It's a sad commentary on the state of California's tax system that at a time school districts are slashing programs to educate children we seem to have have plenty of cash on hand to combat mosquitoes.
Such is the narrative involving the Marin/Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District. The district's board is expected to vote tonight on a budget that calls for a 6 percent increase in spending.
Yes, you read that correctly.
As governments at all others levels are slashing spending, the mosquito district is about to increase expenditures by 6 percent.
Not that the district's income stream can necessarily support that. The spending plan before the board calls for spending roughly $1.3 million more than the district expects to receive in funding. The balance will be taken from the district's healthy reserve.
The district is starting the new fiscal year with a surplus of about $10 million. To put that in perspective, that's equal to 115 percent of its anticipated expenditures for the coming year.
This would explain how the Cotati-based district is planning to buy a fleet of eight new trucks — at a cost of $240,000 — and 26 new laptop computers for $38,000.
The district also is planning to spend $30,000 more this year on public relations.
It will need it. Such spending is hard to swallow at a time when many people are out of work and some government agencies are trying to avoid insolvency.
The district, which is charged with the prevention and control of mosquitoes and other pests, including rats, that can carry infectious diseases, receives part of its funding from property taxes and part from a small annual service charge assessed on all property tax bills.
District officials contend they have managed their money frugally so that it could, even during a downturn in the economy, make new investments in technology and trucks.
But the public has had access to few details before now about the district's spending plans in order to make a proper evaluation.
As Staff Writer Cathy Bussewitz has reported, the district was slow in releasing an itemized budget to explain how the money would be spent. Jim Wanderscheid, the general manager of the district, had said he did not want to release a full, line-item budget before it is approved by the district's board of directors. He said he didn't want to confuse the public with numbers that might change.
Mr. Wandersheid, rest assured. The public is already confused — by the fact that the mosquito district appears to be operating in a parallel universe where revenue is not a problem.
The directors should hold off on approving a new budget until the public has had more opportunity to evaluate the numbers and give feedback on how else to spend the surplus — or possibly refund the money.
Special districts often operate in the dark because, when times are good, the public's attention span is limited. But with a $10 million surplus and plans to buy eight new trucks and 26 new laptops, it's fair to say the district now has the public's attention.