DONALDSONVILLE — David Matassa, chief of Ascension Parish's mosquito control department, said the number of requests from residents to treat their property for mosquitoes has risen 45 percent since 2016.
Matassa said the rise is just one aspect of increasing demands on his department as the parish grows and fears linger about the increasing prevalence of mosquito-borne illnesses like the West Nile virus.
"We're working overtime with the staff we have," Matassa told the Parish Council Thursday night in Donaldsonville.
Matassa, who has been over mosquito control since the late 1990s and is the brother of first-term Parish President Kenny Matassa, made the comments as part of a pitch for a share of $750,000 now used to fund the parish animal shelter and the separate animal control department.
On Dec. 8, the parish will ask voters to approve a new 1-mill, 10-year parishwide property tax for the CARA's House animal shelter and the parish-run animal control department.
The tax would generate $1.3 million per year and free up shelter and animal control money now drawn from a dedicated property tax for the parish Health Unit and from the general fund, the catchall fund primarily fueled with sales tax revenue.
Since the late fall of 2015, the Parish Council has had a contract with the nonprofit Companion Animal Rescue of Ascension for the operation of its shelter for stray animals. Parish government still handles calls for dangerous animals.
After a few rounds of budgetary wrangling in recent years, council members urged backers of CARA's House to seek a dedicated tax. CARA's House supporters came up with the 1-mill tax plan.
On Thursday night, the council was scheduled to make a procedural vote to ensure the proposed animal shelter tax will be on the ballot as planned, offering David Matassa and Recreation Director B.J. Romano the chance to argue for a piece of the shelter funds in the future should the shelter tax pass.
David Matassa said he would like $400,000 of the shelter dollars while Romano, who wants to upgrade existing parish parks, including playing surfaces, would like $350,000.
Parish officials said later that the shifts in funding, if approved should the shelter tax also be approved, would boost funding for mosquito control and recreation to $1.3 million each.
In the presentation Thursday, David Matassa put forward a brief plan to "beef up" a mosquito control department, which was budgeted for around 15 employees in 2018 and uses part-time workers to man spray trucks that run at night killing adult mosquitoes.
Matassa's plan would add equipment and manpower, including more workers to kill mosquitoes before they become buzzing, bloodsucking adults.
By adding to the "larvicide crew," the parish "would significantly be able to control the parish outbreaks, especially after major events such as hurricanes and flooding," David Matassa wrote in a letter to the council.
Parish President Kenny Matassa recently declared a state of emergency to allow overtime work by mosquito control employees after a neuro-invasive case become public last month.
Since then, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Ascension had its second human case of West Nile virus reported in July, though the person was asymptomatic.
Overall, through July 21, Louisiana had 17 human cases of West Nile virus, a number on par with the same time last year. Nine people have had the dangerous neuro-invasive variety of the virus this year, the latest reports say.
Like the animal shelter, mosquito control also uses dollars from the 2-mill Health Unit property tax. Recreation relies on the general fund.
Council members were receptive and urged David Matassa to refine his plan.
"This is very important to everybody," budget hawk Councilman Todd Lambert said.
The council took no formal action on the funding requests, but, when it was time for the procedural vote on the shelter tax, Councilman Benny Johnson moved also to add a previously undiscussed, 1-mill property tax for mosquito control to the ballot Dec. 8.
The surprise action left the parish's attorneys uncertain whether that tax had enough time to make the Dec. 8 ballot.
Councilman Daniel "Doc" Satterlee and a few other council members aired concerns that another tax on the ballot could harm the chances of the shelter tax. Voters in eastern Ascension also will be asked to renew a longstanding 5-mill drainage tax on Dec. 8.
Councilwoman Teri Casso added that the public has not had chance to weigh in on the proposed mosquito tax. Johnson later withdrew the motion.
The shelter tax, which already got an initial supportive council vote in May, moved forward toward the ballot, 8-3. Councilmen Johnson, Todd Lambert and Travis Turner opposed it.