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Our Opinion: Fluoride, kids levies have long-term value

Portland’s children — their teeth, stomachs, minds and general well-being — are up for a vote on May 21. The community should say yes to all of these needs by approving two ballot measures, one controversial and one not.

Measure 26-150, which would renew the Portland Children’s Levy, and Measure 26-151, which would require fluoridation of Portland’s water, both deal with the community’s obligation to nurture the next generation. Taken together, these measures will protect children’s health, promote better learning and save the larger community money in the long run.

However, the benefits of the two measures are not equally accepted by the public. The fluoridation proposal has reignited one of those puzzling political fights so unique to Portland, while the Children’s Levy has no visible opposition.

Here’s a look at both measures and the reasons they deserve approval:

Measure 26-150:

Children’s Levy renewal

The Children’s Levy has been making a verifiable difference in Portland since it was first approved a decade ago. The levy provides additional funding for nonprofit organizations that already are engaged in the practice of helping children.

At present, the funding goes to 57 programs that have competed for the dollars. The money is targeted into four primary areas: child abuse and prevention; after-school programs and mentoring; early childhood development; and foster care. If the levy is renewed, its administrators plan to add a fifth focus: childhood hunger.

A common thread among these focus areas is that they all relate to a child’s readiness to succeed in school. Children cannot learn if they are hungry, abused, neglected or subjected to an unstable life at home.

Most children served by the levy come from low-income households. These are families struggling to participate in Portland’s much-heralded quality of life. The stresses of poverty, homelessness, addiction and other issues threaten to scar children living in these households unless they receive appropriate intervention.

The Children’s Levy raises $10 million annually. The money is carefully directed to programs with proven records of success, and it is closely audited. Portland voters have endorsed the five-year levy twice before, and they should do so again. At 40 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, this levy will cost Portland homeowners the same amount in taxes as they are spending now, and it will continue the invaluable work being done with the community’s most vulnerable children.

Measure 26-151:

Water fluoridation

Poor dental health in children is more than a mere nuisance. Tooth decay is a leading reason for students missing school, and it leads to a lifetime of health problems.

We support Measure 26-151 for this reason: After listening to all the arguments and reading as much of the research as we can handle, we are convinced that adding fluoride to Portland’s water supply will improve the health of this community’s children.

Fluoride in its naturally occurring form already exists in our water in trace amounts. Adding a bit more will help prevent tooth decay, particularly for those children who live in poverty and otherwise wouldn’t receive adequate dental care.

About 74 percent of U.S. water systems already are fluoridated. After 65 years of widespread use in this country, we see no compelling evidence that fluoride causes harm. We also do not believe the cost of water fluoridation — another talking point for opponents — is of particular concern. Fluoride supporters estimate the cost will be about $1 per person, per year, while the payback in reduced health care and other expenses will be many times that amount.

Water fluoridation is an affordable way to bring significant health benefits to all children. Voters should approve Measure 26-151.