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Mosquito controls still up in the air

Commissioners ask the mosquito control director to guide them on whether to expand the district to make it countywide.

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 7, 2002


NEW PORT RICHEY -- The County Commission still is looking for a straight answer.

A month after complaining about a lack of information on what to do about mosquitoes spreading the West Nile virus, commissioners quizzed Mosquito Control District officials Wednesday in a frustrating encounter that brought them back where they started.

"You are our professionals and we want some answers," Commissioner Pat Mulieri told Mosquito Control District director Jim Robinson.

Commissioners started the meeting wanting to know whether to expand the district and ended without an answer. Robinson steered around saying whether the commission should expand the district -- a cost the county would have to foot until additional taxpayers got onto the district's rolls -- by pointing to challenges.

"It's not a black-and-white answer," Robinson said.

First, benefits from mosquito spraying are not consistent. Residents living next to marshes and the coast, areas already within the district, see more results from spraying than residents might who live near piles of tires and open containers where mosquitoes breed but spraying can't be done effectively.

Also, the district workers can't spray for adult mosquitoes in many park and environmentally sensitive areas under state control, Robinson said. But he added that this rule would not really affect much of the land now outside the district.

Under commission questioning, Robinson said that additional spraying will not wipe out the West Nile virus. So far this year, the Pasco County Health Department reports that the virus has infected 10 birds, 14 chickens and 12 horses -- but no humans.

"You cannot eradicate the West Nile virus with just mosquito-spraying activity," Robinson said. "We can eliminate a lot of mosquito problems, but we cannot eliminate them all."

Commissioner Ted Schrader, whose district in northeast Pasco covers much of the county outside the district, said residents are tired of being feasted on by mosquitoes during youth sports events.

The district takes up 330 square miles, less than half the county. Property owners in the district pay 25 cents on every $1,000 of their 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.

But if the county wanted to expand the district, it would have to front some of the money to help pay for additional personnel and equipment until additional tax funds rolled in.

Finally, Robinson was sent away with a suggestion by county staffers to sit down with public health officials and come up with a formal recommendation.

Larry Miller of Dade City spoke against the indecision during time for public comment.

"I don't think he answered any specific question you asked of him," Miller said to the commission of Robinson. "What is it going to take? How do you slow it (the virus) down?"

In other business Tuesday, the commission voted 3-2 to move forward with a public hearing on a bingo ordinance that would require all bingo games to register with the county and contribute money to charity. Only bingo games with 50 players or more must do so now. Commissioners Ted Schrader and Steve Simon voted against moving forward with the ordinance after a citizens review committee suggested it would be a burden to small bingo parlors.

The public hearing will be held during the meeting at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at the West Pasco Government Center in New Port Richey.

Also, the commission discussed the proposed ordinance on groundwater protection and the restrictions on septic tanks and certain developments near wellheads. The next public hearing will be at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 19 at the Historic County Courthouse in Dade City.

-- Saundra Amrhein covers Pasco County government. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is amrhein@sptimes.com .

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