By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Hill County Mosquito Control District will likely receive funding from two sources to start mosquito reduction efforts a year ahead of schedule.
The Hill County Commission today approved lending the district up to $50,000 from the county's oil and gas accelerated tax fund, and the district is also expected to get a portion of a federal appropriation this summer to fund equipment purchases.
Without the funding, the district would have had to wait until next year to start its mosquito reduction programs.
"I think we'd be remiss in our duties if we didn't do anything to try to get the district going this year," Commissioner Doug Kaercher said.
The mosquito control 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 district will use a combination of water-based larvicides and chemical fogging to reduce mosquito populations within the district.
The Hill County Commission established the district in August after receiving petitions containing about 2,300 signatures from residents of the proposed district. The signatures were obtained during an intensive campaign by district advocates that included going door-to-door and setting up booths at local businesses.
District organizers cited their concern about the emergence of West Nile virus. In 2003, 220 people in Montana contracted West Nile virus and four of them died. A number of people in Havre contracted the virus last year, and several became very ill.
West Nile causes inflammation of the brain, resulting in damage to the central nervous system.
In November, voters overwhelmingly approved a funding measure for the district. The measure requires property owners to pay a set fee on an annual basis. The fees amount 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 fees will generate about $85,000 to $90,000 a year. The money will be collected in November, too late for the district to use this year. Hill County Mosquito Control District board members were concerned about quality-of-life and health issues and sought alternative funding sources in order to initiate mosquito reduction programs this year, board member Terry Lilletvedt said.
Last week, the board asked the County Commission to consider lending the district up to $50,000 to start work this spring. This morning, the commission voted to approve a loan from its discretionary oil and gas fund. The fund, about $78,000, can be used to finance various projects at the discretion of the commission.
"I think it's a good use of our discretionary funds," Commissioner Kathy Bessette said before the vote.
The terms of the loan have not been finalized and will discussed with the mosquito board, Kaercher said.
Lilletvedt said she is confident that the mosquito control district can afford a loan.
"We should have a pretty steady flow of income," she said. "I and the rest of board feel that we could service a small debt."
Hill County weed and mosquito coordinator Terry Turner said the loan would be used to identify which areas within the district have the most mosquitoes.
"A lot of this program is going to be surveillance and finding out where the hot spots are," he said, adding that large mosquito populations are often found in stagnant water.
The loan would also pay for larvicide applications to reduce mosquito populations.
"That's what we can do - go out and treat some of the areas and hopefully get some monitoring right off the bat," Turner said. "With a limited amount of dollars, we would probably just be treating the first two miles around Havre and work out from there."
The mosquito control district will set traps in various locations throughout the district to measure mosquito populations. The traps use dry ice to produce carbon dioxide, which attracts mosquitoes. Based on the number and type of mosquitoes found in the traps, district workers can decide where to concentrate their reduction efforts.
Larvicide will be used extensively to control the mosquitoes, Turner said. Larvicide is added to standing water and disrupts the reproductive process of the mosquitoes. It is harmless to humans and other animals, he said.
The district's efforts this year may also be bolstered by a federal appropriation. The mosquito control board requested $55,000 from a program that will finance mosquito control operations in 13 Montana counties, including Hill County, during the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial, Bessette said.
About $500,000 is available for mosquito control districts in those counties, Turner said.
"By the time everything was said and done, there were about $900,000 in requests, which is nearly double the amount of money they have available," he said. "Hopefully, we will get some funding."
The $55,000 appropriation would be used to pay for various equipment that the district needs, Turner said.
"We put in for a truck, some granular spreaders, and a fogger - the best one they have on the market," he said.
Turner said the mosquito district will likely hire several seasonal workers.
"We'll be looking at probably two extra employees," he said. "We will probably cross-train a couple of our weed people, too, so for the days where it's too windy for spraying, we'll go out and do mosquito work."
Although the mosquito control district will not completely eradicate all of the mosquitoes within the district, it will have a noticeable effect, Turner said.