AUSABLE A combative town board meeting last week ended with the town agreeing to allocate funds for an exterminator to give four homes adjacent to a rat-infested residence semi-regular checkups.
But the funds were only authorized after residents squared off in open combat with town officials over which agency is ultimately responsible for mitigating what they say is a lingering rodent infestation in their Clintonville neighborhood.
Town officials had argued clean-up efforts do not fall within their jurisdiction; residents argue otherwise.
The epicenter of the outbreak is a home on Route 9 that gradually filled with trash over the years, county officials confirmed.
Community efforts helped remove over three tons of rubbish from the home last fall. But the disruption of that food source subsequently led to a rat exodus to neighboring properties.
At least a half-dozen residents have found rats in their homes since then, with several gnawing at their concrete foundations and destroying household items.
Following an outcry, the town enlisted three extermination firms to survey the neighborhood last month and offer an analysis.
One firm offered $25,000 for a total clean-up of the residence.
But, added Supervisor Sandy Senecal: All three told me this is not a municipal issue.
Jeff Kelley, a local homeowner, disagrees, and said the towns code enforcement officer failed to sign off on the property following last falls cleanup, an oversight that perpetuated the problem.
The alleged procedural corner-cutting means the town is responsible for any residual rodents, Kelley said.
The code officer signed off on this [garbage removal] without ever coming to the property, Kelley said. I would consider that a municipal issue.
I dont know how this case got closed.
The infestation and trash build-up was so bad, Kelley said, one exterminator recalled he couldnt spend more than five minutes inside the home without a respirator.
Kelley said he reached out to Clinton County Legislator Rob Timmons (Area 7) to intervene.
Senecal maintains the house is rodent-free, citing site visits, and noted residents must do their due diligence to avoid conditions that may lead to a return, including clearing piles of lumber, brush and firewood from their lawns.
Residents said the last rat sighting was about six weeks ago.
Homeowners said the occupant needs help, and fear a repeat.
Senecal argued intervention is a sticky issue, and localities cannot force occupants to vacate their homes even if town authorities opt to condemn the property.
We can condemn it, but unfortunately, that does not mean she has to leave, Senecal said. We cant say how she should lead her life. Right now, were in the process of trying to find some type of funding to help that situation.
Senecal said the Clinton County Department of Social Services cannot share information with the town pertaining to their involvement, citing privacy laws.
Thats the hard problem we have, said Councilman Scott Zmijewski. Theres not a thing we can do about it thats the circle we run into.
So we all have to suffer? asked Tina Kelley.
Unfortunately, sometimes, yes, Zmijewski said.
Councilman Steven Suchorski said he supported using town funds to hire an exterminator.
See what six months does, he said. You can try something or try nothing.
The board ultimately voted 3-0 to allocate $1,888 to assess four structures, and an additional $756 for two checkups, tentatively scheduled for the spring and fall.
Councilmen James King and Darcy Pray were excused.
It will be done tomorrow, Senecal said.
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