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In praise of taxes that bite
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I was asked shortly after I moved to Manteca in 1991 what was the most unusual difference between living here and in Lincoln in Placer County.
I had already told the person posing the question how I liked the dynamics of the community, the people, and Manteca’s close proximity to a lot of places — things that weren’t all that much different about why I liked Lincoln, Roseville, and the rest of Placer County. I had also tossed in for good measure the fact agriculture was thriving here.
My answer about the most unusual difference came down to four words: “The lack of mosquitos.”
I’ll admit to adding that I had never dealt with quite as many flies as I do in Manteca but given this is a thriving agricultural region with ample dairies that wasn’t really surprising.
Since Manteca is near the Delta, has plenty of drainage/irrigation canals, lots of nearby farm irrigation and two nearby rivers I was expecting to deal with mosquitoes. In Lincoln mosquitoes were bad  thanks to the Auburn Ravine flowing through town with plenty of stagnant spots for breeding, the clay soil that tended to puddle water for days, and thousands of acres of rice fields west of town. Spraying residential areas was a routine monthly occurrence during the warmer months yet I’d be hard-pressed to remember very many days that I wasn’t taking a dozen swats at mosquitoes whenever I was outside near twilight during the spring, summer, and fall.
Not disparaging the efforts to control mosquitoes 25 years ago in western Placer County, but I can say without a doubt the best return I get for spending $2.58 is the annual property tax assessment I pay to help fund the San Joaquin County Vector Control District.
Miniscule property tax assessments like mine countywide provide the district headquartered on Airport Way just south of Stockton Metro Airport with $7.3 million annually to combat 17 different mosquitoes that call San Joaquin County home. Three of those 17 species pose major public health concerns given the viruses they can transmit include the West Nile Virus, malaria, and encephalitis. Besides that, mosquito bites even without the threat of getting infected with a deadly disease aren’t exactly pleasant.
The odds are sometime in the near future two more mosquitoes could spread to San Joaquin County thanks to international travel. They are the Asian tiger mosquito and the yellow fever mosquito. Both species are efficient carriers of Zika, dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever. Both species are established in some spots of Southern California. The closest the Asian Tiger mosquito is to San Joaquin County is the Fresno-Clovis region.
The vector control district utilizes public outreach, biological control such as mosquito fish, physical control involving the clean-up of breeding areas, and chemical control in the form of spraying.
Talk to some long-time residents and they will tell you Ripon and Manteca along with the surrounding countryside was a paradise for mosquitoes until the 1950s after the vector control district that was formed in 1942 got well established.
We take government agencies that are efficient day-in and day-out with specific public health and safety functions for granted.  We also are getting a bit too comfortable when it comes to jumping on the anti-chemical and anti-genetic modification bandwagons. Both are key to effective mosquito and vector control.
We have the luxury to rail against both the use of insecticides and modifying what’s in nature to either reduce populations of things such as mosquitoes or to make food we grow more resistant to disease, more water efficient, and more plentiful thanks to how efficient such practices have been over the years.
America — and much of the world — is fed with food made plentiful and less expensive that uses less and less water to yield more per acre than ever before in history thanks to what is basically genetic modification.
At the same time diseases that were once rampant for all practical purposes have been brought under control by both genetic tinkering, if you will, and the judicious use of chemicals.
I was reminded of how intense mosquitoes would be without vector control such as we have in San Joaquin County last month during a vacation in the high reaches of the Eastern Sierra. Wherever there was standing water or semi-dried out meadows above 7,000 feet mosquitoes literally would try to put the bite on you every 15 seconds or so. I can only imagine what the world would be without Deet insect repellant or the San Joaquin County Mosquito and Vector Control District.
If you don’t think the district is relevant in keeping mosquitoes under control in your neighborhood, make the mistake that several friends did two years ago. Put a raft in the Stanislaus River at Ripon and float down to Caswell State Park without benefit of mosquito repellent. This is no man’s land as the district doesn’t spray along the river.
They can tell you it doesn’t take long for exposed skin to develop itchy red marks that look like a severe case of skin rash.
Taxes do bite.
But in many cases such as with vector control life would bite even more without them.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.