Livingston Parish residents to vote on mosquito abatement tax

DENHAM SPRINGS, LA (WAFB) - Next month a three-mill property tax for mosquito control will be on the ballot in Livingston Parish. The measure was voted down once in November 2012. Right now residents are supposed to pay $30 for the service, but some aren't paying the bill and this new tax proposal isn't sitting well with some voters.

For seven months, from April to November, there are a handful of mosquito abatement trucks rolling around Livingston Parish. The director, Jeanine Tessmer, says unless there is rain or some other weather driven event, she has trucks on the road every night Monday through Friday.

Not only that, she says using GPS information, she can tell you which areas the trucks sprayed in. But, Tessmer says, their time on the road could be coming to an end.

"There are a lot of people who seem to be against it," said Tessmer, talking about the property tax for the mosquito abatement district that will be on the ballot October 19.

Currently, there are about 45,000 residents who pay the required $30.00 for the service. If everyone paid their bills, the abatement district would be collecting 1.2 million dollars, Tessmer says. But instead, she says, they are collecting around $900,000 a year.

"There are roughly 35% of bills that are sent out each year that no one is paying."

According to Tessmer, that leaves her with less money to operate her department, which includes operating trucks, the cost of chemicals and paying staff. She says every year the department gradually loses out on thousands of dollars because people discover their neighbors have not paid their bills, so those homeowners decide to not pay either.

"We file lawsuits; we have judgments against people over the years. But again, how many lawsuits are you going to file for $30.00?"

Most of the residents who do not pay are renters. Tessmer says this property tax would allow them to collect what is owed from the homeowner. The tax would also include businesses.

"It's liable to pass even though it got defeated last year," said Earl Price, a sort of watch dog over issues in Livingston Parish. He says because there is nothing substantial on the October ballot that could mean low turnout. "You don't have a high turnout, things sometimes pass."

Price says he and several others are irritated that this proposal is back. He says the unfair part if this tax passes, the payment to mosquito control could increase or decrease based on the value of your home.

"She would rather it be a property tax because that eliminates her department sending bills out."

Tessmer says this is a last effort. She says it's the last year they can collect the $30.00 fee under the current proposition. But without establishing how to collect fees in the future, the service could cease.

"If a new proposition is not passed, we'd work off of this years proposal (the $30.00 collection fee) for next year and then we'd work our way through the reserve funds until they're depleted. Then we'd sell off the equipment and cease to exist."

Tessmer says they could also come back next year, if the measure in October fails, to ask again for a property tax to run the mosquito abatement district.

"Do you want mosquito control or do you not want mosquito control? If you want it, somebody has to pay for it," Tessmer said.

Price says what the district should have done was asked to renew the current measure under which they are collecting funds.

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