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The good news is there were no reported cases of West Nile virus in Lebanon County residents last year. 

The bad news is that the number of reported positive tests for mosquitoes carrying the virus in 2022 was higher than previous years, and the 2023 season began earlier than normal.

Those facts were part of a report presented to County Commissioners at their biweekly meeting on Thursday, May 6, by Tony Alvarado, mosquito-borne disease control coordinator, Lebanon County Conservation District (LCCD). 

Alvarado presented a report to the commissioners about the 2023 tire collection results and also gave a program update. The county provided $4,000 in funding this year for the conservation district’s annual tire collection program, which was recently conducted at the Lebanon Valley Expo Center.

Concerning 2023, Alvarado said the mosquito season began in April. 

“Outlook for the season, April got off to a warm start,” said Alvarado. “We reached out to all the counties that potentially could be ready for surveillance, so we started in April. We really didn’t get that many mosquitoes, but we did find QX mosquitoes, which are the vectors of West Nile.”

Although the weather has been rainy recently in the Lebanon Valley, Alvarado noted that the cool temperatures contributed to “not finding many mosquitoes this week.”

“It’s going to start warming up, so next week we’re definitely going to continue our surveillance and control as necessary,” said Alvarado. “Last year in Lebanon County was a pretty bad year for West Nile virus.” 

A total of 352 gravid traps were set throughout Lebanon County last summer with 186 mosquito pools testing positive for West Nile virus, according to Alvarado.

“By comparison, 2018 was one of the worst years in Pennsylvania, and there were 110 pools that year. We had 186 last year, but there were no human infections, so we’re happy that our hard work (spray program) paid off in protecting residents.”

LCCD is also running a program to search for the presence of the eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus, which is spread by infected mosquitoes. Alvarado said the only location that he could find in Lebanon County that contains the habitat required for the spread of EEE is in Swatara State Park. 

The Centers for Disease Control website indicates that “only a few EEE cases are reported in the United States each year, with most cases occurring in eastern or Gulf Coast states. Although rare, EEE is very serious. Approximately 30 percent of people with EEE die and many survivors have ongoing neurologic problems.”

Alvarado noted resting boxes have been placed near a swampy/boggy location in Swatara State Park since that is the kind of environment the mosquito that carries EEE thrives. “The mosquitoes will rest on the box, and then you suck them out the next day with an aspirator,” he said.

The effort to lessen the potential spread of West Nile is why a tire collection day is held annually since standing water in tires is the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. A total of 2,655 auto tires and another 67 oversized tires were collected at the fairgrounds this year, reported Alvarado. 

In other county business, commissioners voted to approve a grant application for Probation Services, and a number of change orders and a communications lease for the Department of Emergency Services (DES).

Probation Services director Audrey Fortna presented a tentative $200,108 Intermediate Punishment state grant proposal, due May 15 to the commonwealth. Fortna noted the actual amount of the grant request has not been determined since her department is still finalizing figures. 

Grant funding will be appropriated towards salaries and benefits for two staff members, drug testing kits and supplies, and consultants to provide needed services pertaining to assessment and case management. Fortna noted the department is changing consultants, which necessitated purchasing new software needed to administer the assessment and case management program. 

Cost breakdown shows: $97,500 will be for staff salaries and another $22,460 for employee benefits; $58,142 for the consultants and software solutions; $20,846 for drug kit testing supplies and operating expenses; and $1,160 for training-related travel expenses. 

DES director Bob Dowd requested three change orders for expenses related to the construction of the new 911 center, tentatively set to be open in July and fully operational by November. 

Read More: New 911 Center construction project on schedule; set to open this summer

The largest change order, which Dowd broke out into two pieces, totalled $164,008 and is for general construction costs for work being performed by general contractor eciConstruction of Dillsburg.

A total of $131,793 is to construct the communications tower and a shelter. Although this expense is a change order, it is separate from the funding set aside for change orders associated with construction of the center. 

“That is part of our radio project and, subsequently, is being funded through that funding stream,” added Dowd. “The actual building change order for this is $32,215. Once again, it’s a bunch of small changes.”

Dowd added those small changes involve the roof, siding and “things that will assure correct flashing and correct water drainage.” 

“Additional downspouts were put into some areas since there were some concerns about adequate drainage. We also asked them to install some additional fiber optic lines between our shelter and (main) building,” he added.

A separate order in the amount of $54,259 is for a number of small changes also being made by eciConstruction. “These are minor things that they are finding along the way that don’t just quite translate to what works in the real world,” said Dowd. “They are adapting as they need to, to make the building functional and correct.”

Dowd added that the “lion’s share” ($36,414) of this change order happened because UGI had to approach the building from a different side of the property than originally planned. This required the contractor to blast for the construction of an additional trench.

The final change order totaled $8,985 and is dedicated to modifications to downspouts and “more rugged” insulation in the ops building. The plumbing contractor doing this work is Jay R. Reynolds, Inc. of Willow Street. 

DES also entered into a net neutral cost contract with Zito Business of Coudersport for dark fiber optic network cable as part of a communications lease. There is no cost, Dowd said, because the project will benefit both entities. These lines will run about two miles from the county building to the new 911 Center, according to county administrator Jamie Wolgemuth.

During public comment, Barb Smith, director for the prothonotary’s office, reported a successful Passport Acceptance Day on Saturday, April 29. Smith said her office processed 103 new passport applications, 17 renewals, and 92 photos, which generated $4,380 in revenue. 

Read More: County will process passports, concealed gun permits during rare Saturday hours

“We typically do four to six passports in an hour; Saturday we did 25 — so it was really hopping,” said Smith. ”We had people waiting an hour to get in, so we opened a little early. It was a good day.” 

The sheriff’s office was also open for a half-day since deputies were there to provide security for the passport event. A total of 18 concealed weapon permits were processed by the sheriff’s office, according to Sheriff Jeffrie Marley Jr. 

In other county business, the commissioners voted to:

  • Approve three hotel tax grant requests:
    • $10,000 to the Community of Lebanon Association for the placement of flowers and hanging baskets in downtown Lebanon. 
    • $7,500 to Motorama Productions Inc. of Hanover for America’s Truckfest at the county fairgrounds, scheduled for Sept. 1-3.
    • $5,000 for Caring Cupboard for TruckTrek in Palmyra on May 13.
  • Provide $7,830 in county liquid fuels tax funding towards a total project cost of $453,500 for 2023 paving projects in Palmyra Borough. 
  • Accept a grant proposal for the county’s 2022-23 loss prevention initiative in the amount of $9,918.17 for the Guardian RFID Spartan 3 lease and system renewal fee for year 4 with Guardian RFID Warrior Technology of Maple Grove, Minnesota. This cost is for a program that helps track inmate movements at the county prison.
  • Authorize eight fully disabled veteran exemptions from real estate tax payments.
  • Appoint Jon Fitzkee, who works in the county’s planning department, to fill the seat of Patricia Pittenger on the Lebanon Transit board. The move was necessary following the death of Pittenger, who had served since 2017.
  • Approve the minutes of their April 19 workshop session and April 20 regular meeting. 
  • Accept the treasurer’s report and personnel transactions as presented by the human resources department.
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James Mentzer

James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; and Lancaster...