EBR mosquito and rodent control, fire districts seek tax renewals

Charles Stoewer, with the East Baton Parish Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control department, sprays for mosquitos at a home on Marionette street Monday.

Advocate file photo by PATRICK DENNIS

Three East Baton Rouge Parish agencies are asking voters to renew property taxes on Nov. 4 to keep pesky mosquitoes and rodents at bay parishwide and to provide fire protection in two areas in the northern part of the parish.

Residents parishwide will vote on whether to renew a 1-mill property tax for 10 years to generate an estimated $3.5 million per year for the Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control department.

Last year, voters passed another tax renewal for the agency for 1.12 mills, which provides for the majority of the general operating budget of the agency.

The need for an additional dedicated tax arose in 2002, when an influx of West Nile cases began to drain the agency’s budget. The cost for additional chemicals to fight West Nile was running the agency an additional $500,000 a year.

In 2006, the agency asked for the additional tax to supplement its dwindling budget and is now seeking to renew that tax.

Dr. Todd Walker, the agency’s director, said this is the third highest year for diagnosed cases of West Nile in East Baton Rouge Parish since 2002. So far, there have been 30 cases. Last year, was the second highest year since 2002.

Walker said it’s unclear what is causing the high rate of diagnoses, but he added the tax renewal is essential to ensuring the agency can provide the current levels of service.

The agency sprays chemicals via planes and vans to mitigate mosquito problems. The agency’s staffers also make house calls and spray storm drains.

“If people ask for help, we try to respond within 24 hours,” Walker said. “Not to pat myself on the back, but we’re pretty consistent and that’s pretty good, I think.”

The two other property taxes on the ballot only affect residents in two fire protection districts in the northern part of the parish.

The small community of Alsen, which is west of the city of Baker, will vote on a 10-mill property tax renewal for its fire department that is estimated to yield $249,102 per year for 10 years. The department relies almost entirely on the property tax for its operations.

The fire department, made up mostly of volunteer and contracted firefighters, has been plagued with problems over the past few years that proved costly to the community. Insurance rates for homeowners area doubled as the department’s fire service rating at one point dropped from a 5 to a 10, which is the lowest rating on the scale.

The agency has since made strides to improve and had its No. 5 rating restored.

Interim Chief Charles Jackson said the agency has built up a healthy contingent of volunteer firefighters, some of whom received national accreditation. This year, the fire department used a state grant to install 350 smoke detectors in homes in the community.

“This (tax renewal) is very, very vital to keep this fire department going,” Jackson said.

The other property tax renewal is for Fire Protection District No. 1, which is for a largely rural swath in the very northwest part of the parish west of the city of Zachary. The area does not have a designated fire department. The 9-mill property tax, which generates about $327,495 per year, is used for a contract with the Zachary Fire Department to provide protection to the area. This also is a 10-year renewal.

“If this tax doesn’t pass, we do not have the means to cover the area,” Zachary Fire Chief Danny Kimble said.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter, @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/cityhallbuzz .