By DOTTY NIST
“We’ve got an emergency pretty much everywhere we turn,” observed South Walton Mosquito Control District (SWMCD) Commissioner Bob Hudson.
In the wake of flooding of their headquarters property and many other areas in south Walton County, the SWMCD commissioners held an emergency meeting on May 8 at the South Walton Annex. During the course of the meeting SWMCD Director Ben Brewer declared a state of emergency for the district. It was clarified that declaration was for purposes of flexibility with spraying, the hiring process, and utilization of employees outside their normal scope of duties.
“I think traditional job descriptions are out the window. The ox is in the ditch,” Hudson commented.
After heavy rain moved into the area during the last week of April, water outside the SWMCD Headquarters on CR-393 North reached as high as 15 inches on April 30. The building was flooded, with three of the district’s five computers ruined and wooden desks in the office damaged. With assessment of damage ongoing, Brewer said all furnishings and equipment had been removed from the building. The building was unusable pending restoration and repair.
As of May 8, the SWMCD was still operating from the CR-393 property, with the director and office staff set up in a garage building with folding tables. Plans were for them to move into a small rented construction trailer that had been delivered to the property the previous day and was being readied.
Brewer had contacted the district’s insurance carrier, which had been secured through the Florida League of Cities. An insurance representative had gotten in touch with the BMS CAT disaster recovery and damage restoration company. Taking emergency action, Brewer had signed a contract with the company for removal of water and soaked carpet, drywall, furnishings etc. He reported that it had been necessary for most of the building to be gutted and that later tests would be conducted for mold.
The mosquito control commissioners’ first decision at the emergency meeting was to unanimously ratify Brewer’s action to enter into the contract with BMS CAT and to authorize moving ahead with the removal of remaining moisture and materials as necessary.
In response to a question, Brewer said a separate contract would be necessary for the building to be “put back” into condition for use, but that the company offered this service also.
After discussion the commissioners determined that a request for proposals (RFPs) should be advertised for the refurbishing of the building once BMS CAT had completed the work under contract. Rene Youell, SWMCD attorney, volunteered to get the RFP language ready.
Hudson spoke to the need for all the SWMCD’s insurers to be notified of the damage, if that had not been done, and to make sure to identify who any adjusters coming in to view the damage represented.
Brewer told the commissioners that the insurance through the Florida League of Cities is for $100,000 on the building and $30,700 for its contents. The district’s only other insurance, he said, is flood insurance.
Youell agreed to provide the board members with a calendar of important dates or deadlines in connection with the flood insurance policy.
Hudson emphasized that all receipts in connection with the emergency should be retained and that a running total on expenses should be kept.
Youell commented that additional expenses related to the emergency, such as hiring for increased spraying, should be recoverable from FEMA.
Mosquito Control Commissioner John Magee brought up the need to photo survey damage from the rainstorm to the district’s ditches. “We’ve got to document that as a priority,” he said. There was agreement by fellow board members Hudson and SWMCD Chairman Tim Norris.
In other action, the mosquito control commissioners authorized Brewer to research what resources might be available through interagency agreements for assistance with spraying and other tasks. However, he will be required to seek board approval before going ahead with use of any such resources.
At Brewer’s request, a waiver was approved in connection with the hiring process over the next 90 days, in order to facilitate getting more staff on board. Due to the emergency situation, if there is a problem getting physical examinations completed for new hires, they will have 30 days in which to obtain their examination, with immediate termination to occur if the requirement is not fulfilled within the 30-day period. The waiver was approved in a 2-1 vote, with Hudson voting no. The requirement for drug testing prior to employment will remain in place.
Brewer then took action to declare a state of emergency for the district and, during the emergency period, lift “no spray” agreements with residents. His concern was with the potential for mosquito-borne viruses associated with existing flood conditions.
The lifting of these agreements was approved 3-0, with the district to contact people in the no-spray areas to advise them of plans for spraying and take special care with those with medical conditions.
The declaration of state of emergency will also provide for flexibility in hours for spraying.
At Brewer’s request, the board members also approved the use of $1,500 from the budget in order to utilize the expertise of Dr. Jack Peterson, a research professor at Rutgers University who lives in the local area for part of the year, for trapping, testing and identification of mosquitoes.
Hudson moved to suspend for the time being all employee time off and vacations, except in instances where an employee had a non-refundable rental deposit prior to the date of the meeting. This was approved unanimously.
Finally, the board members also voted to suspend, due to the emergency, plans for Brewer to travel out of town to an upcoming meeting of the Florida Mosquito Control Association.
Hudson said the SWMCD had been receiving requests from the public to pump water from their property. He clarified that the district is not able to offer this service, although they are able to treat the water for mosquitoes. Information on the SWMCD is available on their web site, www.southwaltonmosquitocontrol.org.
The next SWMCD meeting is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on May 20 at the South Walton Annex.
By DOTTY NIST