The East Flagler Mosquito Control District may not be just “East” for much longer: the district board today approved a plan that would expand the mosquito control’s boundaries to the entirety of Flagler County over the next five years, in three phases.
The proposal refutes repeated if inaccurate claims by County Administrator Jerry Cameron in May that the district was either uninterested or unwilling to expand its boundaries or unwilling to provide service on an as-needed basis in certain areas of western Flagler even now.
The district currently covers almost all of Palm Coast, Bunnell, Beverly Beach and Flagler Beach, including the unincorporated lands in between. The new district, assuming the board approves it, would cover all of Flagler County. It also covers, by contract with the county, Daytona North, Espanola and Rima Ridge, though except for Daytona North, the county hasn’t requested that those areas be sprayed for over two years (essentially, since County Administrator Jerry Cameron replaced Craig Coffey.) That contract has been in effect since 2002.
The East Flagler Mosquito Control District is run by an elected board of three, and has taxing authority. For example, a property with a taxable value of $150,000 pays about $24 a year to the district. Residents not currently in the district don’t see that tax levy on their property bill. The expansion plan would mean that all property owners would be taxed by the district.
The plan needs the approval of both the mosquito control district board and the County Commission. But the plan also depends on convincing residents and businesses, especially farmers, west of U.S. 1 that they want their properties sprayed. The district in the past was limited to the east section of the county in part because of resistance to spraying from farmers. The district was established in 1953.
This morning, the mosquito board voted 3-0 to launch the expansion plan’s procedural steps, namely, sending the proposal to the County Commission and setting a public-hearing workshop. The public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 4, at 6 p.m. at the district’s office, at 210 Airport Executive Drive (off of Belle Terre Boulevard) in Palm Coast. The district won’t take a vote at that workshop, but would presumably do so at its subsequent meeting at 10 a.m. on Aug. 16.
Under the plan proposed by Mark Positano, the district’s executive director, the district would first expand to include Plantation Bay to the south and the westernmost parts of Palm Coast along U.S. 1, what’s known as Palm Coast Park. That would happen by early 2022. The next phase, implemented in two to three years, would include large but yet-unbuilt Palm Coast developments west of U.S. 1: Neoga Lakes and Old Brick Township, along with Hunter Ridge to the county, a development in unincorporated Flagler with significantly more development. Phase three, in three to five years, would take in the rest of the county, including Daytona North, also known as the Mondex.
The district intends to send out mail notices to all property owners affected, ahead of the public hearing.
One person addressed the board today. Ceilia Puglese, a Palm Coast resident, was concerned that expanding the district’s boundaries would mean that east county residents would be subsidizing property owners in the west. That’s not the case, Positano said. If and when the district is expanded, levies will be assessed uniformly. Even now, when the county was requesting spraying in certain areas not covered by the district’s boundaries, those areas contribute tax revenue to the county through so-called special assessments, out of which the county drew money to pay the district for spraying. In other words, at no time were east-county residents subsidizing spraying in the west–at least not directly. (See a list of those special assessments here.)
Nevertheless, property owners to the west who get (or used to get) spraying through their special assessments typically pay between $11.76 and $14.62 a year per property, or half, or less than half, the typical levy for east-county residents. The amounts for east-county residents have been adjusted up or down through the property tax rate every summer. The special levies to the west have not been adjusted since they went into effect almost two decades ago.
Today’s action by the mosquito board appears to put an end to some misconceptions fomented at the county commission that the district was not interested in spraying the west side.
“We have been trying to do something to address the numerous calls that we get from Rima Ridge, Espanola and the Mondex,” Cameron told the county commission in May, citing various cost estimates. A St. Johns resident himself, he also floated the possibility that mosquito control out of St. Johns could also provide surveillance and treatment, which seemed like a slap in the face of Flagler’s mosquito control operation.
“I’m just worried about the morale of our mosquito control people if we do this,” County Commissioner Dave Sullivan told Cameron. “Are they going to go, ‘well, why aren’t we doing this?'”
“They probably will not be happy to have someone else come into the territory, or the territory of Flagler County, but I have had several discussions, and at this point, they have no interest in doing county-wide coverage,” Cameron said. Two weeks later Cameron pushed the idea further by having St. Johns mosquito control officials make a presentation to the commission (specifically, the Anastasia mosquito control operation).
“Don’t you think that we could get the our mosquito control people?” Commissioner Greg Hansen said. “This is an opportunity for them to grow, get a bigger organization, maybe even Perish the thought become as good as St. Johns County. Don’t you think we have an opportunity here to grow our own mosquito control, they’ve got to, If they’re not willing to do it I guess that ends that conversation.”
“I’ve had that opportunity discussion recently twice with our mosquito control, and they are only interested and providing services to the densely populated areas,” Cameron said.
That, according to the district’s board members, was inaccurate.
Mike Martin, one of the three district board members, appeared before the commission to school the commissioners–and Cameron–about district rules, and the agreements in place that “limits us to only those three areas–Daytona North, Rima Ridge and Espanola. We cannot provide services anyplace else unless this agreement is amended, and you also have to request service. That’s in here as well. We cannot do a single thing unless you call us.” Martin was referring to the joint agreement in place between the district and the county. (See that contract here, and a narrative explaining the district’s approach to spraying outside its boundaries here.)
“So let’s take a look at the data about how many times you’ve called us,” Martin continued. “In 2021 you haven’t sent us a single request for service. In 2019 You sent us two requests for service. In 2019 you sent us one request for service. In 2018, one request for service. We can simply not respond if you do not request service from us.”
What Martin was saying, if not in so many words, is that the county administration had not fulfilled its own responsibility to request service, yet was portraying the district as the one resisting either providing service or expanding its service area. That’s not the case, Martin said. “There’s nothing we can do about it, this is your agreement,” he said. “This is how the county wanted it. Now the agreement can be changed, we are more than amenable to talk about how to change this agreement. We’re willing to sit down and talk with you about service to the rest of the county. The problem is, I’m sure you know, in service in the rest of the county is a lack of ad valorem money. There simply isn’t enough property value in the rest of the county to provide services unless we can find a way working with you to raise the revenue. Mosquito control can be expensive.”
Martin told Cameron and the commissioners that they could examine the agreement and learn where and how service may be provided–at the county’s request. “We provide service to you under this agreement of cost, we don’t make a penny on this,” he said. “We charge you whatever it costs us to provide the service that you request. But again, if you do not request service, we simply cannot provide it.”
Martin today told his fellow district board members that he had been limited to the three-minute allowance for members of the public to make his presentation, even though earlier in the meeting Cameron had provided unlimited time to the St. Johns mosquito officials to make their presentation. Still, Martin said, “I think I totally refuted all the claims about how we’re not interested, how we’re disorganized.” He said Cameron followed up with requesting a meeting with Positano. Talks after that were more productive. “So this proposal basically stems from those conversations.”
Martin said the county’s request amounts to a 400 percent increase in service, which cannot be done without proper planning. Martin also revealed, based on his discussions, that the county speaks about residents complaining about mosquitoes on the west side, but “they have no system to track them or pass them on to us. So we honestly don’t know where the mosquito problem is.”