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Orange County

Fire Ant Battle Wins Strong Support

Survey finds majority of homeowners would pay yearly tax to revive the eradication program.

March 19, 2004|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

Consultants to the Orange County Vector Control District believe there is enough public interest in eradicating red imported fire ants to support a ballot measure funding reestablishment of the program.

The proposal was unveiled at Thursday's meeting of district officials and will be discussed April 15.

The campaign to rid the county of fire ants was dropped last month after the state cut its funding and district officials said they could not support the program alone.

A large percentage of county property owners would support a local funding measure to revive the eradication program, according to a survey by Shilts Consultants, a Northern California-based research company that examines funding issues.

More than 70% of 1,800 property owners surveyed said they would pay a tax of $3 to $9 a year to increase funding for vector control services, including fire ant control. While all of the district's vector control services were highly desired, the fire ant program received the most support, from 85% of the respondents.

Support also crossed party lines: 75% of Democratic households and 70% of Republican households supported a $6 measure to fight ants. The proposal to levy a $6 tax received the greatest backing from property owners 65 and older.

The ants are known for fierce bites that leave painful, itchy welts.

Agriculture officials are concerned that entrenched ants could overwhelm and devour wildlife and crops.

Fire ants were detected in Orange County in 1998, prompting a $5.2-million eradication program that was terminated in October by the California Department of Agriculture. The campaign was funded by the county until last month.

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