BROOKSVILLE — Joyce Boczon said she is a virtual prisoner inside her Royal Highlands home these days to avoid the dive-bombing mosquitoes that make her life miserable outside.
Most times when she ventures out, she and her husband get bit by these blood-suckers. She has a dozen red marks and scabs along her arms and neck to back up her story.
Boczon said she has not seen any county mosquito spray trucks and wants relief. One day after her plight was made known to the county mosquito control department, help came in the form of county mosquito control technicians who toured her property and came back later to place surveillance traps to determine the best course of treatment.
Even though Hernando County’s mosquito spray trucks started up in earnest this month, they will continue to stop at the Brooksville city limits unless a resolution is found to end a payment impasse between the two government entities.
As of Thursday, that deadlock still was evident as officials from both sides were not budging.
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 the Municipal Services Taxing Unit, which meant Brooksville would have to opt into the unit to get the service. City officials agreed to do so but withdrew because both municipalities did not have a signed agreement to provide mosquito control by an agreed-to date of July 1, 2013, Brooksville City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha said Thursday.
Hernando County has also asked Brooksville to pay $15,214 for mosquito services rendered up to that point.
County officials maintain that because the two parties did not reach an agreement by July 1, the ordinance creating the taxing unit was invalid. They asked the county’s property appraiser to remove the city from the MSTU for mosquito control.
Public Information Manager Virginia Singer said city officials had until this past Friday to notify the county property appraiser they wanted to opt into the county’s Municipal Services Taxing Unit to pay for the service.
“If they don’t, they will have to find some other way to get mosquito control in the city,” Singer said.
But Norman-Vacha dismissed the deadline and said Florida statutes clearly point out that mosquito control, being a health and safety issue, must be provided countywide and that Brooksville is part of the county.
“We believe it is a county function,” she said.
Brooksville residents pay taxes into the county’s general fund which, in part, goes toward the cost of mosquito spraying, she said.
Norman-Vacha said she and staffers have tried to resolve the matter without success and so negotiations continue.
“We’re working on a solution,” said Norman-Vacha, who planned to have more information at the June 2 city council meeting.
Property Appraiser John Emerson said the Friday deadline was “not a hard and fast” one and he is willing to wait until the council meets June 2 to discuss the mosquito matter.
Brooksville covers 10 square miles and is home to 7,500 people. Given the topography of Brooksville, the mosquito problem is not as bad as it is, for example, along the coast. But still, mosquitoes don’t stop at the city limits.
One way or another, those residents will receive protection from mosquitoes, even if the city ends up paying for it, Norman-Vacha said. She is hoping it doesn’t come to that.
She said County Administrator Len Sossamon has been touting more cooperation between the county, city, school district and business community. An amicable resolution to the mosquito controversy would be a good step to that end, she said.
“We should work together,” she said. “We serve the same taxpayers.”
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While all this is going on, the county continues to look for someone to head up its mosquito control department. Environmental Services Director Susan Goebel-Canning in March fired the former director, Peter Taylor, citing in a termination letter that he lacked a “clear understanding of budgetary limitations” and did not use “sound judgment” in managing the department.
Four people applied for the job, which has a salary range of $56,784 to $74,176.
Bruce Batten, the utility department’s collection foreman, has been assigned to oversee management of the mosquito control department until a permanent replacement is found.
Singer said there have been no cutbacks in service during this transition period. The county has two part-time drivers who typically begin spraying areas around the county starting this month.
Meanwhile, Boczon, who lives on tree-lined Christopher Lane, is more concerned about her immediate problem.
“I’ve never seen so many mosquitoes,” she said. “My gosh. I’m scared to even go outside the door. And they get on your clothes when you come inside.”
Mosquito control technicians who walked around her home found a few mosquito “hot spots” — places where there was standing water in which mosquitoes could breed.
The first thing they noticed was Boczon had bromeliads which collect water and can be natural havens for the insects. The Boczons have numerous shrubs, including a birdbath and other possible breeding areas that also could attract an unusual number of mosquitoes.
Boczon said she is pleased that the county is taking steps to eradicate the insects so she once again can go outside and enjoy her serene yard without getting bit.
“I’m glad,” she said.