BROOKSVILLE — For the past couple of months, the mosquitoes in and around Harold Johnson's home at Southern Hills Plantation Club had gotten so bad that he and his neighbors were reluctant to step outside after dusk for even a brief walk around the neighborhood.
"It's probably about as bad as I've ever seen it," Johnson said. "Everyone I know says the same thing."
Johnson wanted answers as to why the mosquito problem had gotten so out of hand this summer, so he called Hernando County Mosquito Control. He was told by coordinator/surveillance technician Rene Snow that it wasn't the county's problem.
Johnson lives in the city of Brooksville, which had received no mosquito control service from the county since fall of last year due to a funding dispute between the two entities.
Last week, however, Brooksville residents began to get at least some temporary relief when county officials agreed to allow spray trucks to once again enter the city limits.
The county's director of environmental services, Susan Goebel-Canning, said a small number of complaints had been received by the county about the lack of service.
"It's now summer, so maybe there were more complaints," she said. "But we're back in there now."
The dispute between the two governing bodies dates back to 2012, when the city passed an ordinance to opt into a voter-approved municipal services taxing unit as long as the rate did not exceed the one-tenth of a mill. But at the last minute, the city abandoned the agreement because it said it feared that county officials were going to charge residents more. To provide the required level of service, the county had to subsidize mosquito control through its general fund.
Brooksville City Council members felt that mosquito control should be considered an essential service, provided to all Hernando taxpayers regardless of where they lived, and they maintained there was no assurance that the taxing unit rate wouldn't be raised beyond what the council agreed to pay. With no signed agreement in place by July 1, 2013, the city asked that the county property appraiser remove the city from the taxing unit.
What followed was something of a stalemate that worsened months later after the county sent the city an invoice saying it owed $15,214 for spraying. An accompanying letter to City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha from County Adminstrator Len Sossamon said that the county would no longer provide the service until the bill was settled.
City Council member Lara Bradburn was dismayed by the county's decision to cease spraying, saying it showed little regard for public safety.
"It was shortsighted," Bradburn said of the decision.
Norman-Vacha, however, said she had been encouraged during recent talks with Sossamon and believed that a permanent solution could be found.
Last month, county commissioners set a tentative property tax rate that would eliminate the separate levy for mosquito control while raising the general fund tax rate — which everyone in the city and county pays — to accommodate the cost of providing mosquito control services. The amount added to the general fund rate was slightly higher than the old rate to provide the service.