By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
With the less than two weeks left before a self-imposed deadline expires, a group of Havreites is escalating its campaign to create a local mosquito district.
"I think we're about halfway there," Hill County weed coordinator and mosquito district proponent Terry Turner said today. "The next week will be critical."
The group wants to collect signatures from a quarter of the registered voters in the proposed district by July 21.
They have to have the signatures by then in order to give the Hill County County Commission sufficient time to get a funding measure for the district on the November general election ballot.
"We need approximately 1,800 signatures, but we're shooting for 2,100," said district organizer Terry Lilletvedt, adding that some people who have signed the petition do not live within the district or are ineligible to vote.
The proposed mosquito district covers an area six miles north to six miles south of Havre and extends from seven miles west of the city east to the Blaine County line. The district would cover about 130,000 acres of land and 1,560 acres of surface water, Turner said.
In coming years the district would likely expand to cover a larger area, he said.
"Our idea is just to get the district formed and then annex in the surrounding areas," he said.
The district will have to be created by the Hill County Commission. If required signatures are collected, the commissioners will hold a public hearing to determine if the district should be formed.
The commissioners have said they would likely support it.
After the district is created, the next step would be finding funding for it. District organizers hope to have a funding measure on the November ballot.
Turner said the district will cost about $100,000 a year, or $24 per household within the district.
Both Turner and Lilletvedt said local support has been strong.
"Ninety-nine percent of the people want to do this," Turner said. "But there have been one or two people that are opposed to any new taxes."
Lilletvedt said the support has been "pretty overwhelming," adding that there's no organized opposition that she knows of.
One reason so many people support the district is due to increased concern about West Nile virus, Turner said.
Last year more than 4,000 people in the United States contracted the virus, resulting in 277 deaths. More than 130 horses in Montana contracted the virus last year, and 38 died.
West Nile causes inflammation of the brain, resulting in damage to the central nervous system.
Petitions can be signed at Beaver Creek Golf Course, Cavaliers Men's & Boy's Wear, Mel's Foods, 15 West, Stromberg's Sinclair, McLean's Grocery, Havre Montana Realty, Magic Carpet Travel, and the clerk and recorder's office in the Hill County Courthouse.
A voter registration form accompanies the petition, so those who are eligible but have not registered to vote may do so when signing the petition.
Judy Goemke at Mel's Foods said she has seen strong support for the district.
"We have gotten a lot of signatures, and I think it's because it's not just a nuisance anymore, it's a health issue," she said. "I don't think I've had anyone say they didn't want to sign it."
Goemke said she thinks $24 a year for mosquito control is reasonable, adding that one person told her they spend more than that on citronella candles.
Despite the encouraging public support, Lilletvedt said there is much work to be done.
"We still need about 1,000 signatures," she said. "We really encourage people who are interested in signing the petition to seek out and find one."
"This thing takes a lot of work," Turner said. "There's been a lot of donated time."
During the next two weekends the group will have petitions available to sign at Albertsons, Gary & Leo's IGA, and Kmart. The group will also sponsor a door-to-door signature drive Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m.
Anyone interested in participating should meet at Donaldson Hall on Montana State University-Northern's campus at 6 p.m.
Turner said the group has not identified exactly which chemicals the district will use to control mosquitoes. A number of environmentally friendly options are available, he said, adding that he plans to consult with representatives from other districts to find the best method.
"We'll rely heavily on larvacide programs to kill the mosquitoes before they get in the air," he said.