San Luis Obispo County is considering bringing back its mosquito-control program, but there’s disagreement about whether costs should be wedged into an already over-burdened county budget or covered with a new tax on residents.
With the rise ofthe Zika virus in Mexico and the finding that the mosquito species that carries it was found in nearby Kern County, the county began testing mosquitoes for diseases in high-risk areas last year. But public health officials say the county is ill-prepared to handle an urgent situation, such as the discovery of Zika-carrying mosquitoes.
The county is one of only 12 in the state that does not have a program.
Costs of basic services include a one-time expense of $186,000 and an ongoing annual expense of either $383,000 for a six-month program when mosquitoes are most active or $574,000 for a year-round program, according to a staff report.
“I disagree about raising taxes,” said Supervisor Debbie Arnold, who has pushed to restart the program. “To me, I believe it is a basic tax-supported service that we should have been providing.”
If approved, a new program would include mosquito surveillance, control and public education outreach — essentially reinstating what existed for years until it was shut down during the recession in 2009.
“My concern with going forward with a mosquito control or any other kind of vector control program that’s purely general-fund supported is that it is vulnerable in times of financial difficulty, and that’s where the last one fell apart,” said Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who suggested residents vote to pay for it with a benefit assessment.
Voters turned down a benefit assessment to pay for the program before it was eliminated.
If it is paid for by the general fund, he said, “something else doesn’t get done.”
In Santa Barbara County, a $1 million vector control program is paid for through a combination of sources, including a benefit assessment.
Supervisors will revisit the issue in February.