Mosquito control tax up for renewal

A 10-year renewal of a sales tax that funds mosquito control is on the Dec. 8 ballot for Iberia Parish voters.

The sales tax is a quarter of a cent and generates an estimated $3.25 million annually to fund the parish’s mosquito control program and drainage projects, said Herff Jones, executive director of the Iberia Parish Mosquito Control program.

“This is not a new tax,” Jones said. “It is not a change in the tax. It’s not an increase in a tax burden for voters. It’s the same tax that’s been in place for the past 10 years.”

Jones said about $1.2 million is spent on average to operate the mosquito control program, though operating costs vary depending upon mosquito and mosquito-borne disease activity.

As of January, the parish had spent about $847,000 to operate the program, Jones said.

Any surplus revenues are distributed annually among the parish government and local municipalities, he said.

In the past five years, more than $11.3 million in surplus was distributed for local drainage projects, he said. In 2011, nearly $2.5 million was distributed for drainage projects, though the surplus last year was boosted by an excess of $685,000 in funds budgeted for the construction of an office for the mosquito control program, Jones said.

Without the tax, there would be no funding stream for the program, Jones said.

“The citizens would lose a public service that they’ve had for 20 years,” he said.

The program provides aerial and ground spraying to abate the mosquito population and to kill mosquito larvae. The program also conducts disease surveillance.

Spraying to kill larvae is done year-round, pending weather conditions, to limit the adult population, Jones said.

This year has been a busy season for the program, he said.

“We’ve had an abundance of West Nile in our mosquito sampling” and three Iberia Parish residents were diagnosed with West Nile, Jones said.

Between 2006 and 2011, three human cases of West Nile virus were reported in Iberia Parish and all three cases occurred in 2010, according to data from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. Between 2002 and 2005, seven cases were reported with the majority — four — reported in 2005, according to the data.

Typically spraying starts in April. The off-season, which is generally between three and four months long, is used to repair and prepare equipment, but that wasn’t the case in 2012, he said.

“We started spray operations as early as February, so our off-season was less than 30 days,” he said.