Portland fluoride just one of many local issues on Ore. ballots

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Oregonians will start receiving their mail ballots this weekend for an election that features a broad spectrum of local issues, from the fluoridation of Portland's water to new taxes to help pay for law enforcement in Curry, Josephine and Lane counties.

Ballots must be received by county elections officials no later than 8 p.m. on Tuesday, May 21.

One of the most divisive issues is in the state's largest city as Portland voters will again be asked whether to add fluoride to their supply of drinking water.

Portland is the largest city in the U.S. that has yet to approve fluoridation to combat tooth decay. That distinction appeared to change last fall, when the City Council unanimously approved a plan to add it by March 2014.

Anti-fluoride activists quickly gathered enough votes to put it on the ballot. They say it's unsafe and violates an individual's right to consent to medication.

"It doesn't make any sense to add this chemical to our water," said Kristen Robison, campaign manager for Clean Water Portland.

Supporters say Portland has a dental-health crisis and adding fluoride to the drinking water is the most effective way to address it, particularly for the lower-income families who can't afford visits to the dentist.

"I'm hopeful that Portland will recognize that this is something that's really important to do for everybody, but particularly for our vulnerable populations," said Evyn Mitchell, campaign manager for Healthy Kids, Healthy Portland.

This is not the first time Portland has voted on the issue, but it will be the first time younger voters will make the decision. Voters twice rejected fluoride before approving it in 1978. They quickly overturned their decision and it was never added to the water.

Elsewhere, three timber counties are asking voters to decide if they want to raise their taxes to fund police. Residents of Lane, Curry and Josephine counties have been asked to increase their taxes to make up for deep cuts to law enforcement caused by the expiration of a longstanding federal subsidy for timber-dependent counties.

At a legislative hearing last month, sheriffs from Josephine and Curry counties, among others, told lawmakers that their situation has become dire, and that their ability to protect their communities is declining. Josephine County voters last year rejected a levy to help pay for law enforcement.

Newport voters, meanwhile, will decide whether to ban retail single-use plastic carry out bags. The measure includes a 5-cent fee for paper bags provided at check-out. Portland, Eugene and Corvallis have already adopted such bans. Proponents say plastic bags clog landfills and pose an environmental threat to wildlife. Some residents, however, prefer an approach aimed at reducing the use of plastic bags rather than an outright ban.

The Beaverton School District Board has proposed a 5-year local-option tax levy to prevent additional teacher layoffs. The district estimates the levy would raise an average of $15 million a year for five years, and would be used to prevent further cuts, restore some teaching positions and reduce class size, according to a district resolution.

The levy would cost taxpayers $1.25 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Proponents say the tax would help safeguard current teacher positions and recover some of the deep cuts caused by budget shortfalls. Opponents say the money raised could be used to fund the state's Public Employees Retirement System.

Deschutes County voters will decide whether to approve a tax levy to continue to fund its 911 emergency services. Proponents say without the tax, there will be cuts to the 911 services. Opponents say now is not the time for raising taxes. If passed, the five-year tax would cost residents 20 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.