On behalf of Villagers and other area residents, we’d like to offer a huge word of thanks to Sumter County Commissioner Doug Gilpin and his colleagues for holding an extremely important gathering this past week.
Gilpin represents District 2 in Sumter County government, which includes the Village of Fenney. On Thursday, he held a meet-and-greet at the Fenney Recreation Center that was particularly important because many area residents are still reeling from the news that Villager Don Roberts died last month of the West Nile Virus. His wife, Sharlene, believes he received the fatal bite after playing golf and hanging out at the fire pit in the Village of Fenney – just yards away from where Thursday’s gathering was held.
Gilpin’s event was attended by hundreds of Villagers, most of whom had lots of questions about the county’s mosquito control program. The meet-and-greet already was planned before most Villagers learned of Roberts’ tragic death, but to Gilpin’s credit, he made sure the meeting was promoted and had knowledgeable county staff members on hand to talk about the mosquito program and offer advice to residents about how to protect themselves.
“We all have to be vigilant, being a little older especially, because your immune system weakens a little bit,” he said.
Gilpin encouraged those in attendance to use mosquito spray with DEET, especially in the evening and morning hours. And he said it’s imperative to wear long sleeves and long pants as well.
“It’s no different than where you came from,” he said.
There were several different stations set up for residents to learn about various facets of their county government, but for the majority of those in attendance, the topic of the day was mosquitoes – as it should have been. That’s where Stephen Kennedy and Hershel S. Wiley came into play in a huge way.
Kennedy is the assistant county administrator and Wiley is the animal services and mosquito control superintendent. Both clearly had done their homework prior to the gathering and knew their subject matter extremely well. And they stayed very busy calmly answering question after question from concerned residents who wanted to know what the county is doing to help keep them safe from potentially deadly mosquitoes.
Kennedy echoed Gilpin’s advice about personal protection. And he said it’s also important for Villagers to protect their property and eliminate areas where mosquitoes might breed.
“A small rut in your yard with standing water is enough for mosquitoes to start to generate activity,” he said. “And with things like bird baths, residents need to be mindful that if it’s standing water for a period of time, that could be an issue.”
The solution, Kennedy said, is a simple one.
“Change it out,” he said. “Just don’t leave it standing there for two months.”
Kennedy said residents can be rest assured that the county has an aggressive, multi-faceted plan to deal with mosquitoes in place that includes:
- A sentinel chicken program where the animals are tested on a weekly basis. If any of the animals test positive, that’s a trigger that causes officials to look closer at that immediate area.
- A team that goes out and regularly tests standing bodies of water. If juvenile growth is discovered, the area is treated before the mosquitoes become adults.
- Light traps used to catch mosquitoes at night. If more than 25 are caught in a single cycle, that’s an indication that action needs to be taken with the appropriate treatments.
Kennedy said it’s also important for Villagers to realize there are limitations to the methods the county can use to combat the mosquito population – a point that those in attendance clearly seemed to understand and embrace.
“There has to be a happy balance between the environment and public safety,” he said. “If we apply too much chemical, we destroy the environment, which secondarily impacts the public. So, our goal right now is a happy balance where we’re ensuring the public is safe, as well as containing that population of mosquitoes.”
Not surprisingly, Kennedy said, many Villagers expressed their fears about contracting the West Nile Virus.
“It’s scary,” he said. “Anytime something like that happens, there’s always a concern. But the good thing is that if anything, it raises a question and people are coming out soliciting information. Hopefully, we can give them a little peace of mind to know that we’re not sitting back waiting. We have a mosquito-control program that is countywide and runs year-round. We are continually testing and continually evaluating.”
Village of Fenney resident Victor Velasquez said he was particularly happy to hear that the county takes such a proactive approach in combatting mosquitoes.
“It gives me peace of mind,” said the former New Jersey resident who moved to The Villages last year.
Velasquez’s partner, Nancy Slaggert, said she appreciates the need to take extra personal precautions.
“I love to walk the nature trail, so I make sure I spray myself when I go outside,” she said.
Velasquez added that he’ll continue to use a mosquito repellent he sprays around his yard through an attachment on his garden hose. And he added that being even more diligent in the war on mosquitoes will be a top priority.
“I’ll be more vigilant now about the standing water,” he said. “I had kind of slacked off. But that’s number one. You just can’t have any standing water.”
As we said earlier, we offer kudos to Gilpin, Kennedy, Wiley and every other county official who attended the important event and answered questions. At one point, the line to get into the meet-and-greet was past the front door to the Fenney Rec Center – and many in that line were sharing their fears concerning the West Nile Virus. But once they got inside and received information from level-headed officials who clearly knew their subject matter well and were very transparent, they left feeling well-educated and armed with pertinent information that would help them be safe in the mosquito battle going forward.
This is how local government is supposed to work – officials serving those who pay their salaries in the best way possible. Thursday’s meet-and-greet was a fine example of that. And we sincerely hope to see more of these information-driven sessions that help the public understand about how their local government works and educates them about pertinent topics that affect their daily lives.