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updated: 7/13/2016 2:16 PM

Are you being double-taxed for mosquito control?

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  • Video: Suburban Mosquito Abatement

  • Entomologist Patrick Irwin of the Northwest Mosquito Abatement District holds a mosquito that is used to identify species of the pesky critters that are invading the suburbs this summer.

      Entomologist Patrick Irwin of the Northwest Mosquito Abatement District holds a mosquito that is used to identify species of the pesky critters that are invading the suburbs this summer.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct that Milton Township residents are only paying one mosquito abatement tax.

Only one creature on this planet is so loathed that Illinois created special taxing districts to combat its presence.

While the pesky mosquito lacks size, it can pack a pretty significant wallop for suburban taxpayers, especially for some who are paying multiple agencies to battle the bugs.

Some Carol Stream residents might be paying taxes for three different agencies to ward off mosquitoes. The village spent $76,063 last year, Bloomingdale Township spent $166,980, and the West Chicago Mosquito Abatement District spent $163,051.

And they aren't the only ones.

Taxpayers in St. Charles are paying both the city and township for mosquito control, as are people in parts of Addison, Aurora, Bensenville, Itasca, North Aurora, Oak Brook, Round Lake, Wauconda and Wood Dale.

That's according to a Daily Herald analysis of financial reports from 56 abatement districts, municipalities and townships that combined to spend more than $5.3 million in each of the last two years on mosquito control.

While the ultimate goal is to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile virus, the amount of money devoted to the cause varies widely. The Zika virus is upping the ante in some places, though mosquitoes haven't been found to transmit the virus here.

"The term my environmental coordinator used is 'aggressive,'" said Itasca Village Manager Evan Teich. "As part of our budget discussions this year, that cost actually came up and we discussed cutting back. But they thought doing it in a year when people were highly concerned about the Zika virus might not be the best year to do it."

Zika, a disease that can cause birth defects in utero, is carried by mosquitoes that are not native to northern Illinois and whose embryos can't survive the winter here, experts said. Infected insects would have to be imported to the Chicago area for someone to catch the disease without leaving the region.

West Nile virus, however, is common in Illinois. Most human cases are mild, but a few deaths occur.

Itasca spent $70,508 last year and budgeted $71,000 this year to combat the mosquito population. While several municipalities paid more than that, fewer paid at a higher rate per square mile. At a little more than five square miles, Itasca spent $13,907 per square mile to fight mosquitoes.

Teich said it's a quality-of-life expense. The costs cover extra attention at the village's 60-acre nature center that hosts a variety of youth summer camps, extra sprayings for special events, and treatment of storm sewers, a method some towns have abandoned.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Sugar Grove spent $260 per square mile to fight mosquitoes last year, according to the village's financial records.

Most of the money spent by government agencies goes to Clarke Mosquito Control based in St. Charles. The company has the lion's share of mosquito control contracts with suburban governments, including most abatement districts that collect taxes and turn over those funds to Clarke.

Clarke spokeswoman Laura McGowan said the costs vary so widely because the services the company offers vary from one place to the next, based on how local officials choose to combat the pests.

Naperville is one of the few locations with its own in-house mosquito abatement operation, but those costs are not broken out of the city's overall public works budget.

AT DAILYHERALD.COM/MORE: Entomologist Patrick Irwin of the Northwest Mosquito Abatement District explains why you need not fear the Zika virus, and what happens if it ever does enter the suburbs.
  AT DAILYHERALD.COM/MORE: Entomologist Patrick Irwin of the Northwest Mosquito Abatement District explains why you need not fear the Zika virus, and what happens if it ever does enter the suburbs. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Another is the massive Northwest Mosquito Abatement District that covers all of northwestern Cook County. With 13 full-time employees and a cadre of seasonal employees, the district has 242 square miles and spent more than $2.3 million last year, according to the district's audit.

District director Mike Szyska contends the agency's costs are comparable to contracting out the work to outfits like Clarke but taxpayers have greater control by maintaining an oversight board. While costs are on the higher end at $9,536 per square mile, there is virtually no duplication of services.

"When we hear there might be a problem in a town, we'll send out a crew to investigate, but we're not going to charge the town anything extra if we wind up doing a spraying or something," Szyska said. "The taxpayers are already paying for this."

Few, if any, of the 24 suburbs in the district have additional mosquito-fighting costs, according to municipal financial records.

Certain species of mosquito caught in the Northwest suburbs are used for study at the Northwest Mosquito Abatement District, headquartered in Wheeling.
  Certain species of mosquito caught in the Northwest suburbs are used for study at the Northwest Mosquito Abatement District, headquartered in Wheeling. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

While abatement districts in Wheaton and Glen Ellyn spent more than $19,000 per square mile on mosquito control last year, a few towns have seemingly surrendered to the buggy foes.

Warrenville stopped abatement activities in 2000, citing costs. Voters later rejected a ballot question to increases taxes to pay for mosquito control. The city in southwestern DuPage County is almost entirely surrounded by forest preserves, which many in town believe makes the fight futile since the DuPage County Forest Preserve District does little in the way of thwarting nuisance mosquitoes. Instead the district specially targets the West Nile-carrying Culex mosquito larvae.

"We are a conservation-focused entity and we have found some of the products that combat adult mosquitoes harm or kill other invertebrates like moths and butterflies," said Andres Ortega, a forest preserve ecologist. "It doesn't make sense for us to be utilizing those products."

There's also another reason.

"Then there's the expense associated with it," Ortega said.

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