By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a measure to finance the new Hill County Mosquito Control District.
By a vote of 1,451 to 222 - a margin of more than 86 percent - residents of the district stamped their approval on a measure allowing a fee to be charged on properties in the district.
"I think people really understand how important this issue is, especially from the health standpoint," said district advocate Terry Lilletvedt said, referring to the recent emergence of West Nile virus in Montana. Eight people in Hill County and 220 statewide contracted the virus this year. In rare instances the virus can be fatal. Two people in Montana have died from the virus.
"I'm excited to move on to the next step and actually do something about the mosquitoes," Lilletvedt said.
The fees will be collected next November, meaning the money cannot be used until the spring of 2005. Hill County weed coordinator Terry Turner, who will manage the mosquito district, said he is looking for ways to finance mosquito reduction operations next year.
"We're looking at some federal grants to possibly get some funding for next year," he said. "I can't promise anything, but it's something that we're looking at."
District advocate Pam Harada said she is hopeful some money can be secured to finance the district in 2004.
"With the funding that we just passed, the money won't be available until 2005," she said. "So the problem is what do we do until then? I hope we can find some sources of funding so that we don't have to wait until 2005. We maybe could wait a year for the quality-of-life issues, but for health issues, it is exceedingly important that we do as much as possible."
The fee amounts to $25 for each 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 district includes Havre and 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 Hill County Commission created the district in August after receiving petitions containing about 2,300 signatures. The district is expected to cost $70,000 to $100,000 a year.
The district will use a combination of larvacides and traditional insecticides to reduce mosquito population, Turner said.
The petition drive received strong support this summer. District advocates had little trouble securing the signatures of more than 25 percent of the district's registered voters, as required by county ordinance. However, some district advocates expressed concern that getting voters to provide financial support would be more difficult than acquiring signatures.
Both Turner and Harada said they were pleased at the outcome of Tuesday's vote.
"I was really surprised that there's 222 people in Havre that like mosquitoes," Turner joked. "But overall, the support was really good. I was really pleased to see the concern to get rid of the mosquitoes. It's kind of a blessing to have all the hard work by the committee pay off."
Lilletvedt said she also was pleased with the outcome.
"I think that we can't help but be excited," she said, "excited and grateful to those who came out and voted, and also to those that worked to make this happen."
The number of people who voted in favor of the funding measure demonstrates the community's awareness of the need for a mosquito control district, Lilletvedt said.
The Hill County Commission recently appointed a five-member board to oversee the Hill County Mosquito Control District. They are: Lilletvedt, Rick Harada, Kim Cripps, Karen Sloan and Tim Hodges.
Support for the funding measure varied by ward. For instance, 10 percent of voters in Ward 1 opposed the funding measure, compared with more than 25 percent in Ward 4. The measure received the highest amount of support from district residents who live outside Havre city limits. Of the 185 county residents who voted Tuesday, only 17 voted against the funding measure.