The City of Hood River hasn’t yet decided how costs will be divvied up if voters approve fluoridation of the water supply.

But Mayor Paul Cummings has objected to placing the issue on the Nov. 2 general election ballot without listing the potential monthly charges. City staffers have tabulated that 2,000 customers could see an increase of $7.50 per month on their water bill for the first five years. That fee would cover start-up costs and then drop to $2 more each month for ongoing maintenance and supplies — with adjustments for inflation.

“I think these costs ought to be brought into the open so people know that they are voting on something that is going to cost them extra,” said Cummings, who has been adamantly opposed to the city initiating the fluoridation vote.

However, the remainder of the council (Carrie Nelson and A.J. Kitt were not present) agreed during Monday’s worksession not to include estimated monthly charges. The elected body decided there were too many cost variables that were still unknown. For example, the city might be able to fold the $180,000 for construction of a new chloride/fluoride plant into its $3.8 million federal loan for water system upgrades.

However, a choice might then have to be made between the facility and seismic upgrades to one section of transmission line that lies at the low point in the system. In addition, the city is pondering whether monthly charges should be based on usage instead of a flat fee. That would reduce the cost to residences and raise the bill for larger users, including two water-dependent businesses and a local hospital.

Ron Dodge, chief executive officer for Hood River Distillers, is also opposed to having fluoride in the company’s water supply. He believes the chemical additive could react negatively with flavoring in the alcoholic beverages produced by 35 local employees.

In addition to higher water bills for an additive he does not want, Dodge finds it ironic that the plant will then foot the bill for equipment to filter out the chemical. He is now researching the added costs to the business if voters choose fluoridation — and the economic impact of losing a marketing advantage based on the current water quality.

“To contaminate the pure mountain spring water that we are so fortunate to have would be a crime,” Dodge said.
Full Sail Brewing Company has taken a neutral stance on the pros and cons of fluoridation.

The company isn’t even worried that a higher water bill will significantly reduce its revenue. What does concern Brewmaster Jim Kelter is the potential for an “adverse influence” on the taste of the locally-made ale. And the potential cost of equipment to remove the substance out of the water supply. Kelter said the company currently does not have to treat the small level of chlorine used by the city because it evaporates in the kettles.

However, the 54 employees, who own Full Sail, could incur an extra expense of about $130,000 to install a system that would rid the water of fluoride, in addition to costs for ongoing maintenance.

“We’re not taking a position on the benefits of fluoride versus the potential issues. It’s a wait-and-see for us on what effect it has on our brewing process,” said Kelter.
Barbara Young, spokesperson for Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital, said the medical center is prepared to absorb additional water charges to support whatever choice voters make.

At the end of the Aug. 2 worksession, the city decided to draft a fact sheet of cost options and keep the ballot language short and simple. Voters will be asked only if the city should fluoridate the water to promote dental health. Then they will be briefed about the potential start-up costs and the $49,000 annual charge for maintenance and operation.

Councilor Charles Haynie has spearheaded the drive to put fluoride on the Nov. 2 general election ballot. He believes it will help protect the teeth of lower-income children who do not receive proper dental care at home. In late July, the council voted 4-3 in favor of following Haynie’s lead — if only to get a final answer on the controversial subject that has tapped strong emotion from proponents and opponents alike.