The Sumner City Council will hold a public hearing next month and decide within 60 days of it whether to continue putting fluoride in the city’s drinking water.
The majority of the council is leaning toward discontinuing the service, which started in March under a now-defunct mandate by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.
The state Supreme Court last month ruled that the department doesn’t have the authority to compel fluoridation. But health officials have said some local utilties, including Sumner, are still obligated to add the compound to their water because of contracts they signed.
Water providers signed the agreements – prior to the high court ruling – so they’d be eligible for reimbursement money to help pay the cost of starting fluoridation.
“Most of us felt that we had a gun to our heads when the health department said we had to do it,” said Sumner Councilman LeRoy Goff. “We’ve had no chance to talk to our residents about it.”
The department maintains that fluoride helps promote oral hygiene. Some leaders in Sumner, including Mayor Barbara Skinner, said they favored fluoridation because it’s been proved nationally to fight cavities, especially among poverty-stricken children who can’t afford a dentist.
Sumner began adding fluoride to its water supply March 31, following Milton on March 8 and Parkland Light & Water on Feb. 25. Southwood and Sound water companies, which serve parts of Graham and Spanaway, have designed but not yet installed fluoridation systems, health officials said.
Ten other water systems that would have been affected by the mandate didn’t sign contracts with the department and now can choose whether to fluoridate.
On Monday night, the Sumner City Council had four choices to consider: continue fluoridation, discontinue it, ask voters what to do, or hold a public hearing and then make a decision.
The council voted 5-2 on the last alternative.
“I’d like to shut it off right now,” said Councilman Dave Enslow, who, along with Councilman Matt Richardson, voted against the action. “It was not our decision to do it. People of Sumner never said, ‘We want fluoride.'”
Sumner has spent nearly $120,000 to install the system, and city officials estimate it would cost about $20,000 annually to run it.
The city is eligible for about $60,000 in reimbursement under the contract it signed, but it hasn’t received the money, said City Administrator Andrew Neiditz.
Dr. Federico Cruz-Uribe, director of the health department, recently wrote to the four water utilities, saying, “We expect you to honor your agreement to fluoridate.” His office also has asked the state Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling.
Sumner officials discussed putting the question to voters but shied away from it because they don’t want to spend any more money on the issue.
“Quite candidly, we’ve had very few complaints,” Neiditz said. “There has not been an outcry about the fluoridation.”
If you go
• The Sumner City Council will hold a public hearing July 19 to discuss whether to continue adding fluoride to the city’s drinking water. It will begin at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 1104 Maple St.