After more than four hours of video testimony on Monday, the Spokane City Council didn't officially commit to start fluoridating the city's water. But it did set the city on a path toward fluoridation that may be costly if it decides to abandon it.
Earlier on Monday, the council had abandoned a proposal to use an emergency ordinance to write fluoridation into official city policy.
"I'm encouraged by that," Mayor Nadine Woodward, who opposes fluoridation, told the Inlander. "It shows that the council has been listening to the community."
But City Council President Breean Beggs says the only real shift has been procedural. After all, on a 6-1 vote, the council officially accepted a $4 million contract from the Arcora Foundation — an oral health group — and other community organizations to start the process of studying, designing and implementing fluoridation. Theoretically, the council could vote to abandon the process at any time. But there's a big catch written into the grant contract.
"From the signing of the contract — until fluoride is actually being injected to the water — any money expended during that, if the city walks away, they have to pay back," Beggs says.
Even once the city starts fluoridating, if they decide to stop before the end of 20 years, it will have to pay back part of the grant.
"I think you could almost say you're held hostage to the money you would receive," Woodward says. "Because if you make any changes, you've got to give it all back."
Councilman Michael Cathcart, the sole council member to vote against the contract, expressed similar concerns.
"If we accept this grant, we are locking ourselves into, essentially, fluoridation," Cathcart says.
But Councilwoman Candace Mumm argued that it did the opposite — giving the city more freedom to explore the issue, and even enough time to allow for a community advisory vote on the issue. And Councilwoman Karen Stratton said she "spent most of her life in her dental chair" and that "we need to do something" to help improve oral health in the community.
While fluoride opponents brought up a slew of concerns, groups like the American Medical Association, the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics are enthusiastically in favor of fluoridation.
"It's not, a 'there's people on both sides' situation," Beggs says. "The total weight of the science is in support of it."
And if the scientific consensus changes in the next few years, he notes, the city can change its mind. It just might cost them. ♦