BROOKSVILLE — County Administrator Len Sossamon has directed the mosquito control department to resume nightly spraying of the insects in the city of Brooksville after a four-month impasse over funding.
Commissioners voted this week to fold mosquito control funding into the general fund, which would once again cover city residents starting Oct. 1, the start of the next fiscal year.
But that would leave Brooksville defenseless for about 70 days and Sossamon found that unacceptable.
“Since mosquitos probably do not know where the corporate limits of the city of Brooksville are, I believe it is imperative that the county commence mosquito control efforts immediately within the city’s corporate limits,” according to Sossamon.
The general fund subsidized part of mosquito control this year and part of that subsidy came from the taxpayers of Brooksville so that portion will be used to do mosquito control in Brooksville for the next two months, according to George Zoettlein, assistant county administrator of budget and business development.
Brooksville Mayor Kevin Hohn said this is great news for the residents.
“It was something that had to get done,” he said “It was a serious health issue.”
Hohn said it was an example of the county and city coming together to resolve the issue.
“I just have to really thank the county for working with us and coming to a resolution we were all hoping for,” he said.
Hohn said heavy rainfalls have increased mosquito activity and the spraying cannot wait until Oct. 1.
State health officials have warned Florida residents that mosquitoes are carrying the new chikungunya virus, introduced into this country from the Caribbean and there is no cure.
Brooksville City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha said she believed all along that the county should provide mosquito control countywide because the city is part of the county.
Norman-Vacha credits the resumption of services to a renewed spirit of cooperation between the county and city. Officials from both sides have been meeting to resolve this matter, she said.
“We’re having some great conversations and we’re seeing some great results,” Norman-Vacha said. “This is a big sign of that.”
This latest action comes after county commissioners Tuesday voted to kill the existing property tax for mosquito control and fold that operation into the general fund.
That means Brooksville would once again receive mosquito spraying but not until the start of the 2014-15 fiscal year, on Oct. 1.
Hohn said that left a good chunk of the summer without mosquito protection for residents and was hoping something could be resolved before then.
Two years ago, following a referendum, the county decided to pay for its mosquito control services through a tax placed on residents’ annual property tax bills, supplemented by general fund revenue. Had county commissioners decided to fund mosquito control solely through the general fund, the city of Brooksville would have been covered.
But they chose to fund it through a different taxing mechanism called a Municipal Services Taxing Unit, which meant Brooksville would have to opt into the unit to get the service.
City officials opted into it in May 2013 and signed an ordinance to that effect, with the proviso that the ordinance would be nullified if both municipalities did not have a signed agreement by July 1, 2013.
The county continued to provide mosquito spraying to Brooksville while negotiations continued but no resolution was reached, which made the ordinance null and void, according to city officials.
Despite the city not being part of the taxing district, the county continued to send mosquito trucks into Brooksville until Sossamon sent a letter to the city telling officials that such services would be stopped.
Included with the letter was an invoice billing the city $15,214 for mosquito services performed from Oct. 1 through Feb. 26. Zoettlein said it will be up to county commissioners if they want to pursue that outstanding bill.
Norman-Vacha and city council members defended their position and did not pay the bill, maintaining all along that the county was obligated to spray.
Norman-Vacha said Thursday any past differences of opinion have been resolved and still believes the county’s contention that the city owes money is due to miscommunication.
The important thing, she said, is that the impasse has been resolved and residents will once again get mosquito protection.