Budget concerns and "mosquito mansions" are front and center in the race between incumbent Bill Shaw and Daniel Zieg for the District 4 Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board seat.
Shaw is a former pilot for the district and the owner of a landscaping business, while Zieg is a retired orthopedic surgeon. Both candidates live in Marathon.
While Shaw emphasizes a 45 percent reduction in the property tax rate over the past five years, Zieg says rising property values over that time skew the real numbers.
"If the value of your home has gone up, then you're paying more taxes," Zieg said. "They have more in their reserve fund then they did three years ago."
The board adopted a final tax rate of .3798, which is 15.34 percent below the rollback rate of .4436, or the tax rate needed to generate the same tax revenue in the current fiscal year as in the last one. The district expects to generate $10 million in ad valorem taxes.
The Republican Shaw, a former Mosquito Control pilot, said controlling mosquitoes is tricky business given our uncertain weather in the Keys. More storms lead to more mosquito hatchings, he said, which means the district has had to budget for a worst-case scenario.
"When people run, they always say they're going to cut taxes, but they don't know much about operations," said Shaw, first elected to a four-year term in 1996. "We have to ensure the health of the public."
But Shaw, along with most other commissioners, did acknowledge the district's budget needed trimming and he pushed for $2.65 million in cuts for this fiscal year. The board did trim $2 million, but shot down Shaw's plan to trim an overall 15 percent from the operating budget.
Zieg, running nonaffiliated, said that much like millage rate reductions, trimming $2 million from the 2009 budget is misleading because it was already inflated. He said operations should cost around $10 million and that it is "unconscionable" the district is holding $8.1 million of taxpayer money in reserve.
"Five years ago it was $10.5 million, then four years ago my opponent ran unopposed and the budget has been in excess of $20 million," he said. "It's too little, too late and I'm concerned it was only because it was an election year that anything got trimmed at all."
Zieg says he is also concerned about what he refers to as "mosquito mansions," like the district's new building at Florida Keys Marathon Airport. He and Shaw differ on its price tag -- $7.5 million versus $10 million -- but Zieg has been critical of the expense and is concerned with the district's plan to pursue a land purchase in Key West.
"Nearly the entire second floor, 40 to 45 percent, is empty," Zieg said of the Marathon building. "If I were in business, I'd be consolidating and using the space available rather than put up another office building."
Shaw disputes Zieg's claims about the Marathon building and says its size is relative to its use. The building houses two airplanes and four helicopters and has 19 employees, he said.
"I measured the blueprints and the little part of the building we're not using is 4.5 percent," Shaw said.
While they disagree on the district's finances, both say the district is effective in its core job -- killing mosquitoes.