A public confused over who oversees the Moab Mosquito Abatement District – is it the city or the county? – can be forgiven. They are not alone.
According to Grand County Clerk-Auditor Chris Baird, the mosquito district “is independent from both the City of Moab and Grand County. Their budget and revenue are almost entirely derived from their own property tax, which is also separate from Grand County’s property tax. The MMAD board is the only body that directs operation of the MMAD.”
The district had no reserve funding set aside for a high water event – which is what brought forth swarms of nuisance mosquitoes – and had only $40,000 in its pesticide budget, said Baird. Baird said the district’s total budget ranges from about $275,000 to $290,000, most of which goes to salaries, benefits and overhead.
Baird said Grand County “has no capacity to direct the district’s operations,” regardless of comments to the contrary made by Terry Morse, vice chair of the Grand County Council and the liaison to the district. Morse at a public meeting held July 1 was highly critical of what he characterized as the county council’s historic unwillingness to raise taxes in order to properly fund special districts. Baird said Morse is new to the council and likely – like most everyone else – misunderstood the council’s role. “The county simply doesn’t have the ability to ‘operate’ special service districts,” said Baird. The district is governed by a board of trustees.
Also, the district relies not on grants, other than small ones, or “other goodies,” but almost entirely on property taxes that are dedicated to the district and have nothing to do with the property taxes Grand County collects.
Baird made an emergency purchase of larvicide and a pilot to disperse it over the mosquito breeding grounds in the Matheson Wetland Preserve, which will take place Sunday, July 14. He explained his decision to the council July 2 and received members’ support. The aerial treatment will cover 300 acres and citizens are asked to stay away while the treatment is in process. Exposure to the larvicide, which affects only mosquito larvae, is “minimally harmful,” said Baird, who recommended if anyone is exposed to thoroughly wash with soap and water.
What is likely, given comments made by members of the district during the July 1 meeting, is that it will raise property taxes to purchase a new fogger and truck, perhaps a drone that can efficiently spray larvicide into areas humans can’t reach and perhaps to budget for the next high water year.
Baird said there are two ways the district can raise taxes. “The first and easiest” is to get the Grand County Council’s permission and then hold a mandatory truth-in-taxation hearing. Should the council deny its request, said Baird, voters who live within the district would be asked to approve the increase.
The property tax increase becomes even more likely given Baird’s recent review of state law – and even that might not be enough. “Mosquito abatement districts have some significant restrictions on how much they can hold in reserve for ‘extraordinary abatement measures.’ By my calculations, even if they had the maximum allowable reserve, it still wouldn’t have been enough to deal with this year’s expenses. So, actually planning ahead for another high water year is going to probably require some creative thinking beyond simply raising taxes.”