $25,000 in rent and utilities for a building in which two people work. In addition, they are spending $10,000 for their website, which is far more expensive than any of the local non-profit organizations with which I am familiar. Yet the organization is balking at transparency to Council-the organization elected by the citizens of Wilmington to protect public funds.

Council has its last shot this week. Either bow to pressure from the CVB to not cut their funding, or stand up for the General Fund and acknowledge the extreme financial pressure we are under. The City has been talking about this issue for a long time, and it is time to act. If Council decides that the CVB is deserving of the money when the City’s budget comes up, that is fine. The City should not force themselves into limited language on how that money is spent.

 

Last week in City Council-6/13-6/17

As I said in my preview of City Council items for last week, I guessed it would be an interesting week. I was not wrong. Here is a quick recap of the three important committee meetings from last week, as well as council itself.

Finance Committee

The hottest topic in local politics continues to be the potential tax increase. The efforts to get the tax increase on the ballot were stalled last week because, according Finance Committee Chairman Mark McKay, Mayor John Stanforth and Council President Randy Riley wanted to send the resolution and related ordinance to experts on tax legislation in Columbus to assure that both documents were solid. Ultimately, this seems like the right thing to do, as long as Council proceeds with the vote on July 7th as they are intending (it seems like this will not be an issue). Having the voters approve the new tax and then somebody issuing a legal challenge is something the City cannot afford. This needs to be a lesson for Law Director Brett Rudduck-this should have been done weeks ago. The resolution and ordinance that were originally presented were riddled with errors, but tax legislation is very complicated. Hopefully, this will prove to be a minor hiccup and Council will be back on track with the ordinance and resolution on July 7th.

Judiciary Committee

After the relatively calm Finance Committee meeting, Judiciary started off with a discussion about Wilmington’s feral cat issue. Both the Wilmington Area Humane Society (WAHS) and the Clinton County Humane Society (CCHS) had representatives there to help answer questions about their Trap-Neuter-Release programs (WAHS’s program is currently on hold until they get their new building). This was an informative, but long, discussion, and it ended with the Committee deciding that there was very little they could do about it.

After the discussion on feral cats, discussion began on the changes to how the money the city receives from the hotel lodging tax is distributed. As anticipated, this discussion got fairly heated, and unfortunately nothing was settled. However, one thing is very clear-the Convention and Visitors Bureau does not want to have to be accountable to council at large or the Finance Committee. The proposal on the table is to cut the funds automatically given to the CVB from the tax money from 90% to 50%, with almost all of the other money going back to the general fund to be distributed to organizations trying to promote tourism in the city. The CVB would be allowed to apply for any of the money not automatically allocated towards them.

Members of the CVB board, along with Executive Director Debbie Stamper, were on hand to express their displeasure. Treasurer Bob Heyob was the most vocal, spouting off questionable numbers about the effect that this would have on the CVB, including that it would cost city tourism around $2 million. When I pushed him to elaborate on it, he declined, but I believe that he was indicating that the CVB is the only reason there is any tourism in Wilmington. This is a bold and ridiculous claim. Council Member and CVB representative for the City Joe Spicer was also on hand to say that there is an “agenda” and that the money would go to pet projects. What these were, he did not say, but he seemed to be fine pursuing a conspiracy theory angle instead of actually participating in discussion. He also called past council members “dumb” for not fixing this legislation previously. The Judiciary Committee needs to be firm with the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. For far too long, they have been able to give questionable research and numbers in relation to their impact on the county, and they have had a variety of expenditures that many non-profits would scoff at. Council needs to put their foot down and protect General Fund money, and the CVB needs to stop acting like their funds are unlimited and start acting as a protector for the limited tax dollars in our community.

Solid Waste Committee

Solid Waste Committee had a very productive and informative meeting about the future of our automated trash retrieval system. Sanitation Superintendent Braden Dunham was on hand to explain to the Committee, as well as those in attendance, some of the intricacies of the program. A few questions I have gotten about the program that Mr. Dunham answered:

  • There will not be an increased cost to those living in the city who only use one of the new trash bins (which will be provided at no cost to residents)
  • Residents that use more than one of the automated bins will be required to pay extra. For example, if it is $15 for trash pick-up per month for the first bin, it would be $7.50 for the second. I don’t know if these numbers have been finalized exactly, but these were the numbers discussed at Committee.
  • Residents will not have to pay for their own bins. The City will provide 95-gallon or 65-gallon bins, depending on the resident’s preference. The thought process is that many residents who do not have children at home may want the smaller, easier-to-handle bins.

The program will hopefully start in early September, with the goal roll-out date being September 1st. Soon, residents will receive more information in the mail about the program. I have also invited Mr. Dunham to talk for an interview for the blog and the podcast to help residents of Wilmington understand more about how this is going to work. If you have additional questions about the program, please email me at thewilmingtonbulletin@gmail.com.

I left the Solid Waste Commitee meeting impressed with these new advancements, especially Mr. Dunham’s efforts in saving the city money on the bins by working through multiple vendors. I look forward to the City pursuing more efforts like this to improve productivity and efficiency.

City Council

Surprisingly, City Council was not very exciting this week. Council is currently in a holding pattern for the tax increase issue, and no discussion was had regarding it. There was no discussion on the lodging tax or feral cats, but Mayor Stanforth did talk about the happenings of Solid Waste Committee in his section. The undeniable highlight of Council was when Alice Davidson, recent graduate of Laurel Oaks and Wilmington High School, was given a commendation and Key to the City by the Mayor as well as representatives of the Police and Fire Departments for her heroism in working to save a stranger’s life who had overdosed. It was a special moment for everyone at Council, and Ms. Davidson was very humble in accepting those praises.

 

The next Council meeting is July 7th at 7:30 pm. Hopefully, it will feature a 3rd Reading on the ordinance and resolution pertaining to the municipal income tax increase proposal. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be continuing to follow up on those issues, as well as providing an update on county politics. If you have questions for me or stories you are interested in, please email me at thewilmingtonbulletin@gmail.com

On an important week of City Council

Finance Committee

Finance Committee has done much of the legwork for the Municipal Income Tax increase proposal, which will have its third reading on Thursday (this, of course, is just to put it on the ballot in November). The next step for Finance is to continue to work with Mayor John Stanforth and his administration on spending and budget plans for next year. The administration will likely take the lead on this, but Finance Committee should be prepared to work on this with the administration, as there will need to be two spending plans created for the next year. Planning for the tax increase passing and failing in November is vital. It is important for voters to see what they will get out of the .5% income tax increase as we move towards November.

Judiciary Committee

On the Judiciary Committee agenda is the hotel lodging tax ordinance review and the employee pay scale review (as well as the feral cat issue-for more info on that, see the News Journal coverage). Both of these items are important as potential cost-saving measures for the General fund. The hotel lodging tax issue is in regards to funding towards the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. As it stands right now, there is a push from many council members for the CVB to defend their budget and expenditures, something they have not done in the past to City Council. This movement may make them more like a division of the City Government, where their budget will be reviewed with all other departments. Judiciary is currently looking at the ordinance that is on the books for how this money is to be used, but my guess is that this will end up being a call made by Finance Committee.

In regards to the employee pay scale, this is an issue that focuses on so-called “step raises,” a system where employees are given raises based on service time. This is a complicated issue that was brought up by Council Member Lonnie Stuckert as a potential cost saving measure. Judiciary will need to review how much this will actually save in the long run if the choose to eliminate or significantly alter these increases. Moving to a performance-based system can create HR issues due to performance reviews, etc., but an advantage of having Randi Milburn as the head of Judiciary is that this is where her expertise lies. Council should not move quickly on this without looking at the impact of all of the issues surrounding raises is investigated.

Solid Waste Committee

I have not written about Solid Waste Committee in this space yet, but there is one specific item that has piqued my interest. In their meeting this Thursday (June 16th), the Solid Waste Committee will discuss the final plans for automation of the garbage trucks. This will be a change that Wilmington residents will notice, because automated garbage trucks normally require special trash bins. Part of the rollout is going to include citizen education. This is something that may point to the city pursuing more innovative and progressive solutions to productivity. I look forward to hearing the Committee’s plans on how this will work.

City Council Meeting

As I said previously, the main item on Council’s agenda will be the 3rd reading on the resolution to place the .5% municipal income tax increase on the ballot in November. This will trigger the beginning of a campaign to pass the tax, as well as some potential campaigning against. The most important point for Council, as well as Law Director Brett Rudduck, is that they come better prepared for this meeting than the 2nd reading. At this point, Council can afford zero hiccups in their efforts to move this forward.
I will recap this week in City Council on Friday, including an update on the campaign to pass the tax moving forward. Until then, attend one of these meetings if you have time! If you have questions or have an idea for a story, email me at thewilmingtonbulletin@gmail.com.

 

Where the Tax Increase Stands After First Reading

Last Thursday, May 19th, City Council held its first reading on sending a 0.5% tax increase to the ballot. As I have written before, I believe that this increase is necessary to ensure that vital services in the city continue and are improved. I will try not to belabor this point, but instead want to focus on the tactics taken by certain council members during last weeks meeting.

The lone no vote on the first reading was Lonnie Stuckert. This vote came as somewhat of a surprise to me, as well as to some other observers, but was not altogether shocking. Mr. Stuckert has spoken against tax increases since his campaign, as did his father (who he replaced as 2nd Ward representative). Unfortunately, Mr. Stuckert has failed to provide any concrete plans for cuts. He has said multiple times that there are alternatives, but has yet to present them. This is what is most frustrating to me. When somebody makes the decision to run for council, they must be prepared to present solutions to problems, and not just be a naysayer. For Mr. Stuckert to come to the last meeting unprepared for the criticisms that he has fairly received about his lack of plans is not acceptable. This conversation has been ongoing since the first council meeting of the year, and there was a special council meeting the previous week. I hope that he does present some of his ideas soon, because I believe that it is important for council to continue to discuss fiscal responsibility and the future of the city. Until then, Mr. Stuckert cannot lead members of the community to believe that this problem can be fixed without a revenue increase and not be willing to lead that charge with concrete ideas. It is too late in the process for nebulous proposals.

Councilwoman Randi Milburn has also been on the fence about putting a tax increase on the ballot, but she did end up voting yes on the first reading. My hope is the Mrs. Milburn will work with the other members of the finance committee to work on a long-term plan that focuses on responsible spending for the city. It is easy to talk about budgeting responsibility, but as a member of finance committee, she can be an integral part in leading that charge. As to a bully campaign, however, it is important to separate presenting facts and bullying voters. It is necessary to let voters know what will be cut if the tax increase does not pass, even if that does include police. There needs to be a campaign about the reality of the dire situation we are in. However, I believe this can be done tactfully and in a non-threatening way.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out for second and third reading. I hope that the council members who have been skeptical will either present alternatives or throw their support behind the plan. The tax increase can succeed at the ballot behind the full support of council, and with plans to control spending in the future. Mrs. Milburn and Mr. Stuckert are right in that we must be prudent. However, the reality is clear-the City of Wilmington is in financial trouble due to a wide variety of factors, and the cuts that would have to be made to get to even in the budget would be extremely painful to those working for the city and for residents of the city. Fiscal responsibility and tax increases are not mutually exclusive, nor should they be. Everyone’s voices should be heard as council moves forward, and it is vital for citizens to know that the tax increase is needed and that the money coming in will be spent in a manner that is responsible and desirable for members of the community.

An Open Letter to Council about a Potential Tax Increase

To all of the members of Wilmington City Council and Mayor Stanforth:

Thank you for hosting the public meeting on Thursday about Wilmington’s current financial situation. I believe that for many in Wilmington, the information presented by Service Director Brian Shidaker and Council President Randy Riley was valuable and informational. Finance Committee Chairman Mark McKay did an admirable job of allowing conversation between council members to flow without much interruption. Although the meeting was long, the discussion between council and among the members of the public who attended was good, and there were several issues brought to the table.

As it seems right now, Finance Committee seems to be leaning towards a recommendation to put a 0.5% earnings tax increase (likely temporary for five years). I believe that this is the best course of action in order to get something passed in fall election, and I hope that Finance Committee and Council work to bring this to the voters in this fall’s general election.

In my opinion, Council must consider the following issues:

  • How does Council assure the people of Wilmington that this money will be spent appropriately and prudently? In my opinion, Council must create a specific spending plan that shows how the money will be spent if the voters approve the tax increase. This plan should focus on the future of Wilmington, and how Council plans to make it a brighter one. I believe that it should include street repairs and property maintenance/building code enforcement specifically, as these are two items that many in Wilmington have expressed interest in.
  • Is a temporary tax the best way to go? I believe that it will be easier to pass, but I am not sure whether it is totally honest. Would the city be prepared to lose roughly $2 million from one year to the next in 5 years? It seems like we need significant monies to work to improve the city, and I am not sure if we can accomplish it all in 5 years. If the city can propose a spending plan that gets itself back to a level of services that people in Wilmington can agree with, I hope that Council will move forward with some considerations of putting a permanent tax on the ballot, but if you choose to pursue a temporary tax, that is an understandable move.
  • All Council members should be prepared to answer difficult questions about the city budget. If there are still Council members who believe that the city can cut itself out of this after Thursday night, I encourage you to present these plans. If not, I encourage you to admit you were wrong to publicly say this to get elected, and that we must move forward to provide a desirable level of services to the citizens of Wilmington.

As members of Council have pointed out, once Council moves the issue to a ballot, it must stay out of the campaigning. Ohio law prohibits government/public monies to be spent on most campaigns. Therefore, there will have to be work to create such a committee. As I have been a close and sometimes critical observer of this process, I would like to volunteer to head such a citizen’s committee, which would recruit volunteers and provide information for the passage of the tax increase. There is little doubt in my mind that with a good outreach campaign with Wilmington citizens from across the political spectrum, we can accomplish the goal of passing this tax increase and working to provide the residents of this incredible city the services they need for a city they can be proud of.

Respectfully,
Tyler Williams

This Week in Council-5/2-5/6

Finance Committee

Finance Committee is, at this moment, the most important and temporarily powerful body in the city. It has also shown itself to be the most inept. This week’s meeting may have been the most disappointing, with the committee rehashing the same discussion they have had for the last four months, with almost no progress. Here are some highlights:

  • Finance Committee spent almost the entire 30 minute meeting discussing what kind of special meeting to have. Chairman Mark McKay started the meeting by requesting a special Finance Committee meeting next week because he wanted to make sure they could spend enough time on the issue and that it was the only thing on the agenda. This appears to be a stall tactic. There were only a couple of other small, quick agenda items that took less than ten minutes before they got to the budget discussion.
  • President of Council Randy Riley essentially took over the meeting, pushing for a whole group special council meeting next Thursday to discuss the budget. He openly advocated towards coercing members of council to not take any vote or make any motions towards a vote on anything regarding the budget.
  • Eventually, a workshop was decided upon, with the administration presenting expenses of the city. Does Finance Committee not have that information? Did they not pass the budget?
  • Nathan Kraatz, reporter for the Wilmington News Journal, asked Finance Committee if they wanted the administration to present 15% in cuts that would need to happen to balance the budget. Chairperson McKay first asked where this number came from and then requested that it happen; subsequently, the administration said they would not be able to pull that off. City resident Mark Rembert asked why finance committee would not be recommending that. There was no real answer. There was also no statement as to why Finance Committee hasn’t taken any actions on the numbers it got almost two months ago from the administration as to potential cuts.

So what will happen at next week’s council “workshop?” It certainly sounds like this is not the public forum that Finance Committee was hoping for at the beginning of the year, but is more of an education for City Council itself about the budget. Finance Committee is under the gun to take action, but Chairperson McKay seems to think they are ahead of the game because it is only May. I hope that Thursday’s workshop will give Council and the Finance Committee enough information to act, but after this last Finance Committee meeting, I am skeptical.

Judiciary Committee

One item that I have purposely not written about here is the matter of the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau funding. The reason I haven’t is because, for some reason, this funding has been tied to the Parks and Recreation Department, where my mother is the director. However, I wanted to give a quick overview of what happened at the meeting. I want to state, firmly, that I do not believe this money should be tied into parks in any way. I believe that this is about making sure General Fund monies are being spent wisely.

The CVB, through Executive Director Debbie Stamper, released a statement on the potential for losing some funding. In it, she said that the hotel lodging tax was “not public money.” She reiterated most of this at the meeting, but backtracked a little. Councilman Matt Purkey and Mayor John Stanforth were quick to say that this was wrong. The CVB argues that this money only comes from transient guests, and that it should be spent on these purposes. In the letter to Council, the CVB took the bold stance of telling Council how to spend its tax money, specifying that any money that the City withholds from the CVB should be spent to improve the City parks to attract tournaments (essentially, to increase the amount of revenue from lodging taxes).

Judiciary, especially Councilman Purkey, did an exceptional job of trying to separate the issue from Parks and make it about tightening up. Purkey pointed out the CVB Christmas cards as an example (I could point to many more, including a party for local people) of waste by the CVB. I could not agree more that there is bloat in the organization. The CVB has avoided much of this for years, but it seems that now might be the time when there is political will to make sure that General Fund monies are being spent in an appropriate and closely-watched manner.

City Council meeting

City Council was highlighted by the community fluoridation public forum. I will be doing a podcast on this, and encourage you to listen to that. It was certainly a good discussion, with both sides presenting arguments without getting nasty or angry. I believe that all of the concerns brought up, from the effect on kidneys to skeletal and dental fluorosis, were well handled by the physicians and dentist that were present. It is important for us to remember that many of these debates are taking place between people for whom these efforts will have minimal benefit-generally, adults that can afford dental coverage. This is sometimes ignored as we look at the benefits of fluoridation, unfortunately, but it must be an important part of the consideration if the issue moves to a vote.

After the public forum, the rest of the meeting went by without much discussion, save for the repeal of the G-1 Gateway Zone. This was met mostly without opposition, except for Mayor Stanforth. The mayor, who has indicated that he supports simplifying zoning in Wilmington, wondered if there would be an impetus to do so if the G-1 was repealed. In my opinion, the mayor makes a good point in that the city has lost some of its bargaining power with those that said they opposed the G-1. Zoning seems to be an important issue for many on City Council, and the Judiciary Committee has promised a Zoning Task Force to lead the way in zoning changes. This is a great start as we move towards a comprehensive zoning plan for the city.

Final thoughts

It was an exciting week of Council and Committee meetings. Action was taken on the G-1, while intense discussions were had about fluoridation and CVB funding. I am eagerly awaiting next Thursday’s Council budget workshop to see what information is presented and how discussions go. If you are passionate about Council pursuing a certain revenue source, I hope you will come and make your voice heard.

It’s Time for Wilmington to Fluoridate its Water

A common hoax that often manifests itself as a pop psychology “experiment” on fear, gullibility, and a lack of scientific literacy involves the chemical dihydrogen monoxide. Hoax victims are often warned of the dangers of this very common chemical: it is a main component of acid rain;can be dangerous in gaseous, liquid, and solid form; it contributes to erosion and rusting; and it is often found in excised tumors from cancer patients. Despite these dangers, the hoax warns, we all ingest or come into contact with this chemical every day. It is then revealed that dihydrogen monoxide is, of course, water.

I bring this point up to illustrate an issue that has been happening in the fluoride debate across the country. Anti-fluoride advocates prey on the fears that many people have of “unnatural” chemicals in what we consume. Instead of focusing on legitimate science, these advocates will often cherry-pick certain studies (there is one in particular that I will focus on below) in order to show that fluoride is dangerous. I will agree on one point with these advocates-fluoride, at certain high levels, definitely has negative health benefits. However, an overview of the scientific literature clearly shows that fluoride in a water system can have positive health benefits, especially in places where people lack access to proper dental care.

What professional organizations say…

American Association of Pediatrics“Water fluoridation continues to be one of the most important tools in our toolbox to prevent tooth decay in children and adults.” Support the US Department of Health and Human Services recommendation of 0.7mg/L to help with dental caries while limiting the risk of dental fluorosis.

Centers for Disease ControlThe Centers for Disease Control named water fluoridation as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 21st century. The CDC has statements on the science of fluoridation as well as the economic impact of water fluoridation on communities.

American Dental AssociationThe ADA quotes scientific research that water fluoridation holds greatest promise in preventing childhood dental caries in its recommendation that communities pursue water fluoridation.

US Department of Health and Human ServicesThe US Department of Public Health recommends fluoridation to the 0.7mg/L level, which it recently changed from 0.7-1.2mg/L. They say that even though there has been an increase in availability of fluoride in dental products, they do still recommend that communities fluoridate their water to that level (which is also recommended to decrease risk of dental fluorosis).

The recent study that anti-fluoride advocates quote, and why you don’t need to worry about it…

In 2012, Harvard scientists wrote an article entitled “Developmental Fluoride Neurotoxicity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Published in a well-regarded journal, the article gained popularity thanks to a write-up on the Huffington Post (which has a strained relationship with good science) by Dr. Joseph Mercola (a favorite target of legitimate science writers and skeptics).

The article is an analysis of studies done mostly in rural mining communities in China. This is one of many problems from the article, and here are some others that I have gleaned from a variety of scientists who have written in response to the study:

  • The studies examined looked at places with significant naturally occurring fluoride levels, higher than when it is put into the water supply
  • The authors did not have complete information on the studies, so they were not replicable
  • The studies did not have much in the way of compounding variables, i.e. education

The authors of the Harvard study itself admit to many of the flaws of the study, including that many of the studies they looked at were flawed and that their meta-analysis brought questions to light, but did not necessarily provide specific answers beyond saying that high levels of fluoride were potentially hazardous to neurological development. Unfortunately, many of the anti-fluoridation advocates were duped by people like Dr. Mercola, who was given a loudspeaker by the Huffington Post where he chose to further his alternative medicine agenda instead of writing an objective article about what the study said and its limitations.

A brief history water fluoridation in Wilmington…

In 1969, the State of Ohio passed a law requiring fluoridation of water supplies for municipalities of 5,000 people or more. In 1970, thirty communities (including Wilmington) voted to exempt themselves from this law. Currently, Wilmington is joined by twenty-one other communities in the state of Ohio in not fluoridating its water.

Since then, the issue has come up a few other times in Wilmington. In 1986, the Cincinnati Enquirer ran a story about the debate in council. Council members at the time appeared to favor it, but in the debate various illnesses and developmental issues were (wrongly) linked to fluoride treatment. David Hockaday, a city council member at the time who is still fighting against fluoride, was quoted as saying he had textbooks and research to look at the downside of water fluoridation. As anyone reading this knows, nothing ended up happening at the time regarding water fluoridation.

The current plan and the current debate…

The current plan, according to Water Committee Chairperson Kelsey Swindler, has been developed with the recommendations from the US Depatment of Public Health and requirements from the Ohio Revised Code. The goal is to have the lowest effective fluoridation, recommended by the US Department of Public Health while still following Ohio law, which requires that communities fluoridate their water to 0.8mg/L. According to Swindler, City Water Superintendent Jerry Rowlands has estimated startup costs to be around $29,000. However, from grant money available from the Ohio Department of Health Oral Health Project, the city would likely be able to cover much of the start up money.

The current debate has been much quieter, potentially because there is so much more evidence out there that supports water fluoridation. Mr. Hockaday has continued some of his arguments from years ago, although less vociferously. There will inevitably be some out there who appeal to fear about chemicals in the water, which is an appeal to nature that is not backed up by good science.

My thoughts…

Now is the time to fluoridate our water. We have seen nearly one hundred years of science, almost all of it supporting fluoridation. The reports that haven’t have mostly warned about fluoridation in large quantities, which thanks to current technology can be controlled. As a city, we must encourage our city council members to ignore the clamoring of those loudly appealing to fears about the government trying to force chemicals into our bodies. We must help protect our most vulnerable children and adults, those that do not have access to appropriate care from damaging and harmful dental caries. It is time for Wilmington to join countless other communities who have worked to better public health and move forward with a community fluoridation plan.

 

EDITORIAL: The Time for Action is Now in Wilmington City Council

As I wrote last Monday, Wilmington is experiencing serious issues with it’s budget situation. The city budget for 2016 showed a deficit of $1.3 million, and the agreement between council seemed to be that they needed to act soon. This, after a November city council meeting where council said that they would continue the discussion and that they recognized how quickly it needed to happen.

We are now at the beginning of March. Today, March 2nd, the Finance Committee of council had just their second meeting of the year from my understanding. I decided to go, to see if the members of the Finance Committee were going to follow through with their promise to consider options.

The budget discussion started out with Mayor John Stanforth saying that he would be putting a plan for cuts to balance the budget. He then asked for permission from Auditor David Hollingsworth to work with Deputy Auditor Mary Kay Vance on budget issues. I am not sure why this conversation hasn’t happened yet, but Hollingsworth said that was fine, as he would not be available much until after tax season. Stanforth went on to say that the city was broke, and Hollingsworth agreed.

Councilwoman Kelsey Swindler subsequently brought the issue of putting a tax on the ballot–the same discussion that council was having last year, but that nobody has discussed this year. Finance Committee Chair Mark McKay said that he wanted to give the mayor time to show how the cuts would look before they moved on the tax issue. Swindler responded that these needed to be in motion at the same time. McKay subsequently said that he needs more info, like a public forum where the public could decide whether council should put forth a property tax levy or an earnings tax on the ballot. I immediately posed the question, “Isn’t the tax the public forum?” Councilwoman Milburn then said she wanted to learn more about the numbers for each tax. Swindler and McKay both said that they were leaning towards an earnings tax, partially because they believe it to be more fair. Mr. McKay eventually added that he has heard some people saying it is time to put it on the ballot. The committee asked Clerk of Council Marian Miller to provide them with estimated revenue from the potential taxes for discussion at their next meeting.

During the meeting, Councilman McKay continued to show that he is not willing to make the tough decisions when it counts. He was perfectly willing to allow the tax to be debated in public before the committee and/or council moved forward on it. As the meeting went on, he backed off several times as soon as he was challenged. Mrs. Milburn ran on a no tax increase platform, so it is difficult to tell how she truly feels about the tax increase. She seems to have decided it is acceptable to put the tax to voters.

I left the meeting wondering-if Mr. McKay and Mrs. Milburn had not been questioned on their reluctance to put a tax increase on the ballot, what would have been accomplished? Would we all be waiting for the mayor’s office to come up with potential budget cuts so the committee can pour over them? Time is of the essence on an issue like this. It would be a great disappointment if council missed a chance to get it on the November ballot because of feet-dragging. At the end of the meeting, Mr. McKay said that “we’ll try to keep Kelsey happy.” Hopefully, this is not the only impetus for action in the future.