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Pasco legislators bugged by plans for $37 million mosquito control complex

Lawmakers question district’s spending at annual Legislative Delegation meeting.
 
Pasco County Mosquito Control is in the process of planning a new $37 million complex on property it bought in Central Pasco. Lawmakers weighed in earlier this month, with some saying they don't believe the expenditure is justified.
Pasco County Mosquito Control is in the process of planning a new $37 million complex on property it bought in Central Pasco. Lawmakers weighed in earlier this month, with some saying they don't believe the expenditure is justified. [ SCOTT ISKOWITZ | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Oct. 18, 2023|Updated Oct. 18, 2023

Michael Cox came to the annual meeting of Pasco County’s state lawmakers to tell them the mosquito control board he chairs is a good value and takes its responsibility to wisely spend taxpayers’ money seriously.

He didn’t even ask for money, unlike many others at the meeting earlier this month.

But Pasco legislators still had concerns about proposed plans to build a new mosquito control headquarters — specifically about the cost.

“Still the burr in my saddle is the $37 million bill,” said State Rep. Randy Maggard, R-Dade City, of the district’s plan to build a new campus.

“$37 million for mosquitoes? I’m having a hard time with that,” he said. “I think that us, as a delegation, this is something that we ought to discuss, especially coming up this session.”

After hearing concerns about spending by independent taxing districts, Maggard pushed two years ago for a bill to audit independent districts with taxing authority like the Pasco mosquito board. Coincidentally, the state audits that were ordered by that bill were just delivered to mosquito control districts.

Florida State Rep. Randy Maggard
Florida State Rep. Randy Maggard

Cox assured lawmakers that the audit did not find any fault with the Pasco mosquito board’s plan for the campus. But Maggard said as soon as he saw the audit he called the Florida Office of Program Analysis and Government Accountability, the Legislature’s research arm, which conducted the studies statewide.

He said he was told that Pasco’s plan to build a new facility wasn’t part of its review.

Pasco Mosquito Control has been working on the plan for a couple of years. Two years ago, the district purchased 42 acres on U.S. 41 just north of the Talavera development for $2.16 million. When built, the complex will replace the existing facilities, including administrative offices, a laboratory, storage and hangars for the district’s helicopters, now in Odessa.

Pasco Mosquito Control expects to seek formal bids on the project early next year, district Executive Director Adriane Rogers told the Tampa Bay Times.

The expenditure has faced other criticism. A former employee who was terminated, a former member of the district’s board and other citizens have publicly questioned the management decision to build the facility.

Rendering of the planned new Pasco County Mosquito Control complex in north central Pasco County.
Rendering of the planned new Pasco County Mosquito Control complex in north central Pasco County. [ Pasco County Mosquito Control District ]

“We’re building high schools for $100 million and this is $37 million for mosquito control,” Maggard said at an Oct. 2 Pasco County legislative delegation meeting. “I think we really need to take a look at this because this is a lot of money.”

He said he believes the topic of whether taxing districts should be allowed to tax at this level should be part of the upcoming legislative session discussion. “It’s about using taxpayers’ money wisely,” Maggard said. “I can’t imagine what $37 million can build that you don’t already have.”

State Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, asked how the mosquito board intended to pay for the facility. Cox said it would be paid for partially with funds on hand and partially by issuing bonds. He said that the board wants the burden spread over time because “we’re trying to build a facility that will serve the Pasco County taxpayers for decades.”

Cox said the district reached the $37 million figure by getting “soft bids” from several contractors to have some idea of the potential expense for the district, a step government doesn’t usually take. He urged legislators to tour the current facility to “have a total understanding” of just what the district does.

Since many Florida counties already run their own mosquito control program internally, Ingoglia asked Cox, ““What’s your best argument for actually having a mosquito control district?”

“We do it more efficiently,” said Cox, a former Pasco County commissioner. “We’re an independent district that is transparent to taxpayers and to you.”

He added that the county’s growth is pushing the district to prepare for the future and that is why the district is seeking the new facility.

“All we’re trying to do is stay ahead of that curve to protect the public’s interest and the public’s health.”

State Rep. Kevin Steele, R-Dade City, didn’t buy the argument. More growth, he said, brings more tax money to the mosquito control board. That should allow the district to accommodate their administrative needs.

“I’m speaking with Maggard on this one,” Steele said.