As a precaution against the West Nile Virus, the Santa Barbara Coastal Vector Control District is proposing an annual assessment to be paid by property owners in the city of Santa Barbara and South Coast communities in order to expand its mosquito and disease control services.

An annual fee of $7.12 on property owners in Montecito, Summerland, Mission Canyon and the foothills of Goleta and Carpinteria would fund all vector control services such as mosquito abatement, disease surveillance and roof rat control.

In order for vector control to move forward, property owners must approve the proposed assessment by a majority of 50 percent. The vote will be conducted by mail. If passed, the assessment proposal could be implemented as soon as April.

“We’re contemplating that the ballot will be sent out in February, latest March,” local vector control district manager Mitch Bernstein said.

Vector control conducted a survey to establish whether property owners would approve a $7.12 annual fee in exchange for full vector control services and protection. Of those who responded to the 10,000 survey forms mailed, approximately 70 percent of single-family homeowners in Santa Barbara and 72 percent of single-family homeowners in the South Coast support the fee.

“I am very pleased at the level of support from the survey response, and this will help the district move forward,” Bernstein said.

For the past eight years, vector control has been providing full services to the communities of Goleta, Isla Vista, Hope Ranch, Rancho Embarcadero and Carpinteria.

Bernstein said the proposed expansion is an attempt “to provide uniform service control because mosquitoes don’t know county borders.”

Mosquitoes are the main carriers of the West Nile Virus, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The virus was first identified in the United States in 1999 in New York. In 2003, the CDC documented 6,411 human cases of the virus. To date, 134 people have died of the West Nile Virus.

The first human case of the West Nile Virus in California was reported in Riverside County in early October of last year. Since then there have been two additional human cases reported in California. The virus is characterized by flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache and body aches. Serious conditions of the virus, however, can cause severe illness or death.

Rick Merrifield, Santa Barbara County health director, said the Environmental Health Services Dept. expects more cases of the West Nile Virus this year.

“The disease is not in Santa Barbara County, yet but we believe it will be,” Merrifield said.

One of the objectives of the Environmental Health Services Dept. is to minimize the conditions favorable to mosquito breeding, Merrifield said.

“We support efforts to improve disease surveillance, mosquito control and rodent control,” Merrifield said.

Bernstein said vector control is proposing an expansion of its jurisdiction to other areas in the county because of the possibility that the West Nile Virus could reach Santa Barbara County.

“The district has been very proactive over the last several years preparing for the impending West Nile Virus,” Bernstein said.

If property owners approve the assessment, vector control will receive the funding needed to provide full levels of safety to areas that are not currently serviced. One of the services vector control currently provides is a full mosquito surveillance program, which consists of a team of biologists, a mosquito research and testing program, the California Dept. of Health Services and other vector control districts in California.

Vector control also offers a dead bird pickup program because dead birds can be an indication of the West Nile Virus in a particular area.