Mono County has been lucky this summer when it’s come to the detection of West Nile Virus, but after a wetter than usual June filled with rain activity, perhaps it was just a matter of time before a case of WNV was found.
According to a late-breaking statement by Mono County Health Officer Dr. Richard Johnson, the Mono Health Department was informed Wednesday that a mosquito pool collected behind the County Maintenance yard off South Landing Road near Crowley Lake has tested positive for WNV. The pool was collected on Aug. 20 from a trap.
Steve Ganong from the Mammoth Lakes Mosquito Abatement District had been contracted by the Hilton Creek Community Services District to do mosquito trapping and surveillance in the Hilton Creek District. Gangong submitted 4 mosquito pools for testing, one of which turned up positive. The positive pool contained 18 Culex tarsalis mosquitoes, a known carrier of West Nile virus.
Johnson said this is the first positive confirmation of the presence of the virus in Mono County this year, and that the finding is considered unusual, especially considering the relatively quiet year of WNV activity in the rest of the state and country.
Mosquito trapping in Old Mammoth has not resulted in enough mosquitoes being trapped to submit for testing, which Johnson said was in all likelihood a result of successful mosquito abatement activities by Ganong.
Area health officials are discussing an appropriate response and are expected to alert the public to the next course of action shortly.
HCSD still resisting hike
In other Crowley-related news, following its July Board of Directors meeting, Hilton Creek Sewer District is still fighting the good fight, managing to fend off a usage fee rate hike and saying in no specific terms that the issue probably won’t be up for a vote in the near future. Still, a fight is rounds, and it appears the economics of the situation will soon get the upper hand and the Board will be forced to throw in the towel, especially in the wake of a recent, impromptu visit by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCD).
After a review of records, certificates and equipment, the SWRCD inspector advised HCSD that when Plant Operations Manager Bob Lavagnino is on vacation, it is a violation to have part-time Operations Manager Jason Hatter overseeing things.
“There must be a Grade II certified person here,” the inspector wrote, adding that the District will need to hire a second employee at the plant for safety reasons. Though Hatter is cleared to do electrical work, help with plant problems and other miscellaneous duties, he cannot independently oversee the plant in Lavagnino’s absence.
The SWRCD Lahontan Regional Office officially put the District on notice that “the current staffing levels at the District are inadequate” and “another certified plant operator will have to be hired.” HCSD Accountant Marianne O’Connor said she and Lavagnino have encouraged the Board to raise the fees for the past 4-5 years just to cover the inflationary costs and start to provide for a replacement reserve. Now, the District, which was running a deficit already, using property tax revenues to backfill the revenue shortfall, will now need that rate hike to cover those costs AND the salary package of a new employee.
During the meeting, new HCSD Auditor Bob Johnson spoke to the Board and shared some of his initial impressions of the situation. “For one thing, HCSD is a poor district,” Johnson said. “Your financial statement shows pure government funds.” Johnson said depreciation is an important part of the enterprise portion of the budget, and thinks this district’s “General Fund” is more of a “Sewer Fund,” but advocated leaving things the way the are until the user fees are increased to where Johnson thinks they should be.
“Yes, but we are trying to keep the use fees down as long as possible,” Board member Kitty VanStelle commented. This prompted Johnson to ask the board why that is. “Special districts that go year after year without an increase let their equipment go downhill and are also unable to replace key employees,” he said. “You don’t have much cash on hand, and you need cash reserves as a district.” Board member Ted Cortopassi commented if you plan for depreciation then you have the reserves to take care of increased costs, to which Johnson responded, “Yes, assuming you set it up correctly that way in the first place.”
Johnson also indicated he thinks the Capital Projects fund, which is currently the restricted part of the Sewer Fund, should be combined into one central fund. He also wondered whether the Juniper Drive fund is really an activity of the District, or is it similar to running another district for them? Board member Brad Koehn said it’s rather like an assessment district. Johnson advised making changes to the Juniper Drive fund’s description and showing the District’s reimbursement of expenses to administer the zone as revenue.