Florida Keys News
Monday, August 11, 2014
Bug board candidates fighting bugs, not each other

The two Republican District 5 Florida Keys Mosquito Control District candidates do not see themselves running against each other, but for the seat.

Candidates Eddie Martinez and Tom McDonald have very similar views on the major issues facing the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District. Both are running for the Upper Keys seat currently held by Jack Bridges, who decided not to run again.

Martinez and McDonald will square off in the Aug. 26 primary election, but one could not tell by the way the treat each other at recent debates and campaign forums. After the last debate, the two joked about how they plan to car pool together to the next debate.

Both see themselves as fiscally conservative Republicans, but not to a point in which the mosquito control service should suffer.

Even when factoring in housing and other living costs in the Keys, Florida Keys Mosquito Control still paid more on average in 14 of 20 job categories than 10 other mosquito control districts in the state, and some public and private businesses as well, according to the district's own study.

McDonald called on the board to reduce the number of staff through attrition, but would not support cutting employees' salaries or firing them. He would like to see the district better utilize technology so fewer employees are needed.

Martinez would also like to see the district better use technology as a way to reduce staff. He also argued that the level of service should be maintained.

Martinez would like to see the district create a smart phone application with GPS capabilities, which would allow residents to better direct the district where spraying needs to occur. The GPS could pinpoint exact locations where the mosquito problem is the worst.

"Inspectors would not have to canvass large areas, which would be a better use of district resources," Martinez said. "This would also be a great way to engage the public."

They both supported the efforts of the current Mosquito Control Executive Director Michael Doyle.

Limiting board salaries

They both support reducing or at limiting board members salaries, which is currently about $19,800 a year plus benefits.

"The board cut their salaries by 10 percent (last year)," Martinez said. "I would support doing it again. The old executive director (Ed Fussell) gave raises to everyone, the board included, and they all took them. This is not a private business. It's public money that needs to be looked after."

McDonald is in favor of taking it one step further. He argued the salaries should be reduced to about $7,800, which is more in line with what other mosquito control districts across the state pay, McDonald said.

McDonald argued that the benefit packages and the salaries are leading board members to turn their public service on the board into a career.

"If people are in it for the money, they are in it for the wrong reasons," McDonald said.

Term limits

Both McDonald and Martinez support setting term limits in which board members could only be on the board for two consecutive four year terms.

"This shouldn't be a career," McDonald said.

Martinez could support board members coming back after a four-year hiatus.

"If the voters wanted them back and they wanted to come back in four years, I could support that," Martinez said.

Genetically modified mosquitoes

Both support further research of the use genetically engineered mosquitoes as another tool to battle Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which is known to carry the dengue fever virus.

The district is currently considering partnering with the England-based company Oxitec to use genetically engineered mosquitoes. Oxitec proposes to alter male mosquitoes to make them "sterile," so when they are released and mate with a female mosquito in the wild, her offspring would die in the larval stage.

Both wanted to make sure that an outside government agency would oversee testing of the genetically modified mosquitoes.

"I think the more people become educated about it, the less concerns they would have," McDonald said.

Martinez cited a study in which a majority of Lower Keys residents supported the use of genetically modified mosquitoes.

A 2013 study by North Carolina State University professor Michael Cobb found that 60 percent of Key West residents surveyed "supports the [Florida Keys Mosquito Control District] to use (genetically engineered) technologies for mosquito control."

Twenty-three percent of those surveyed did not support the method and 17 percent were neutral on the issue, the study found.

When asked how safe genetically engineered technology is, 13 percent of Key Westers thought it was "very safe" and 53 percent thought it was "safe," the survey stated. However, 11 percent thought it was "very unsafe," while 23 percent thought it was "unsafe."

Keyswide, 61 percent supported using genetically engineered technology in Key West to control Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which can carry dengue fever. Eighteen percent said they were opposed to the technology and 21 percent remained neutral.

The study was done in two parts. In the first segment, 614 people Keyswide returned surveys that were mailed to them in January. In the final phase, 205 Key West residents were interviewed at their homes between Jan. 1 and 5.

The surveys were done because the British-based company Oxitec and the Mosquito Control District are proposing to partner to do a test release of genetically engineered Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in effort to eradicate the species. An outbreak of dengue fever occurred three years ago and caused a minor health crisis.

"We need to look into and research it," Martinez said. "If the public wants us to put the question out to referendum, I would support that."

tohara@keysnews.com

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