There is a buzz this year in Sarasota County about mosquitoes.
Sarasota County will approve a budget for the 2013 fiscal year that includes an increase in property taxes that pay for management of the insect’s population for the first time in five years.
Sarasota County Health and Human Services Director Chuck Henry said he’s sensitive to concerns about the tax increase as a taxpayer but that controlling the threat of mosquito-born diseases is more complex than most residents think. The Mosquito Management Department recently lost Director Dr. Eric Schreiber to a sudden resignation, but Henry said he has staff ready to step in to lead.
“West Nile this year seems to be particularly strong across the nation,” Henry said during a phone interview. “We began to watch closer, be more strategic and watch what’s happening in other counties.”
That strategy involves chickens — sentinel chickens. The Mosquito Management Department uses a scientific version of the canary-in-the-mine test by performing weekly blood tests on 13 groups of chickens placed throughout the county, and it sets insect traps for the bloodsuckers.
Nine months into 2012, county scientists have found about 16 cases of West Nile virus, roughly half the number of cases discovered last year. The closest human infection occurred in Hillsborough County, Henry said.
The increased millage rate, which is 0.0805 next year compared with 0.0277 in the 2012 fiscal year, is to fill a funding void, Henry said, but the mosquito-management budget does increase by more than $200,000. That’s a little less than the department spends on disease surveillance and monitoring mosquito populations.
Florida mandates that tax money raised for mosquito management only be used for that purpose, Henry explained. Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson during a Sept. 10 budget hearing said the rate was wisely lowered five years ago after accumulating a surplus. That created a hole in the department’s budget, which was filled by a greater 2013 fiscal year millage rate.
The best advice Health and Human Services can give to residents to avoid insect-borne diseases is to not get bitten, Henry said. Using DEET-based repellant is suggested when venturing in mosquito-heavy areas — especially during dusk and dawn.
“But, mosquitoes do bite in the daytime,” he said.