Politics

Lawmaker: Mosquito District Stings Taxpayers in Lee County

By: Kenric Ward | Posted: January 16, 2012 3:55 AM
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Jet ranger larvaciding in Lee County | Credit: lcmcd.org

Gov. Rick Scott's probe into expenditures at the state's special taxing districts might want to start at Lee County Mosquito Control.

With an annual budget of $22 million, Lee's mosquito district spends more than 46 other mosquito districts -- combined.

"There's no excuse for it," says state Rep. Paige Kreegel, who has introduced legislation that could abolish the district.

Scott last week directed his Office of Policy and Budget to review and make recommendations for cutting costs at some 1,600 special districts levying more than $15 billion in taxes each year.

The governor previously ordered investigations of hospital and water management districts, and has now expanded the scope to all special districts.

Mosquito districts have flown below the political radar because most operate on budgets under $2 million. Even populous counties such as Miami-Dade run their mosquito eradication programs on less than $3 million.

But Lee County, in Southwest Florida, is a glaring exception. With a seven-member elected board and 68 employees, the independent mosquito district's payroll works out to an average of $118,000 per worker.

The district also holds the distinction of having the 11th-highest compensated retiree in the state's pension system. Former executive director T. Wayne Miller, who retired in 1994, currently receives $172,027 a year.

Most counties place mosquito-eradication duties under public works or other departments. Kreegel has found that counties that operate independent districts, such as Lee's, "step up in price to do it."

"The personnel costs are $8 million, and that's a problem" said the Punta Gorda Republican, pointing to Lee's top-heavy staffing. The local mosquito board has two more members than the entire County Commission.

Operationally, Lee's district spends more just on spray, fuel and helicopter maintenance than the total mosquito budgets in neighboring Charlotte or Hendry counties.

Kreegel has introduced House Bill 1395 to require a referendum on the big-spending district. Lee County residents could vote to abolish the district and transfer all assets and liabilities to the Lee County Commission.

Wayne Gale, executive director of the Lee mosquito district, calls HB 1395 "a drastic measure to abolish a district that no local people seem to have a problem with.

"This was pretty much a surprise to us and the county as well.

"We are large because we have the largest mosquito problem in the state," said Gale, who explained that thousands of acres of state-managed salt marshes and islands within the district require aerial treatment.

"No other county has this type of topograghy. We do one-third of all the aerial larvae sightings in the state. Many areas are not accessible by vehicles," Gale said.

Gale reported the district maintains $5 million in reserves for self-insurance and has set aside $1 million for a future hangar.

"We have a lot of expensive aircraft," he noted.

Regarding the pending legislation, Gale said, "We've sent information to the local delegation to answer questions they've had."

Kreegel says "the [district's] defensiveness alone sets off alarms."

Kreegel, a physician, acknowledges it was the Legislature that authorized the creation of mosquito control boards, but says that times have changed.

"Back in the day, the work involved spraying diesel fuel and draining swamps. Now we have a mature industry. The chemicals that are used are generic and relatively inexpensive," he said.

"The governor has shined a light on the situation. It's time the taxpayers got some equity. Let the people vote whether they want this," Kreegel concluded.

Without specifically referencing mosquito boards, Clete Saunier, president of the Florida Association of Special Districts, predicted that the governor's investigation "will affirm that special districts are fiscally responsible, community-focused local government entities.

“Central to the discussions should be that special districts are created upon public demand, and help Floridians when local or state governments were either unable or unwilling to provide crucial services or infrastructure to a community," Saunier said in a statement.

Contact Kenric Ward at kward@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 801-5341.

Comments (8)

Joe
2:50AM JAN 20TH 2012
A government entity that has a balanced budget that's properly funded and doing the equivalent work of five other combined counties for 13 million less a year...yep clearly there is some shadow government at work here...

My favorite part of this political charade is that the good Dr. Kreegal has proposed legislation to abolish a mosquito control program that oversees the worst mosquito problem in the continental U.S. without explaining how he intends to do the job for less...oh wait that's right his plan is to turn over the problem to Lee County...which has a budget shortfall.

Brilliant.
Brian from Bokeelia
11:56AM JAN 19TH 2012
Mr. Kreegel
Clean up up your own house (budget) first. The voters in Lee county already decide this issue every two years when they elect their local officials. You are running for a new office and are looking make a name for yourself.
40 years ago in Lee County
4:18AM JAN 18TH 2012
In early seventies, I watched those spray helicopters fly over the marshes south of lehigh acres and dump out cracked corn around a few of their friends duck blinds. Four decades Lee County finally sees a need to things up a bit. This was long overdue.
art lowrie
9:20PM JAN 16TH 2012
I pay $12 a year for mosquito control on my property taxes. LCMC is the best bargain in the county. I would gladly pay twice as much for the service I receive in Lehigh Acres.
Richard Kast
3:12PM JAN 16TH 2012
My question to the County Administrator and the County Commissioners, why are they not looking out for the residents they were elected to protect and service. I think we should immediately start a term limit petition in Lee County to term limit these people and find people who are interested in the welfare of the residents of this county. What's more embarrassing to the people of Lee County, it has to come from a Representative other than the County administrators. Thank you Paige Kreegel and I as where are our representatives for Lee Country? Ms Kreegel, I can put together several people to assist you in this mess and help clean up the "good ole boy" syndrome that belies this area. Matter-of-fact, talking to a lawyer friend of mine the other day, we were just disgusting this term limit petition.
Bitten By the Board
12:41PM JAN 16TH 2012
"We are large because we have the largest mosquito problem in the state," said Gale, who explained that thousands of acres of state-managed salt marshes and islands within the district require aerial treatment."

If they have the largest problem after all these years they must not be doing their jobs. They may have a large salt marsh but they do not have the largest swamps and cities surrounding those swamps.

Also, the reason no one complains much is because they generally do not understand their property taxes. Most do not understand they are being grossly overcharged. Seriously does any special taxing district deserve their own credit union? Do they deserve a travel expense of $70 thousand per year? Do they deserve to have an "air force" that is larger than some South American Countries? My guess is there will be no support from our Lee County Commission as one member has a brother on the Mosquito Control Board.

I say put it on the ballot show the facts and stop whining about marshes and let the voters decide. I promise I will vote no.
Robert Lloyd
8:48AM JAN 16TH 2012
This article is what journalism and a free press is all about!

This is gov't out of control as all gov't is. And I don't care if malaria strikes us all dead... GET RID OF MOSQUITO CONTROL, as it is worse than the mosquito! Spray the gov't workers... we can live with the bugs.
art lowrie
9:22PM JAN 16TH 2012
You are either brain dead or don't leave your house very much in the summer.

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