By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Voters approved the creation of the Hill County Mosquito Control District with their signatures, but will they also support it with their wallets?
That question will be answered Nov. 4 when voters in the newly formed district are asked to approve a funding measure for the district.
District advocates say that although many people signed petitions to create the district last summer, getting them to support financing may be a different matter.
"I think anytime you ask the voters for money, it's going to be difficult," mosquito district advocate Terry Lilletvedt said.
Concern about West Nile virus may help inspire voters to finance the district, she added.
County officials expect the district to cost between $70,000 and $100,000 a year. That equates to an annual fee of $25 for the owners of a single-family dwelling, $25 for each unit in a duplex, $10 for each unit in an apartment complex, and $30 for each commercial structure.
The fee schedule has attracted criticism from some landlords, who say the plan unfairly penalizes those who own multiple properties.
"I think the payment scale is a little unbalanced," said Havre landlord Cameron Worstell. "Someone who owns 1,000 acres and one house pays $25, while someone who owns a trailer court has to pay for every unit they own."
Renters will likely end up footing the bill, Worstell said.
"It will probably get passed on to them, just like everything else," he said.
Worstell said he will likely vote against the measure, but conceded it will likely pass.
"There's a lot of community support for it," he said. "I think a lot of people are concerned about West Nile. It's really created a lot of awareness."
The West Nile virus is carried and transmitted by mosquitoes. It's often fatal for birds and horses. In humans, it can cause painful rashes, body aches, and in rare cases, brain swelling and death.
There have been eight confirmed human cases of West Nile in Hill County, county health director Cindy Smith said Thursday. Several of those people were hospitalized, she said. Numerous other cases may have gone undiagnosed, she added.
Only those blood samples that have been tested by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are considered confirmed. Overall, there have been 220 confirmed human cases of West Nile this year in Montana, with two deaths, Smith said.
Mosquito district advocates have said support for the district has grown since West Nile emerged in Hill County.
"When I first got involved, it was a-quality-of-life issue," Lilletvedt said. "Now it's become a health issue as well."
Mosquito district advocate Pam Harada agreed.
"I supported the mosquito district not only for West Nile, but also for quality of life," she said. "It's a shame when you can't even go out and enjoy your yard. Mosquitoes also have a definite impact on tourism."
The mosquito control advocacy group initiated an intensive signature-gathering campaign this summer. County ordinance required they obtain signatures from 25 percent of the 6,300 registered voters within the proposed district boundaries. Volunteers set up booths at local businesses and went door to door gathering signatures. At final tally, more than 2,000 were collected.
In August, the Hill County Commission held a public hearing about forming a mosquito district. The three-member commission voted unanimously to establish it.
The district covers Havre and an area 6 miles north to 6 miles south of Havre and extends 7 miles west of the city and east to the Blaine County line.
The district will likely use a combination of larvacides and traditional insecticides, mosquito district organizer and Hill County weed coordinator Terry Turner said.
The level of interest in the district was so high that some people who were previously unregistered to vote registered just so their signatures would count on the petition, Harada said. If that support continues through Nov. 4, the funding measure should pass, she said.
"At the level of support we had, and the number of people we had sign the petition, I think it will pass," she said. "But those people have to come out and vote. Those people have to bring that level of commitment to the polls."
The funding measure will appear on the city's general election ballot, and also on a special ballot for those residents who live outside Havre city limits but within the district.
Those who do not live in Havre can vote in the Timmons Room in the basement of the Hill County Courthouse.
City residents must vote in their respective wards. Ward 1 polls are at Havre High School. Ward 2 residents vote at Highland Park Early Primary School. Ward 3 voters will need to go the Montana State University-Northern Student Union Building. Polls for Ward 4 are located at Lincoln-McKinley Primary School.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Absentee ballots are available and can be obtained at the courthouse.