County’s vector control assessment remains unchanged

The county’s vector control benefit assessment will remain at the same level as it has since 2011-12.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors, who serve as the board of the county’s Vector Control District, voted 5-0 July 30 to maintain the annual assessment of $5.86 per equivalent dwelling unit. The vector control assessment is in addition to a service charge, which remains at $3 for the coastal region and $2.28 for the suburban and rural regions. Both the vector control benefit and the service charge are part of a landowner’s property tax bill.

“The rate, we were able to make it remain the same and still provide the same level of service,” said Amy Harbert, the assistant director of the county’s Department of Environmental Health (DEH). “We’ve used various measures to be able to do that.”

Factors which determine the annual rate include expenditure needs, rollover revenue (money not used in the previous year due to cost savings), and trust fund interest income.

DEH administers the Vector Control Program, whose primary goal is to prevent vectors from reaching public nuisance or disease thresholds by managing vector habitat and preserving habitat values for vector predators and other beneficial species. The functions of the Vector Control Program include early detection of public health threats through comprehensive surveillance, protection of public health by controlling vectors and exposure to vectors, and timely responses to customer service complaints.

“This program is important because it protects the public health, and the public is our partner in doing that,” Harbert said.

The California Health and Safety Code defines a vector as any animal capable of transmitting an agent of human disease or producing human discomfort or injury. Vectors include mosquitoes, flies, gnats, mites, ticks, rodents, bats, and other small insects and vertebrae (but not gophers, which can damage yards but do not directly threaten human health or comfort).

The Vector Control Program identifies vector species, recommends techniques for their prevention and control, and anticipates and minimizes any new interactions between vectors and humans.

“The benefit assessment is what provides the funding for that program,” Harbert said. “It provides countywide vector prevention and control services.”

The service charge was adopted in 1989 and was originally $3.80 per property. In 1995, that assessment was reduced to its current rate while the three regions were established to address differing service levels. In 2003, the county adopted its West Nile Virus Strategic Response Plan which won awards from both health and government organizations but which reduced the level of effort against other vectors and depleted the Vector Control Program reserves. Hantavirus and plague monitoring were reduced by 75 percent, and in 2004 the county’s first hantavirus case was discovered in Campo.

Rather than seeking additional funding only to restore the previous levels of activity, a larger assessment for an enhanced program was proposed and subsequently approved by the county’s landowning voters in 2005. The $8.55 additional assessment which was approved raised $9.5 million for the program, including $2.3 million in one-time costs. The rate was reduced to $6.36 for 2006-07 and to $5.92 for the following three years. A decrease in rollover revenue and lower interest rates which reduced trust fund income forced an increase to $6.20 for 2010-11, but a reduction in seasonal staff due to favorable climate conditions allowed the 2011-12 rate to be reduced to $5.86.

“Seasons and weather conditions can impact the potential for mosquito breeding,” Harbert said.

The assessment covers all properties in San Diego County, including those in incorporated cities and those owned by government agencies. A single-family home is assessed the base rate, agricultural property with a house is assessed the base rate plus nine cents per acre, and agricultural property without a house is assessed the base rate per 100 acres.

The enhanced program allowed increased Vector Control Program staff, surveillance to detect plague and hantavirus, tick testing, and mosquito traps. Aerial applications were expanded from 27 sites in 2005 to 42 sites in 2007, potential breeding sources were treated monthly, and approximately 2,000 known breeding sites are now monitored and treated.

Public education for burrow dusting and plague was expanded. The average response time was reduced from eight to three days and field responses were provided for all rat complaints. The Vector Control Program also developed a rat starter kit and implemented on-line reporting of dead birds.

The 2013-14 activities of the Vector Control Program included joining the Mosquito and Vector Control Association of California National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Coalition which allows participation in a statewide monitoring NPDES program and eliminates the need for individual chemical and physical monitoring and reporting of all pesticides used by the county’s program.

The county’s vector control staff also released a smart phone “Fight the Bite” mobile application for the reporting of dead birds, neglected swimming pools, and mosquito breeding sources, which will allow strategic efforts to be directed at breeding sources. Monitoring of weather conditions and tidal reports allows for reduced frequency and locations of manual and helicopter larvacide applications.

The Web-based complaint reporting form was enhanced for ease of use by the public. An in-house serological test was produced to detect hantavirus exposure in wild mice, reducing the need to test specimens and also expediting results. Vector control staff identified the presence and distribution of a new tick-borne pathogen in the county. Efforts on the West Nile Virus program have been refocused from the development of an outreach program to implementing the program.

The Vector Control Program’s $8.6 million budget for 2014-15 will be derived from $5.3 million of benefit assessment revenue, $2.4 million of service charge assessments, and $0.9 million from the trust fund balance. The revenue will allow for $4.6 million for salaries and benefits for permanent staff and seasonal workers, $3.2 million for services and supplies including larvacides, aerial applications, and outreach materials, $0.5 million for external overhead and other incidental costs, and $0.3 million for transportation and equipment expenses.

The 2013-14 budget was $8.5 million and was derived from $5.7 million of benefit assessment revenue, $2.7 million of service charge payments, and $0.5 million from the trust fund balance. Last fiscal year’s budgeted expenditures were $4.4 million for salaries and benefits, $3.3 million for services and supplies, $0.5 million for external overhead and other incidental costs, and $0.3 million for transportation and equipment.

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