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Will voters settle the fluoride debate?

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

The City Council discussed fluoridation of water, approved a Republic Services trash rate increase, approved an ordinance to reduce fees for construction of accessory dwelling units, and announced the Lebanon Downtown Association is back in good standing during the Nov. 8 meeting.

Fluoridated water

The council discussed the issue of fluoridated water and chose to begin the process of referring the decision to voters. What that entails, City Attorney Tré Kennedy said, is a memo to be brought before Council with a recommendation, which Council then votes on. Then a draft is written up for the November 2024 election.

Public Works Director Jason Williams gave some bullet points to the council regarding the City’s use of fluoride:

  • The City Council in April 2000 enacted an ordinance requiring fluoridated water in its system.
  • They dose .7 parts per million, which equates to .18 gallons of fluoride per 150,000 gallons of water.
  • Due to fluoride, the dosing of caustic soda must be increased to bring the pH balance back up.
  • The City’s 2022-23 budget was $12,800 for fluoride and $14,715 for caustic dosing.
  • Staff must wear suits and respirators when handling the fluoride.
  • Images within the new water treatment plant compared to images within the fluoride containment room show evidence of corrosion on metallic door handles, plastic parts and pipes in the fluoride room.

During discussion, Councilor Dave Workman said his biggest concern was that the City Council had made the determination to provide fluoride, not allowing the residents a chance to vote on the matter.

“The issue is, to me, putting this on a ballot; not me making a moral judgment or reading somebody’s story about why fluoride is good or bad for you,” Workman said. “I think that’s a people-discussion.”

Councilors Carl Mann and Wayne Dykstra, as well as Mayor Ken Jackola, agreed it is a matter that the residents should vote on, while Councilor Jeremy Salvage indicated he’s not opposed to voters having their say, particularly since it’s a matter that involves health.

Director Jason Williams shares information about the city’s use of fluoride in its water system.

Councilor Michelle Steinhebel said there is a process in place for voter initiatives, referring to a petition process, which some residents have begun for the fluoride matter. While the council can choose to put an initiative on a ballot themselves, she said the council is voted on by the people to make the hard decisions and she believes this is one of those decisions that could be made by the council.

Steinhebel gave two examples where the council made decisions on proclamations and homeless sleeping areas, which brought more public attention than the fluoride issue.

“I really think this is a decision we can make as a body, and quite frankly I realize I’m going to be out-voted on that decision,” she said. “That’s what we’re here to do. Do we need to send it to the voters to have that fight and divide our community? Or can we just do it here tonight?”

She clarified her stand by saying she doesn’t intend to cut the voter out of the process, but she feels the voter has already been involved in the process by electing the council members.

Councilor KJ Ullfers said this is a topic that has been passed by City Council twice (referring to the 2000 decision to initiate the fluoridation of water, and the 2016 decision to install fluoride pumps when the new water treatment plant was built), and suggested the petition process failed (to which it was later explained the petitioners are too busy to solicit signatures, but there is still time to complete and turn in the petition). He said he believes the council has the right to make these kinds of decisions, and putting this on a ballot creates a slippery slope that blurs the line between what council and voters should decide on.

During public comment, Corbin Tolin said he toured the water treatment plant regarding fluorosilicic acid and received an informational sheet describing potential health hazards of the product. Given the hazards, “the whole argument of this being good for our teeth, I kind of reject,” he said.

Tolen also said he believes the corrosive material also degrades the city’s pumps at a faster rate. He suggested the City make fluoride-treated water an option for consumers to install in their own households.

“This would be a much more fair and justified way of actually allowing people to still get this if they think it’s truly good for their teeth,” Tolen said.

Or, he added, people could take fluoride in tablet form.

Edda King addressed the council to present her argument for fluoridated water “due to the benefits it does provide.” She pointed out there are families who do not or cannot provide dental help for their children, and those children will be affected by that for the rest of their lives.

Resident Melissa Peterson tells city council why she opposes fluoride in the water system.

Melissa Peterson shared she took interest in the fluoride question and did her own research on the matter. She said part of what she learned was that England – a country with similar diet and obesity rates – does not put fluoride in their water, and yet they have the same rate of tooth decay.

“That led me to believe if the main purpose of fluoride is to prevent tooth decay, then presumably the U.S. should have a lower rate of tooth decay,” she said.

There are many causes of tooth decay, and fluoride seems to be “an attempt at a blanket solution to the deeper issue of tooth decay,” but it is not a solution, Peterson said.

Trash service rate increase

The council approved a resolution allowing a Republic Service rate increase of 1% beginning in January 2024. Rate increases are typically adjusted every year based on the Consumer Price Index, and fuel and disposal costs.

Republic Service consumers will see a monthly increase of .25 to .41, depending on cart size. Municipal Manager Julie Jackson said staffing and procedures are improving, and a rate for low-income families has been approved. Households that qualify for the City’s low-income assistance program will also qualify for the Republic Services program, but must contact the company to sign up.

SDCs for ADUs

The council adopted an ordinance to reduce system development charges for accessory dwelling units to 40% of the cost of a single family dwelling, a 60% reduction.

During public comment, Laura LaRoque asked the council to consider waiving all SDC fees for ADU development.

“ADUs are permitted in the city of Lebanon up to 40% of primary housing size, so the maximum sizes are typically a thousand square feet. When you put the numbers to a 1,000-square-foot construction that includes a kitchen and bathroom, at today’s cost per square foot, that puts these units typically at the $200,000 mark.”

LaRoque said ADUs are primarily built to house elderly family members or caregivers, adding that ADUs are not very cost-effective for any other purpose.

“(Waiving the fees) would encourage housing that would help with generational living and assistance, and any sort of fee reductions that you can do to encourage that sort of development would be a positive addition for the City of Lebanon,” she said.

Downtown Association

Interim City Manager Ron Whitlatch announced the Lebanon Downtown Association has been brought back into good standing as a 501c3 with updated legal paperwork. This summer the Council put a hold on granting funds to the LDA until the organization could be in good working order again.

According to former LDA President Jeannie Davis, the funds from the City support a Main Street Manager, while grants and sponsorships support LDA events.

Steinhebel requested the new LDA board approach the council to formally request the reinstatement of funds.

In other business:

  • Heard a report from Williams regarding water quality after Sweet Home’s Green Peter Reservoir was drained (see our story, “Future of muddy water not yet clear”);
  • During public comment, two people asked the council to consider finding a way to provide assistance and shelter for Lebanon’s homeless population;
  • The council heard annual reports from HUB International Northwest LLC (insurance risk report), from Republic Services, and from the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce;
  • The council approved a change in the tourism contract with the Chamber of Commerce to allow an additional $7,000 be allocated for operation of the Visitor’s Center, which wil be provided by the funding for tourism grants. The original contract allowed $35,000 for operations and $50,000 for tourism grants. The new contract allows $42,000 for operations and $43,000 for tourism grants.