WATSON – An election just over two weeks away will serve as the climax of a fiercely contested debate that has drawn anger and outcry on social media throughout communities – and it does not involve a race for a public office.
It’s a proposal to fund mosquito abatement.
Voters in an area that extends from the northern outskirts of Denham Springs to Watson and up to the St. Helena Parish line will decide on 10-year fee of no more than $3.00 per month for residents in Livingston Parish Mosquito Abatement Districts 2&3.
The proposal has ignited an often-debate between the proponents of the bill and those who oppose the measure.
The move would restore mosquito abatement to a 44.05-square-mile area with a total population just under 40,000 residents, including 18,922 registered voters.
WHY THEY PROPOSED IT?
Livingston Parish Council members Garry “Frog” Talbert of District 2 and Maurice “Scooter” Keen have said they brought the issue to voters after residents in their respective districts asked for reboot of the program. The parish-wide program dissolved in 2015 after voters zapped proposals in 2013 and 2014 the keep the parish-wide system in place another 10 years.
Talbert believes residents will see results from the abatement control program, if they approve it.
“It works, it kills mosquitoes and does the job as advertised,” he said. “A lot of people think it doesn’t work, and maybe that goes back to how the program was run before.”
The rate collection would likely run only nine years rather than 10 because of the groundwork the district must complete before the services begin.
The work the first year would involve the hiring of a director and employees, purchase of equipment and the securing of grants, Talbert said.
“It’s going to take time to get this thing rolling,” he said. “We won’t ask someone to pay for a service they won’t get, unlike a tax, in which they pay no matter what.”
The process would include trapping, testing, spraying, and larvicide treatments. It would also provide education to residents on mosquito-borne diseases, according to Talbert.
The program would serve as a liaison with the gravity drainage districts and the Livingston Parish Department of Public Works to address situations they can control through mechanical means to help eliminate mosquitoes, he said.
The proposal would call for three trucks to spray through the district five or six days a week.
Trucks would not spray in ditches where aquatic life exists. The program would also offer “driveway service” for homes more than 250 feet off the road, Talbert said.
The same would apply to mobile home parks, shopping centers, apartment complexes and other developments, he said.
Talbert maintains that the program would have minimal effect on bees.
“If every other parish that had mosquito abatement had killed all the bees, they’d be out of business,” he said. “In fact, the East Baton Rouge Mosquito and Rodent Control is charged with protecting the bee population.
“Can bees be killed by spraying? Yes,” Talbert said. “But bees die every night … every day, bees die.”
Talbert believes the program will make a difference in the health and quality of life for residents of Livingston Parish.
“The general benefit of the program is for health of the community,” he said. “We need to control the number-one disease-carrier in the world, and we need to control these things in the parish.”
OPPONENT: “It’s Just Tax.”
Mosquito abatement and the proposed election for its funding would represent a waste of both time and money, said Jeff Gill, an outspoken opponent who lives on a sprawling acreage north of Watson.
“It’s been voted down twice already, yet it’s being brought back up,” he said.
Gill has been active on social media. He admits the rhetoric has turned ugly between the pros and cons on the proposal.
“I see a lot of bashing about it on Facebook,” he said. “I’m against it personally, but just because I’m against it, it doesn’t mean I’m going to bash the neighbor next door.”
He believes the term “fee” would mislead voters into support of another tax.
The amount of the fee does not matter, Gill said.
“We’re at the point that we don’t need more fees when we can take care of this problem with common sense,” Gill said. “We pay too much on taxes, and I hate to see them impose yet another one. Some go away, but it’s rare.”
He believes the parish should concentrate on drainage and road improvement rather than mosquitoes.
“I’d like my councilman to focus on how to drain the water and how to enable me a good ride to work. Roads are full of potholes, so they should put the money to work in those areas.”
The current condition of roads throughout the parish pose a far greater threat than mosquitoes, Gill said.
“We had four cases of West Nile reported last year in Livingston Parish, but they couldn’t pinpoint where the cases were,” he said. “The roads take a lot of lives because they’re in bad shape, so I believe the council should focus more on that instead of the mosquito abatement tax.”
The parish could stand to lose more than it would gain from mosquito abatement, Gill said.
Even trace amounts of poison could harm bees, mosquito hawks and dragonflies, he said.
Bees, lightning bugs and mosquito hawks all disappear for a short time after a spraying, but Gill believes the sprays and other repellents suffice. Such items have worked for him, and he seldom encounters problems with mosquitoes.
Personal responsibility through spraying, keeping the lawns cut and water drained – rather than another government service – would help stave off mosquitoes.
“To me, it comes under the heading of 'Common Sense,'” Gill said. “Government should let citizens take care of their own problems and not force mosquito spraying on taxpayers.”
Gill considers the proposition unfair to taxpayers and believes the mosquito problems have been overhyped.
“I don’t see the issue or the reason for the big push,” he said. “I’m just against it.”
SUPPORTER: “It worked when we had it.”
Much of what Darla Steagall loves in life exists in the backyard of her home on a two-acre lot in Watson.
She raises chickens, tends to her gardens and has enjoyed evenings outdoors with her husband.
Times have changed, however, since the parish mosquito abatement program folded in 2015, she said.
The lack of spraying has brought an increase in mosquitos in her area – and they’ve returned with a vengeance, said Steagall, a longtime member of Livingston Parish Republican Women.
“When we had the parish abatement program, it worked and it was well worth it,” she said. “Now, we can’t sit out after dark because of all the mosquitoes.”
The spray the abatement firm used until 2015 did not affect bees, poultry or plants, Steagall said.
She considers the mosquito problem at home far worse than the area around the camp she and her husband own at Lake Verret in Assumption Parish, which operates an abatement program.
“You can’t get any swampier than that,” she said. “It’s a lake with wooded areas, yet the mosquitoes are not as bad there as they are here.”
It’s tough to convey the message to fellow residents, many of whom have posted anti-abatement placards on their front lawn, Steagall said.
She believes the proposal has far more support than signage would indicate.
“This proposal has a silent majority,” Steagall said.
She believes social media backlash has caused many Watson area residents to shy away from public support of the proposal.
Steagall debunked claims by the social media post “Livingston Parish Rants & Accusation,” which accused Stegall of being paid off by public officials to support the program.
“I don’t get paid off by anyone,” she said. “I just know how bad the mosquitoes can get.”
Steagall considers the $3.00 monthly fee a small pittance to help reduce the risk of mosquito-borne illnesses such as the West Nile and Zika viruses.
Bug zappers, foggers, citronella candles and other retail products do not work against mosquitoes during the hot, damp summer months, Steagall said.
“By June, we can’t get out at night,” she said. “We like being outside because we’re outdoor people.”
They noticed what she considered “a noticeable drop” in the number of mosquitoes during the years the abatement program covered the parish, and she was disappointed when voters rejected funding proposals for the program in 2013 and 2014.
“It worked when we had it,” Steagall said.