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Mosquito district may expand

The threat of West Nile virus has prompted officials to look into how to control the insects countywide.

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 23, 2002

A straight answer.

That's what Pasco County commissioners want to help them reach a decision on expanding the Mosquito Control District countywide to fight the West Nile virus.

"We really have to depend on our professionals," Commissioner Pat Mulieri said this week.

Those professionals met Monday and started drafting a letter on the possibilities of expanding the district countywide.

But Mosquito Control District director Jim Robinson said the decision rests elsewhere.

"It's the County Commission's call," Robinson said.

He said he'll reserve a formal recommendation until he meets with the Mosquito Control Board at an undetermined time. Robinson will speak to the County Commission during a meeting that starts at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 6 at the West Pasco Government Center in New Port Richey.

County officials want some answers at that time.

"I want to see a plan," said Mulieri, much of whose district falls outside the mosquito control's coverage.

"I'm looking for a recommendation from them to address the concerns the residents have had in regards to West Nile . . . and whether or not the district should be countywide," County Administrator John Gallagher said.

Robinson met Monday with Pasco County Health director Marc Yacht to talk about the county's options. The district takes up less than half the county, or 330 square miles. But residents outside the district have been asking for their areas to be sprayed for mosquitoes.

So far this year, eight horses and six birds -- but no humans -- have tested positive for the virus in Pasco. Last year, one horse and 19 birds did. There have been 12 human cases statewide, none fatal.

Yacht calls West Nile one of the top threats to public health in the county.

Expanding the spraying area is not a cure-all, Yacht said, but it might help.

"Certainly in my opinion, not having the knowledge about the control issue, it would seem to me that the expansion of the district could be a good start in offering a little more control of the mosquito population we're looking at," Yacht said.

Robinson said new areas must connect to the rest of the mosquito district because vast areas are sprayed at the same time. Past additions to the district followed petition drives from residents.

Property owners in the district pay 25 cents on every $1,000 of assessed taxable property value for spraying and other services. The owner of a $125,000 house with a homestead exemption pays about $25 a year.

Robinson said he does not have estimated costs of expanding coverage countywide or how many employees he would have to add to his full-time staff of 21. Currently, the taxes bring in $2.5-million a year.

He doesn't anticipate a need to increase the equipment, which includes a mosquito-spraying fleet of a twin-engine airplane, two helicopters, 20 trucks and two boats.

Besides the cost, Robinson said, other challenges to spraying a larger area of the county includes a prohibition by the state Department of Environment Protection of mass spraying of environmentally sensitive lands.

That means Pasco can't exterminate bugs on tens of thousands of public acres in preserves such as Cypress Creek in Land O'Lakes, Starkey Wilderness Park and the swamps around the Withlacoochee River east of Dade City.

Also, the district's staff must learn where the type of mosquito carrying the virus is prevalent for spraying to be effective, Robinson said.

Both he and Yacht say that residents need to take precautions on their own, such as avoiding exposure to mosquitoes at night when they are active, wearing repellent and eliminating piles of tires and standing bodies of water hosting the bugs.

Robinson said the district can only do so much.

"We cannot certainly guarantee that you are going to eliminate the West Nile virus," he said.

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