Editorial: Punting to a plebiscite

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Deer feeding at a 4-poster unit. The town is debating how to pay for the tick eradication program.

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Deer feeding at a 4-poster unit. The town is debating how to pay for the tick eradication program.

Councilman Ed Brown has suggested, and his colleagues seem to be in agreement, that a public referendum is the best method of solving the issue of funding 4-poster units.

One thing is sure: It will solve the problem the board has on acting or not.

Instead of the board deciding to handle what many experts have described as a public health “menace” and an “epidemic” of tick borne illnesses, it might do nothing but put in motion a plebiscite.

Supervisor Jim Dougherty’s suggestion of a bond issue to pay for the 4-posters — feeding stands that brush deer with a chemical, permethrin, that kills ticks — doesn’t seem like a sound idea to fund tick eradication. Bonding is effective for major capital projects, not ongoing expenses that need to be calculated as part of the general fund.

Although we disagree with the idea of a referendum, if it comes to pass, let’s hope a major educational effort is undertaken so when residents vote, they’re clear on the question.

Ask Islanders if they want to eradicate ticks that carry diseases and you’ll get a 100 percent “yes” response. Ask Islanders if they want their taxes to go up? Another answer entirely.

From 2008 to 2011, the town contributed money toward a Cornell Cooperative Extension and Cornell University study, largely funded with county and state money. There were 60 4-poster units placed around the Island. Results of tests showed a decrease in the numbers of ticks; anecdotal evidence from health officials indicated fewer incidences of tick-borne diseases.

But when the study ended and the town had to bear the cost alone, the number of units was reduced to fewer than 20. The result was a dramatic increase in tick numbers in the past two years. And local hospitals saw dramatic spikes in residents suffering from Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.

Research in other communities and the Island’s own experience with cutting units over the past two years show a dramatic indication that vigilance is necessary and that ongoing deployment comes at a high price.

The question for voters is whether they are willing to sustain an ongoing commitment of more than $100,000 annually to deploy and maintain enough 4-posters to kill ticks.

We favor budgeting this public health crisis.