By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The first major hurdle in a race to establish mosquito control in the Havre area has been cleared, as district organizers have acquired more than the required number of signatures from local voters.
According to a report from Hill County Clerk and Recorder Diane Mellem, the proposed district received 1,909 eligible signatures, surpassing the 1,576-signature requirement.
Advocates hope to establish a mosquito district that would covers an area six miles north to six miles south of Havre and extend 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.
The district will likely use a combination of larvacides and traditional insecticides, mosquito district organizer and Hill County weed coordinator Terry Turner said.
Fellow district organizer Terry Lilletvedt said that acquiring the signatures is a huge relief.
"I'm thrilled," she said. "I'm sure all the committee members are happy to have their summer back. No more sitting at tables and knocking on doors."
Last week marked the culmination of an intensive signature-gathering campaign that included setting up booths at local businesses and going door-to-door seeking support.
Lilletvedt and Turner said during the campaign that public support for the district was visible and strong.
In total, the group received 2,373 signatures, Mellem's report said. Of those, 299 were from people not registered to vote, 80 were from people who do not live within the proposed district, 28 were duplicate signatures, and 10 had illegible handwriting.
District organizers were required by county ordinance to acquire the signatures of at least 25 percent of the 6,307 registered voters within the proposed district.
The next step in the process will be formal approval by the Hill County Commission. The commission will determine whether to form the district following a public hearing. The date has not been set.
The commissioners have said they will likely support the district. If they decide to form the district, they will then appoint a board to manage it.
After the mosquito district is formed, the board will have to acquire voter approval to receive funding. 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.
The money could not be collected until November of 2004, meaning mosquito control would not begin until the spring of 2005, Lilletvedt said.
Turner, who did not know the results of the campaign until this morning because he's been harvesting, said he was pleased at the outcome.
"I'm really happy we got it," he said. "It will help out in the long run for getting rid of mosquitoes. It was a lot of work. I have to take my hat off to the committee for getting it done. It's a much needed program."