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Education is a top priority for Hernando's new mosquito control director

BROOKSVILLE

As a kid, Peter Taylor was fascinated by insects.

He would watch the ant lions near his Opa-locka home as they fed on ants they caught in their funnel-shaped traps in the sand.

"I got really interested in nature and insects when I was about 8 to 10 years old, and it just stayed with me,'' he said.

That comes in handy for him now since dead bugs are his job. Taylor, 56, was hired in December as director of Hernando County Mosquito Control.

Now in the midst of his first rainy season supervising the county's pest control service, Taylor has found that one of his primary jobs is educating the community about how his department works, what he is obligated to do and what he can't.

Mosquito control is a public health agency, he explained. The state of Florida regulates mosquito control operations, having long ago determined that the pests present a real threat to public health since they carry diseases such as West Nile and Eastern equine encephalitis, which can kill, Taylor said.

Mosquitoes also carry heartworm to family pets.

Already this year, one local horse had to be euthanized after contracting encephalitis, and one sentinel chicken has tested positive for the disease. The locations of this year's flare-ups are marked on a large Hernando County map in Taylor's office on Wiscon Road.

On top of his storage cabinet, a large metal mosquito sculpture seems to be peering over Taylor's shoulder at the map.

While the state directs mosquito control efforts, each local community sets up its own services. In Hernando, mosquito control is part of county government and is largely funded through a small, dedicated tax that people pay as part of their property tax bill. It's a tax that voters approved last year.

This year's budget is $613,000. County Administrator Len Sossamon is recommending a small increase for 2013-14, to the full amount voters approved in the referendum. If the County Commission approves, the tax to support mosquito control would rise to .1 mill, a levy equal to 10 cents in tax for every $1,000 of assessed taxable property value.

Next year's proposed budget is $841,000, which includes a transfer of $141,000 from the county's general fund.

Taylor, who said he is a fan of lean government spending, said he realizes that this is the level of service that Hernando County taxpayers are willing to pay for. He also noted that other places pay far more.

For example, the independent mosquito control district in Citrus County, which has a slightly smaller population than Hernando, has a budget and reserves for the current year of $5.27 million, according to the district's website..

Taylor has worked in larger areas, coming to Hernando after his job with mosquito control in Brevard County was eliminated. He has also held jobs with mosquito control operations in Polk and Orange counties and in Georgia.

He said his biggest challenge in Hernando is simply adjusting to a different culture and pace from the larger communities. The issues, however, are the same.

Taylor still gets regular phone calls from people who want their street sprayed for mosquitoes. He has to explain that he cannot spray according to scheduled routes. He can have one of his four technicians visit a site and do surveillance, using traps.

Then he weighs two critical elements — the number of mosquitoes found and the density of the human population — to determine the priority for spraying. The spraying is done by employees working at night.

Soon, Taylor hopes to start a Facebook page so people can see where his spray trucks have been and he can provide other useful information.

His staff also takes care of issues with standing water in the swimming pools of people who haven't cared for their pools or at empty or foreclosed homes. The staff is currently monitoring 60 cases, and 55 of those have been processed into liens that run with the property.

In addition, mosquito control staffers treat standing water with various substances to prevent mosquito larva from becoming mosquitoes, add mosquito-eating fish to bodies of water and swimming pools, and work to clear abandoned tires and other containers that hold water and allow mosquitoes to breed.

For Taylor, working with people to alleviate their mosquito problems is rewarding.

"If I don't so something for people every day," he said, "I don't feel I've done my job."

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabay.com.

Education is a top priority for Hernando's new mosquito control director 08/08/13 [Last modified: Friday, August 9, 2013 6:14pm]
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