County spending $80K in unfunded emergency revenue to battle mosquito plague

A pilot flies just outside of the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve Sunday morning. The plane sprayed 3,000 pounds of larvicide on 300 acres in an effort to reduce the number of mosquitoes yet to hatch. Photo by Doug McMurdo

The Grand County Council approved expending more than $80,000 in unfunded emergency revenue to address one of the worst mosquito seasons in recent memory when members met Tuesday, July 16.

Three items contained in the consent agenda regarded the issue, the first an expenditure of $50,750 for 3,000 pounds of larvicide, Altosid P35 to be specific, that was sprayed on 300 acres at the Matheson Wetlands Preserve on Sunday. That led to the second item, $21,500 for a plane and pilot from Vector Disease Control International, LLC out of Ogden.

The third item was an $8,500 fogger to replace one that was made in the 1970s and mounted on a truck made in the 1980s. The Grand County Public Works Department loaned the Moab Mosquito Abatement District a newer truck for the new fogger.

Currently both foggers are being used at night and will continue for the foreseeable future, especially now that West Nile virus has been detected in at least two mosquitoes.

The emergency purchases were necessary to address public health concerns and were made by Grand County Clerk-Auditor Chris Baird, who along with Council Member Curtis Wells received praise from members of the MMAD board of trustees and members of the public.

Vice Chair Terry Morse, the council’s liaison to the abatement district, said trustees at a recent meeting thanked Wells and Baird for “acting quickly. I think things are getting to be more controlled,” he said early in the meeting. “Chris and Curtis put a lot of energy into this, as did others.”

But that leaves an unanswered question: Where will the money come from to replace more than $80,000 in emergency expenditures? Wells placed a discussion item on the agenda to address that very question. Next steps include a possible interlocal agreement and loan for reimbursement to the abatement district.

Baird said the best way to handle it is to have the district pay back the expenses over time based on an expected increase to the mosquito district’s tax rate. As a standalone political subdivision, it receives its funding almost solely from property taxes paid by those who live within the 25-square-mile district.

Baird also said the board of trustees needs a plan to address high water years. “They knew the river was going to be high,” he said. Libby Nance, manager of the MMAD, expressed her concerns in an interview with The Times-Independent in early May.

Baird acknowledged that it would be difficult for the MMAD to budget for high water years and in any event, the problem is more than just funding. Its staff is far too small to spray so many acres that flood in high water years, and the county would have to contribute resources, such as manpower, to spray larvicide in the spring and to cover fogging shifts if and when West Nile virus is detected.

That is occurring, with employees of Grand County’s Noxious Weeds and Public Works departments working on fogging. The county will reimburse the overtime hours those employees incur to their respective departments.

“It’s been a good learning experience,” he said, but there is some cross-council heartburn.

Baird said he called Moab City Manager Joel Linares to see if the city could pitch in some cash but “never heard back” and couldn’t wait for a response. Linares on Wednesday said he spoke with Baird and told him the city would not pay for half of the $80,000 cost, saying the Moab Mosquito Abatement District needs to do a better job on its own budget. He conceded the city would step in if there were a catastrophic event that threatened public health.

Wells said he wasn’t going to “get bent” on who paid what, saying taxpayers are the ultimate purchasers.

“Five pools of mosquitoes are being tested in-house today,” said Nance in a Wednesday email. “The more stringent test occurs at the state and 12 samples are being sent to Utah Public Health lab in Salt Lake City today.” The results should be available by Friday, July 19.

In the meantime, the Utah Department of Health said Grand is the only county with West Nile virus detected in the mosquito population.

Here’s the report: The first three positive West Nile virus mosquito pools for 2019 have been reported from Grand County. The Utah Public Health Laboratory and mosquito abatement laboratories have tested a total of 1,549 mosquito pools. No horses or humans have been reported to have tested positive. As of July 9, a total of 26 states have reported WNV activity, including ten states (Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Virginia and Wyoming) with WNV human infections. Arizona accounts for 28 out of 39 (72%) of all of the human WNV infections across the nation.