WATSON — A proposed mosquito abatement program in western Livingston Parish that would provide education, surveillance, treatment and personal service is already facing opposition with two months to go before early voting begins.
Residents of Parish Council Districts 2 and 3 will vote this spring on a monthly fee to fund an anti-insect service that officials hope would reduce the number of nuisance and disease-carrying mosquitoes.
Four residents attended a meeting Wednesday to voice concerns about additional taxes and the effectiveness and safety of such a program, echoing comments that have proliferated on social media in recent weeks.
A proposed $3 per month fee, which would be tacked onto residents' water bills, is on the May 4 ballot for residents living north and east of Denham Springs.
Watson-area Councilman Garry "Frog" Talbert shared his goals and a tentative budget for the program at the meeting of the Livingston Parish Mosquito Abatement Districts 2 and 3, which encompass the same two parish council districts.
Talbert said the mosquito program would be driven by surveillance. The district would set traps around the area and test for high quantities of mosquitoes or the presence of disease, such as West Nile virus. That information would inform where the district sends trucks to spray insecticide.
"We’re going to spray based on what the science tells us," Talbert said.
He said the district would also provide individual service. For people who live far off the road, mosquito trucks would follow private drives to spray nearer to their houses. If people request that a mosquito problem in their yards be evaluated and sprayed, the program would do that as well.
Also, the mosquito district would provide education outreach for clubs and schools and seek to inform parish-wide policies that could reduce standing water and mosquito breeding.
Talbert is budgeting $325,000 per year, based on fees collected from 9,000 customers on a monthly basis. Residents would see the fee tacked onto their monthly bill from Ward 2 Water.
A budget provided during the meeting proposes spending $210,000 annually for the salary and benefits associated with four employees, including a director. Included in the budget is $75,000 for fuel, chemicals and safety equipment and $10,000 for laboratory testing.
The budget also includes $45,000 for aerial spraying, but this would not be done except in an emergency because it would put the district over budget, Talbert said.
The district is seeking a $250,000 grant through the Louisiana Department of Health to purchase trucks and sprayers. Securing recurring revenue through the monthly fee is required to get those funds, Talbert said.
The mosquito district as presently defined includes all of the area within Parish Council Districts 2 and 3. But Talbert said a recent revelation that part of the district is located within the city limits of Denham Springs has him seeking to limit the boundaries to exclude those approximately 300 city homes, which already get some mosquito spraying service through the municipality.
The five-member mosquito abatement board approved a resolution Wednesday night to ask the parish council to alter the boundaries and remove the city portion of the district for the purposes of the tax in advance of the May 4 election.
The board also approved spending up to $4,000 on billboards to advertise the election.
The two council members who sit on the board, Talbert and Maurice "Scooter" Keen, took some heat from residents who attended the meeting.
Some said they didn't like the idea of adding another tax or fee.
"An alternative would be, you get a can of Off, you spray yourself down," Jeff Gill, of Watson, told the mosquito board. "What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger."
Dianna Tassin, also of Watson, asked about the safety of the chemicals used, how it would affect bees, and whether the councilmen were promising more than they could deliver.
Board members advised that the chemicals are EPA-approved, and residents are advised to stay inside only about 30 minutes after the treatment. Chemicals are typically not sprayed when bees are active. Beekeepers could also arrange for a no-spray zone with the district, the board members said.
Tassin pointed out afterwards that voters had twice recently rejected taxes to fund mosquito abatement.
"It's not a threat. It's just not something I feel like is needed at this time in District 2," Tassin told reporters. "It's been brought before the parish twice, and this is the third time. Each time it's been voted down, and we are going down the same path."
Fred Augustine, a board member who works as a mosquito control specialist with East Baton Rouge Mosquito Abatement, said having a program in place is critical in case of a mosquito-borne disease outbreak.
“You still may want to think it through to be prepared for what may come in the future," Augustine said.