Tax dedicated to mosquito control
A 1.23 mill property tax to support a public agency that handles mosquito control in East Baton Route Parish is on the ballot for renewal in the Nov. 6 election.
The tax millage for East Baton Rouge Parish Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control would cost the owner of a $100,000 home that qualifies for homestead exemption $3.08, while someone with a home valued at $200,000 would pay $15.38, according to information provided by officials at MARC.
Although authorized to collect up to 1.23 mills, the agency currently collects only 1.15 mills of that tax and its governing board voted to set the tax rate at 1.12 mills for 2013, MARC Director Todd Walker said.
The tax at the 1.23 mill rate would raise approximately $4.9 million a year for the next 10 years.
Randy Vaeth, the program’s assistant director, said the main concern is to keep an operating fund that will allow the department to respond effectively to emergencies. Those include the threats posed by emerging mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue virus and rift valley fever, he said.
“Our climate is such we have the mosquitoes here that can carry them,” Vaeth said about diseases that may not be currently seen in Louisiana, but could become a problem in the future.
Vaeth noted that the agency doesn’t get any general fund money from the city-parish for its operations.
When the first West Nile Virus outbreak occurred in 2002 in Louisiana, Vaeth noted, the department needed money and resources to address that threat.
Although “sentinel chickens” were set out in the parish to become infected so they could be tested for St. Louis Encephalitis, that process didn’t work for West Nile Virus, Vaeth said. There were already human cases by the time West Nile Virus showed up in the chickens, he said.
“We had to revamp the program,” Vaeth said.
Statewide, the state is experiencing the most West Nile Virus cases since the 2002 outbreak year with 305 cases and 11 deaths so far, according to a news release Friday from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. In 2002, there were 328 cases and 24 deaths, the release states.
Vaeth said the parish department’s staff responds to between 5,000 and 9,000 requests for mosquito control and about 5,000 rodent control calls each year. The staff runs 10 to 12 mosquito spray trucks and the agency has an airplane that does aerial spraying to reach more remote areas, he said.
Vaeth said the plane has had heavy use this year of the large West Nile Virus outbreak in the area. The airplane can cover about 10,000 acres with every flight, but it costs about $4,000 each time they put the airplane in the air, he said. In addition to spraying, the airplane is used to do sightings of areas where larvae may be developing.
“A lot of our work is larvae sighting,” Vaeth said. “It’s much more effective to reach them at this time.”
The department has purchased a second airplane that should be delivered soon, Vaeth said.
Vaeth said the department tries to get information to the public about how to protect themselves from mosquitoes and the diseases they can carry. This year, with a resurgence of the West Nile Virus, he said, more people are listening because it’s more likely people have heard about, or know someone, who has gotten the virus.
East Baton Rouge Parish has been a hot spot, he said, because there’s a large human population, numerous birds that carry the disease and mosquitoes that can transfer that disease to people.
Ways to prevent exposure including avoiding activities around dusk and dawn, wearing mosquito repellents like DEET, wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants when outside and clearing out containers that can contain standing water around the home.