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.

Where does Wilmington go from here?

I have taken the last few months off from writing to work on the Campaign for Wilmington’s Future, which was a committee that was working towards the passage of the Wilmington Municipal Income Tax increase that I have written about many times on this site. After a successful campaign, I am glad to be back writing about local issues. Working on the campaign, learning from city government officials about the budget, having conversations with a variety of residents of Wilmington about the city and its government has been an education and enlightening experience for me.

The current budget situation

One of the biggest questions that we got during the campaign was “where is the money going?” Well, part of this answer was easy-the majority would go towards covering the deficit, while much of the remainder would be used to help build the city’s carryover (aka rainy day fund). This would leave an estimated $500,000 per year for the City to spend, ostensibly on infrastructure projects–with streets taking a top priority. Throughout the campaign, this is what the City had emphasized as its spending plan. While not as specific as many would have liked, the administration felt that it would be potentially irresponsible to give more specifics and have unforeseen circumstances change plans.

How should the city proceed?

Now is not the time for city officials to rest on their laurels. Passing the tax was a very important step in the right direction to help the City work towards a more secure financial future while increasing investments in infrastructure projects. During the campaign, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents worked together for the future of the City, showing support across the political spectrum. However, the City cannot ignore the nearly 2000 people who voted against the tax. This could be partially seen as a referendum on how the City communicates and pursues active transparency. While the City had open forums and a special Council meeting to discuss the tax, many still felt like information was not as readily available as it could have been.

I have written about the importance of citizens to be engaged in their local government’s activities. Additionally, I have written about transparency being an issue in local government (although I did praise the City for its efforts at publicizing Council meetings). This is a time for the City to have be aggressively transparent. Those people who were skeptical about the tax (many of whom still voted for it because they understood its importance) need to feel that their voices are being heard. The City should proceed quickly with public discussions on the budget, with Finance Committee leading the way with meetings being held in Council chambers to show residents of Wilmington exactly how they are planning on spending the money that has been entrusted to them.

It is time for Wilmington to begin the process of moving forward into the future, know that its short-term fiscal future looks brighter. However, the City must be prepared to listen to Wilmington residents and work together to invest in Wilmington. I encourage residents of Wilmington to go to Council meetings related to the 2017 budget to learn more about how their money will be spent, and I encourage Council to welcome these engaged citizens into these incredibly important discussions.

0.5% Municipal Income Tax Increase Goes to Voters

Last Thursday, July 7th, City Council voted unanimously to place a 0.5% municipal income tax increase on the ballot in November (Councilperson Joe Spicer was absent, but had previously voiced support for allowing the voters to decide). As per Ohio law, if a City wants to increase its municipal income tax beyond 1% (where Wilmington currently stands), it must go to the voters.

This has been several months, if not years, in the making. A Blue Ribbon Committee that consisted of local residents and politicians supported a municipal income tax increase after digging into the City’s budget, but at that time, the City had enough in reserves to push the matter into the future.

With the City’s budget at a breaking point, Council was finally forced to act this year. The City cut in certain places, but realistically, there is no way to cover a $1.5 million deficit. The City has lost so much money over the last decade, from the massive job loss at the airpark to the cuts to funds given to local governments by Governor Kasich and company from the state.

I have already voiced my support for this tax increase, and I have volunteered to help get it passed. I hope that this is the beginning of a dialogue about how the City spends its money and invests in infrastructure. We have streets that need to be paved and fire and police departments that need to be funded. The citizens of Wilmington should vote for this tax and continue to make sure their elected officials follow through with their promises on how they will spend additional funds coming into the general fund.

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

My Way Too Early Prediction for the Clinton County Presidential Results

*Note: I am aware that Donald Trump is not the nominee yet. I think it is likely at this point, especially after his performance in Tuesday’s primaries. Either way, my quick and dirty analysis would stay very, very similar. As far as Hillary is concerned, she is basically the nominee at this point, so I am writing about her specifically.

2008 and 2012 Results

The first thing I did was look at the results of the 2008 and 2012 primary and general election results for the county. In 2008, Democrats had a larger-than-normal turnout in the primary with 5,296 voters taking a Dem ballot. Republicans still had more ballots cast, with 5,963 voting in the Republican primary. This is closer than normal, and from a distance could look like a good sign for the Democratic presidential candidate in the general election. Barack Obama, however, was beaten 64-34 by John McCain in the county. Why was this? My theory is that the Republican party had no really competitive local contests. The County Commissioners races were uncontested, and the contested races were mostly for state judge or party representatives. On the Democratic side, along with a heated presidential race with two candidates trying to make history (Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama), there was a state senate race that featured Joy Brubaker and Bill Horne, who were fairly well known in Clinton County.

2012 was an entirely different story in the primaries, but with a similar result in the general election. Rick Santorum. who had a wide base among evangelical, socially conservative Christians (a staple of Clinton County politics), had the most votes in the Republican presidential primary. Over 6,500 people voted in the Republican primary, an increase of 500 in 2008. This primary also featured candidates for US Senate and many candidates for county commissioner. In the Democratic primary, only 741 people voted, likely because there was an incumbent president (Obama) and no real local races. In the general election, Mitt Romney doubled Obama’s votes in Clinton County, beating him 66-32.

What does this mean for 2016?

It is hard to say, in part because both parties will likely nominate candidates that are wildly unpopular in the opposing party. This could drive a #NeverHillary campaign to join the #NeverTrump campaign, creating a situation where people are voting against a certain candidate as much as they are for a certain candidate. The numbers show Republicans winning Clinton County by large margins, even as the state has gone blue in the last two presidential elections. How does this bode for Trump? He had almost as many votes in the Republican primary as Romney and Santorum combined in 2012, so it is clear that he has significant support in the county (especially places other the the city of Wilmington). He did not, however, get a majority of the votes in the Republican primary. With Kasich and Cruz, who took 51% of the county together, going more anti-Trump by the day, one wonders if some of those voters will follow. Hillary Clinton was relatively popular in 2008, posting a Clinton County primary win over then-Senator Obama, but was beaten by Bernie Sanders in the primary this year.

I could see Trump winning Clinton County by around 25 points, judging from past performance by Republican candidates and judging from him being around the same place in statewide general election polls as McCain and Romney lost by. Clinton County fits Trump’s demographic well: hit hard by the recession; overwhelmingly white; and rural. Clinton should do well in the city, where many of the county’s Democrats live, but will still probably lose by some margin. This will be an interesting campaign to watch in terms of how each candidates policies would affect those in Clinton County, and it is certainly a race we will be following here at the Wilmington Bulletin.

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.