You can't put a price on public safety. But technically speaking, if you want to split hairs, keeping Miami disease-free costs real money. Jaws dropped last fall when Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez revealed the county spent roughly $10 million fighting Zika, a figure it was no doubt unprepared to dish out.
So as Zika prepares to come roaring back in rainy season, the question looms: How to pay for it this time around? Commissioner Daniella Levine-Cava is asking the county to look at the possibility of creating a special taxing district or a new stormwater fee to fund mosquito control tactics like aerial spraying.
"Fortunately Zika's been off the headline news, but we know that we have not eliminated Zika transmission in this community," she said this week. "Mosquitos are among us, they are not going away, and they will be transmitting diseases into the future."
While the county expects to be reimbursed for at least some of its spending, budget director Jennifer Moon pointed out this week that there's no way to account for the massive loss of tourism dollars.
"The impact wasn't so much the expenses of Zika... but the impacts we had to our revenues with fewer people being in our community, visiting our community, spending money in our community," Moon said bluntly at a committee meeting Tuesday.
Although the county was declared Zika-free in December, officials warn that doesn't mean Zika is on its way out. Many are convinced that unlike the swine-flu freakout of 2009 or the Ebola panic of 2014, Zika is bound to rear its ugly head every spring as mosquito season begins.
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Unfortunately, Miami-Dade is not one of the 18 or so communities in Florida with their own mosquito control districts, which are special taxing districts with elected board members. The districts come with a small but reasonable tax on property owners: In Lee County, the highest-funded mosquito control district, the rate works out to about $72 per year for someone with a $300,000 home.
That's in contrast to a place like Miami-Dade, where mosquito control remains a function of county government. Despite being ground zero for Zika transmissions, the county's budget for mosquito control remains a paltry $1.7 million. Compare that with the Lee County Mosquito Control District, which maintains a $24 million budget despite having about two million fewer residents than Miami-Dade. Miami-Dade's neighbors to the west (Collier County) and south (the Florida Keys) also have their own dedicated mosquito control districts.
"We do not have any dedicated source of funding to fight mosquito-borne diseases," Levine-Cava said earlier this week. "Our frontline workers have done a tremendous job, yet we've heard from our budget director what a financial hit it has had to us."
Any changes are likely months