The finish line is in sight for Walden’s months-long debate over the potential end of public water fluoridation in the village, as the Board of Trustees authorized village attorney Dave Donovan at its meeting on Feb. 20 to draft a local law that would halt the fluoride program. If the board is satisfied with the legislation, a public hearing could then be set for a future meeting with a final board vote to follow. The local law would be the last step in a process that began last spring, as the board began the debate on the difficult public health issue.
Walden has satisfied every other requirement of the state law regulating the removal of fluoride, as the board has gathered testimony of multiple health experts and held a session with representatives from the New York State Department of Health on Jan. 22 to hear their opinions on fluoridation. The village has also submitted a mandated plan to the state detailing how residents will acquire the needed amount of fluoride for their dental health if the water fluoridation initiative is discontinued.
Village Manager John Revella noted to the state officials during the group meeting last month that the state’s 2015 water fluoridation law makes it more difficult for towns and villages to stop fluoridating their water than to start. The village began the deliberate process of weighing the removal of fluoride last and has followed the state’s rigorous steps along the way. “Only municipalities that want to remove it have to jump through all of these hoops,” Walden Mayor Susan Rumbold said. “They have a lengthy process if you want to remove fluoride, but if you want to add it you can just fill out your paperwork and here it is. Municipalities that don’t currently have the fluoride in their system, there’s nothing there telling them what they have to do for their citizens. It seems to me that the legislation is very punitive to municipalities that want to remove it.”
During last Tuesday’s meeting, the council discussed a draft law regarding abandonment of use, as the village hopes to revitalize local rental properties. A public hearing has not yet been scheduled for the local law, which pertains to buildings constructed before 1958 that were intended for use as multiple-family dwellings. Under the current law, long-abandoned properties can revert to the zoning for a one-family structure. “Some of these buildings are so large, and have been used as apartments in the past, we want to allow them to continue because they were built before a certain period of time and that was their original usage,” Rumbold said. “So we want to allow people to buy these buildings and not have to convert them into one-family residences. We want to be able to allow them to continue with that original use. That would entice people to purchase them, knowing that they didn’t have to renovate them into single-family homes. That would create more good living space for people and get these properties sold.” Under the draft law, the two units in the properties would include distinct living units for two different families with separate provisions for cooking.
The board is also in the early stages of looking at legislation that could potentially create a registry of abandoned properties in Walden. Under a potential local law, the village could identify the abandoned properties and then assess fines to the owner of the home (in many cases a bank that has foreclosed on a house or taken over an abandoned site) for code violations, possibly adding the fees to the home’s water bill.“That law is to encourage the banks to take care of their properties once they take them over,” Rumbold said. “They should keep the lawn mowed, keep the structure in good condition.” The board recommended that Donovan investigate the matter further, and the discussion on the potential local law will continue in the weeks ahead.
By Ted Remsnyder