By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Months of hard work on the part of anti-mosquito crusaders paid off Tuesday when the Hill County Commission voted to create a mosquito control district in Havre and the surrounding areas.
"I was very happy they decided to do that," said district proponent Terry Turner, who is the Hill County weed coordinator. "I think the timing is just right with West Nile (virus) becoming a pretty serious problem."
The three-member county commission passed a resolution forming the district following a brief public hearing at the County Courthouse Tuesday afternoon.
The newly formed Hill County Mosquito Control District will cover an area 6 miles north to 6 miles south of Havre and extending 7 miles west of the city and east to the Blaine County line. The district will cover about 130,000 acres of land and 1,560 acres of surface water.
The commission also approved a draft of a funding measure to appear on the November ballot. A simple majority is required for the measure to pass. If the fee is approved, the money will be collected in November 2004, meaning pest elimination programs will begin in the spring of 2005.
The estimated operating cost of the district is $100,000 a year, Turner said. The funding measure on the general election ballot will ask voters to support an annual fee for property owners of $25 for each single unit dwelling, $10 for each unit within a multiunit dwelling, and $40 for each commercial establishment. The fee will only apply to property within the district.
"They always pick on the commercials," Mel Gomke joked during the hearing. Gomke owns Mel's Foods in Havre.
The fee is reasonable considering the service provided, Turner said.
"I think it's pretty cheap, especially considering the health risk," he said.
In 2002, nearly 4,000 people in the United States contracted the mosquito-borne virus, resulting in 277 deaths. More than 130 horses in Montana contracted the virus last year, and 38 died.
Six people within Montana recently tested positive for West Nile, including one in Blaine County. The state Department of Health and Human Services cautioned that the number could be as high as 50 by the end of the summer.
In severe cases, the virus causes inflammation of the brain tissue, a form of encephalitis. The inflammation interferes with the central nervous system.
Tuesday's hearing was an opportunity for the public to comment about forming the mosquito control district. Several people spoke in support of it. They mentioned the health risks associated with mosquitoes, the negative impact the insects can have on tourism, and mosquito control as a quality-of-life issue.
"It's a health concern and it's a lifestyle concern," said district advocate Terry Lilletvedt.
Only one person expressed concern about forming the district.
"We pay for mosquito control in Blaine County, too, but we really don't see any benefit from it," said Alma Seidel, a Hill County resident who also owns land in Blaine County. Seidel said she was not opposed to the district and only wants to ensure that people receive the service they pay for.
Turner said today that the Hill County Mosquito Control District will use a different control method than Blaine County does. Blaine County uses mainly fogging, in which pesticide is sprayed in the air and on the ground. The new district will also use larvacide, he said.
Larvacide comes in pellet or oil form, and is added to standing water to kill mosquito larva before the insects mature. Using a combination of the two methods achieves the best results, Turner said.
The County Commission will select a five-member board to oversee the district. The appointments will be made after a 30-day application period. The board will have the power to increase the fee following a public hearing, and also to expand the district if petitioned by other areas in the county.
"I was amazed at the number of people who wanted to sign (the petition) but weren't within the district," district supporter Pam Harada said.
Organizers embarked on an intensive signature-gathering campaign last month. County ordinance required that organizers acquire signatures from one quarter of all the registered voters within the district. Volunteers set up booths at local businesses and went door-to-door seeking signatures.
"We felt a pretty good sense of accomplishment to see this come to a good conclusion," Lilletvedt said today. "There were so many people involved in this."
Organizers and volunteers included Lilletvedt, Turner, Pam and Rick Harada, Tim Hodges, Sherrie Quinlan, Ralph Anderson, Jerry Grabofsky, Norm Gorder, Karen Sloan, Toni Hagener, Lauri Hurlburt, Dick O'Riley, Mavis Filler and Barb Cassman.