The Davis Board of Health has taken the first step toward letting residents decide whether they want water fluoridation.

The health board will recommend that county municipalities and water suppliers put the fluoridation issue to a vote, according to a resolution passed Tuesday morning.Unlike Salt Lake County, whose board of health recently passed a similar resolution, a countywide referendum will not suffice. Instead, voters would have to approve fluoridation for each of the 30-plus water districts serving Davis County.

"The responsibility (of the board of health) is the public health of Davis County," said Richard Harvey, director of environmental health for the county. "The board is passionate that this is something that needs to be done."

Fluoride in water, a divisive issue throughout the state, is necessary to prevent dental problems, especially in children, Harvey said. Utah is one of only two states that does not fluoridate its water; Utah also has the second-highest rate of dental cavities in the nation.

"People coming in from other states can't believe we are so behind the times. It is their expectation that the water get fluoridated," Harvey said,

Harvey, who is also the mayor of Fruit Heights, agrees that some arguments against the fluoridation of water, such as having a health decision forced upon residents, are valid. But still, he said, fluoridation is needed.

"The scientific studies which show the benefits are overwhelming," he said.

Opponents of fluoridation, who have also claimed that fluoride does more harm to the body than good, may begin to use cost as a rallying cry to stop fluoridation.

Equipping water treatment systems to mix fluoride into the water would run upward of $1 million, said Ivan Flint, manager of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District. After that, an annual increase of 5 cents would also be charged.

"People have to realize we will need to increase their bill," Flint said. "But we don't object to fluoride at all. If that's what the people want, then we would be glad to do it."

Proponents of fluoride dispute the cost increases as an argument. The total cost for a person to pay for fluoridation for a lifetime works out to less than the cost of repairing one cavity, said Dr. James Saunders of the Davis County Board of Health.

"If there ever was a place this made sense, it is here," Saunders said.