The Spokane City Council voted Monday to indefinitely put off a decision about whether to add fluoride to the city’s drinking water. But it did decide to accept up to $4 million in grant money to continue studying the concept.
The proposal to fluoridate Spokane’s water has rekindled a decades-long debate about whether the benefits of adding fluoride to the water outweigh the negatives.
Spokane voters have said no three times over the years to fluoridation ballot measures.
On Monday, the city council took about four hours of public testimony from more than 100 people who signed up to share their opinions about why fluoridation would be good or bad.
They included Ken Roberts, a vice dean at the Washington State University College of Medicine. He said Spokane has done a remarkable amount of work to build itself into a regional health care hub. This, he says, would be the next step.
“Community water fluoridation is imperative to improving the health of our community, especially to address health inequities, protecting members of our community who cannot afford fluoride treatments or frequent visits to the dentist," Roberts said.
Though the council decided now is not the right time to make a final decision on fluoridation, it decided to move forward by accepting part or all of $4 million dollars offered by the Arcora Foundation ($3 million) and nine health care companies and organizations ($1 million) to continue studying its feasibility. That, says Deb Williams, is still going too far.
“By approving the Arcora grant agreement, you are, in essence, starting the momentum with the full intent of fluoridating Spokane’s water at a later date. We’re not being fooled by this vote’s intentions, meaning we citizens of Spokane will be forced to accept fluoride in our water because, tonight, you are binding us to this agreement for no other purpose," Williams said.
In voting to put off a final decision about fluoridation, Council President Breean Beggs acknowledges there are more questions to answer before making a final decision.
“My proposal of going forward is leave the ordinance aside, just pursue the grant agreement process and that is a deliberate process in the direction of water fluoridation, but it is not a no or no go decision at this time. That will be informed by more information down the road," Beggs said.
The council vote to defer was unanimous and welcomed by Mayor Nadine Woodward, who, when asked, didn’t offer a personal opinion about fluoridation.
“I am more concerned about the process of fluoridating our water and I think if we’re going to make a decision this big, one that impacts every single person in our city, that we need to be thoughtful. We need to take time and I really think it should go to a vote of the people," Woodward said.
That's also the preferred aim of Councilman Michael Cathcart, the only member to vote against accepting the grant.
He and Woodward say city officials believe the capital costs of fluoridation will be greater than the $4 million in grants. They say the estimated $600,000 in annual operating costs could require a future city council to increase city utility rates.