Editorial: Why the big range in mosquito control costs?

No doubt you've heard the joke about Illinois' state bird - the mosquito.

The insects that used to simply bedevil us with their itchy bites during our summers outdoors started being a genuine local health threat about 15 years ago when West Nile virus arrived on the scene.

But mosquitoes have a long and evolving history. They once spread malaria across Illinois, though the disease mostly retreated to the tropics by the end of the 19th century. Alarm about Zika virus upped the ante this year, although there are no cases of mosquito transmission of the disease in our state.

Curtailing the villainous and versatile bug is a major seasonal campaign in most suburbs. Surveillance tracks which species of mosquitoes are around and what diseases they carry. Treating water sources and fogging kill larvae and adults.

Entire government agencies are organized around getting rid of mosquitoes, and the cost came to $5.3 million last year among 56 suburbs, townships and mosquito abatement districts.

Few people argue with such vigilance. But a close look at the costs raises a few questions.

For one thing, some people pay taxes to two or more mosquito abatement programs, Daily Herald tax watchdog Columnist Jake Griffin pointed out.

That's usually because different layers of government - towns, townships and perhaps mosquito abatement districts - all have mosquito-control initiatives.

That's a clear-cut case for consolidation as a way to improve coordination and possibly cut costs.

Griffin's analysis also points out big disparities in dollars devoted to mosquito control.

Setting aside the suburbs that don't spend anything, mosquito abatement efforts range from $260 per square mile in Sugar Grove to $19,344 per square mile in the Wheaton Mosquito Abatement District.

And it's not that those two are outliers. Also at the low end are $272 per square mile in Avon Township, $341 in Aurora and $358 in Fremont Township. Others at the high end are $19,025 in the Glen Ellyn Mosquito Abatement District. $14,599 in Lincolnshire and $13,906 in Itasca.

A range that big begs for developing a better understanding across the suburbs of the optimal ways to keep people protected without over- or underspending.

Are people in Wheaton safer than people in Sugar Grove? With the war against mosquitoes unlikely to end soon, it's a question worth answering.

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