An initiative that would add fluoride to Bellingham’s drinking water is misleading and potentially unenforceable, leaving the city on the hook for fully funding the program, a lawyer for an anti-fluoride group claims.
In a letter to city officials, lawyer Rolf Beckhusen writes that the initiative violates state law and the city’s charter by hinging its implementation on a $600,000 Washington State Dental Services Foundation grant.
Beckhusen says the city has no jurisdiction over the foundation, which is based in Seattle, nor could the city force it to pay for the initial fluoridation equipment.
Beckhusen, representing the Citizens Against Forced Fluoride political action committee, writes, “the flawed initiative should not be submitted to a vote.”
When asked for comment Monday night, city officials said they had not reviewed the letter, which was received that afternoon.
Beckhusen’s letter also claims the initiative “grossly underestimates” the cost of fluoridation.
Bellingham Families for Fluoride, the group sponsoring the initiative, claims fluoridation would cost the city $33,000 annually, or about 13 cents per home per month. Exactly how the money would be collected is not clear.
Beckhusen cites a Lakewood Water District, Pierce County, study that puts costs of fluoridation at $140,000 a year for a system serving 70,000 people.
City Councilman John Watts, who had read the letter, said he had concerns about the initiative.
“My perception is that there are some unanswered questions – is it even legal?” Watts asked. “It will impact the budget and the city charter says no initiative can change the budget.”
The city’s charter prohibits “unfunded mandates” through initiatives. In past years, the courts have found two city referendums on water and storm water rates illegal.
On July 18, Bellingham City Council took no action on the proposed initiative, essentially putting it on the ballot without issuing its own opinion. By avoiding a vote, the council started a 30-day clock for the initiative, which means the initiative would be placed on the November ballot automatically by Wednesday.
As of press time Monday night, it was unclear what, if any, action the City Council might take regarding Beckhusen’s letter.