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Vector control assessment increased

Joe Naiman

Village News Reporter

The county’s vector control assessment will be increased from $8.37 to $9.10 per benefit unit.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors, who serve as the board of the county's Vector Control District, voted 4-0 June 28 with one vacant seat to raise the assessment. The supervisors’ action also approved the engineer's report. The 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 assessment and the service charge are placed on the landowner's property tax bill.

The Vector Control Program is administered by the county's Department of Environmental Health and Quality. The program's 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 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, feral bees, wasps, gnats, mites, ants, ticks, cockroaches, scorpions, venomous spiders, rattlesnakes, rodents, bats and other small insects and vertebrae. Gophers, which can damage yards but do not directly threaten human health or comfort, are not considered vectors.

The Vector Control Program identifies vector species, recommends techniques for their prevention and control, and anticipates and minimizes any new interaction between vectors and humans. The Vector Control Program's functions include early detection of public health threats through comprehensive surveillance, protection of public health by controlling vectors or exposure to vectors, and timely responses to customer service complaints or other requests.

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 reduced the level of effort against other vectors and depleted the Vector Control Program reserves. Hantavirus and plague monitoring were reduced by 75%, 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 voters approved a maximum rate of $8.55 per single-family equivalent with allowable annual increases based on the San Diego Area Consumer Price Index but no more than 5% per year (for 2023-24 the maximum authorized assessment is $13.44 per single-family equivalent). The $8.55 additional assessment raised $9.5 million for the program including $2.3 million in one-time costs.

The assessment covers all properties in San Diego County, including those in the county's 18 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.

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 income. 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 in 2010-11, but a reduction in seasonal staff due to favorable climate conditions allowed the rate to be lowered to $5.86 for 2011‑12. That $5.86 rate was retained for four years, and the development of efficiency processes along with the completion of specific phases of programs allowed for a reduction to $5 for 2015-16 and 2016-17.

The Aedes mosquito transmits the Zika, dengue and chikungunya viruses. The first Aedes mosquito detected in San Diego County was found in October 2014, and by 2016, Aedes mosquitoes were detected in 35 of the county's ZIP codes (during 2022 the Aedes mosquito was detected in 64 ZIP codes, an increase from 61 ZIP codes during 2021).

The vector control assessment was increased to $7.07 for 2017-18, and the increase to $7.93 for 2018-19 allowed for an additional staff position. The increase to $8.37 for 2019-20 allowed for two additional staff positions, although over the next two years retirements led to vacancies and this year’s assessment increase is the first change in the assessment since 2019. The 2023-24 assessment is approximately an 8.7% increase from the previous amount.

More than 500 cases of suspected Aedes-transmitted illnesses were referred to the Vector Control Program for investigation of vector presence from 2016 to 2022. In 2022, the laboratory tested 48 dead birds and 1,935 mosquito batches for the presence of West Nile Virus, although none of those were positive.

During Calendar Year 2022, the Vector Control Program responded to approximately 3,600 vector-related complaints and requests for service. More than 1,600 known mosquito breeding sites were monitored and controlled.

Members of the public may also request educational presentations on vector-related topics, which can be provided both in person and remotely in English and other requested languages.

The Vector Control Program also hosts educational outreach booths at fairs and other events and makes presentations to community groups, homeowners’ associations, schools, agencies, organizations and other groups who request them. Educational materials are provided whenever possible including during routine inspection and complaint responses.

The educational materials are provided both in person and mailed as physical handouts, and they are also available on-line. The Vector Control Program sponsors a biennial “Fight the Bite” media campaign, which targets underserved communities and informs residents how to prevent mosquitoes from breeding at home and how to contact the Vector Control Program for services and more information.

The $13.5 million budget for Fiscal Year 2023-24 consists of $9.3 million for permanent and seasonal staff salaries and benefits, $3.2 million for services and supplies including larvicide, aerial applications and outreach materials, $0.6 million for transportation and equipment costs including maintenance and fuel and $0.4 million for overhead and other incidental costs. The 2022-23 budget of $12.3 million allowed $8 million for salaries and benefits, $3.3 million for services and supplies, $0.6 million for transportation and equipment and $0.4 million for overhead and incidentals.

The benefit assessment will provide $8.6 million of revenue with the service charge accounting for an additional $2.5 million. An available trust fund balance of $2.3 million will be transferred to the 2023-24 budget, and interest income or contracts to perform work for other departments and districts will fund the other $0.1 million. The 2022-23 revenue consisted of $7.8 million from the benefit assessment, $2.5 million from the service charge, $1.9 million from the trust fund balance and $0.1 million from interest income and contracts.


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