Denham Springs — As the Livingston Parish mosquito abatement program makes its final arrangements before shutting down for good, city leaders in Denham Springs are looking to resurrect their own spraying plan to keep the pests at bay.
But the city has apparently based its budget on the amount it spent while Denham Springs was still being sprayed by the parish, and the head of the parish program has reservations about the city’s plan.
The Denham Springs Finance Committee on Tuesday revealed the first draft of next year’s proposed budget. It includes $3,500 for “mosquito control.”
Livingston Parish Mosquito Abatement Director Jeanine Tessmer was frank in her assessment.
“That $3,500 isn’t gonna do it,” she said.
The city may be able to buy a single 30-gallon drum of chemicals and diluting oil for $4,000, but only if they buy the cheapest spray on the market at a considerable discount, Tessmer said.
One drum would be sufficient to spray the city about a dozen times. Tessmer said each area of the parish was sprayed about 12 to 15 times every year, between April and October, depending on weather.
During the worst summer months, the parish might have to deploy chemicals costing over $400 per gallon, considerably more than the city could afford on its budget, Tessmer said.
Ultimately, the parish program cost about $1 million annually. However, the amount paid not only for chemicals but employees’ salaries, gas money and other expenses.
Denham Springs leaders have emphasized the $3,500 in the proposed budget would be used only to buy mosquito-killing chemicals. The city can dust off its own spraying rig and pay current employees overtime to drive the truck, Mayor Gerard Landry said.
Finance Committee Chairman Rene Delahoussaye said the $3,500 figure was based on the amount the city had spent on spraying chemicals in the past before it shut down to let the parish handle all mosquito abatement. Landry said the city last sprayed in 2011.
Yet at the time, the parish abatement program was still providing service to the city, so any spraying paid for by Denham Springs would have been in addition to the parish’s services.
Next year’s budget will not be adopted until June and can still be amended. Landry and Delahoussaye said the city would seek out LSU experts for advice on what chemicals to use, when in the year to spray and how often each area should be treated.
When asked about the cost of performing mosquito abatement in Denham Springs, LSU entomology professor Kristen Healy wrote in an email that “there is not a simple answer to this question.”
Chemicals used, human population density, habitat and mosquito species each play a role, as does the types of diseases the insects carry.
“I would imagine Denham Springs would be an ideal location for both nuisance mosquitoes and mosquito vectors of West Nile virus,” Healy wrote.
She also mentioned two varieties of encephalitis that have been found in Livingston Parish.
“We can’t just let West Nile come in here and hurt our kids or anybody. ... I want to (spray for mosquitoes), and we need to do it, so we’ll make it happen,” Landry said.
Delahoussaye also remarked on the necessity of mosquito abatement and wished aloud that someone at the parish level, such as the Health Unit, could take responsibility for spraying all of Livingston Parish.
“We know it needs to be done. ... It’s for public health,” he said. “I just hope no one else gets sick.”
The issue of funding for mosquito abatement has raged in Livingston Parish for years. In 2003, voters approved a $30 annual fee for residents with electric meters, but many refused to pay, and the electric companies, sheriff and assessor shrugged off the responsibility to collect. Voters twice defeated property tax proposals that would have funded the abatement program, which is set to shutter for good in the next few months.
The two remaining employees spend their days scanning records and trying to sell off the fleet to governments that still spray for mosquitoes, Tessmer said.
She plans to visit the Parish Council sometime in July or August to turn in her keys and hand over what’s left of her funding once she sells the program’s 13 vehicles, of which eight are outfitted to spray. She expects to present the council with about $150,000 of potentially challenging funds.
The parish can only “legitimately” spend the money on mosquito abatement, Tessmer said, though the parish no longer has an abatement program.
“I will remind them of that,” the director said but added that ultimately the parish will get to decide how the money should be used.
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.