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Mosquito money stretched through skeeter season

It's been a busy season for Grand Forks mosquito control efforts and, while the program is still within its budget, it's expected to draw from its carryover cash balance by the end of the year.

Mosquito
2013 FILE PHOTO: A white band on the proboscis of this mosquito trapped in Grand Forks, N.D. distinguishes it as a West Nile carrying culex tarsalis. (JOHN STENNES/GRAND FORKS HERALD)

It's been a busy season for Grand Forks mosquito control efforts and, while the program is still within its budget, it's expected to draw from its carryover cash balance by the end of the year.

Program manager Todd Hanson said that, as of the end of July, his office has expended about 56 percent of its total 2016 budget of about $969,000 as it approaches the end of what is typically its heaviest spending months.

Hanson said this season's high levels of precipitation and warm temperatures have provided favorable conditions for local mosquito populations which, in turn, have created a need to amend the mosquito control budget.

"The more rain you have, the more mosquitos you can have," he explained, adding that wetter years in the past have correlated with higher numbers of citywide ground sprayings.

Each spraying session, carried out by truck-mounted pesticide applicators, costs about $4,000 to conduct. So far, the city has carried out 14 citywide sprays throughout the late spring and summer months.

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Hanson said the period roughly between May through September makes up the busiest time for mosquito control, which is managed as a division of the Grand Forks Public Health Department.

While citywide sprayings might be the most visible facet of the program, Hanson said the majority of his office's resources are expended in its larvicide efforts. To that effect, workers begin applying pesticides to watery mosquito breeding grounds in late spring to prevent adult mosquitoes from ever taking flight.

"The labor and the larvicide itself is expensive," Hanson said. "We employ upwards of 40 people as seasonal employees during the summertime."

The larvicide effort includes approximately 1,000 mapped sites of standing water throughout Grand Forks and extending about 2 miles beyond city limits.

Hanson explained that the areas outside the city are treated to "knock down what would otherwise be migrating into the city."

Beyond killing mosquitos directly, the insect control program also uses funds to conduct surveillance on the blood-eating bugs to examine factors like population size and the presence of the West Nile virus.

Hanson said his office has found West Nile "pretty much every week" since June 14. He said the virus has been "elevated somewhat" this summer over past seasons and believed the environmental conditions that benefit area mosquitos as a whole have also been favorable to species that most commonly transmit the virus.

Mosquitos that carry the Zika virus have not been found in the region.

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As a city program, the activities of mosquito control are funded mainly through utility billing.

Hanson said about $2.80 of each monthly bill is routed to his division. The program receives some state-provided funding, he added, but that amount makes up a small amount of the total budget at about $3,500.

On the whole, Hanson said the total budget for mosquito management has grown over the years from about $150,000 in 1995. The program was significantly restructured after West Nile virus arrived in the area in 2002 in a move which emphasized the importance of the cost-heavier larvicide effort, he said.

Moving forward through this year, Hanson said the program still needs to direct resources towards paying for chemicals and putting up a storage building later this fall.

Maureen Storstad, Grand Forks director of finance, said the mosquito control program has a proposed budget of $993,000 for next year.

The program came into 2016 with a cash balance carryover of about $100,000, Storstad said, and is expected to spend its full budget plus $40,000 of its cash balance by year-end.

"We budget for an average mosquito year, but some years you're going to dip into that cash because you'll have an over-average year due to climate and rain," Storstad said, adding "I consider this an over-average year."

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