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Lancaster officials propose fines in fight against rats

The rat brigade in Lancaster remains in full swing.

Lancaster’s rat problem is leading village officials to propose a new local law calling for fines if there is no compliance after the first written warning to homeowners caught violating the solid waste ordinance.

After that, an escalating fine structure closely mirroring that of Amherst’s model would call for individual fines ranging from $100 to $500 depending on how many offenses have occurred in a 12-month stretch. The more citations, the larger the fine.

In the month since the village hired an additional part-time staffer to work with Code Enforcement Officer Shawn Marshall, 419 warnings have been written.

“You’ll never run out of work,” Village Trustee William C. Schroeder told Marshall on Wednesday. “I have heard a lot of positive feedback. Our presence is having an effect.”

Marshall, whom Mayor Paul M. Maute kiddingly called “Mr. Rat Man,” said the written warnings are making their point with village residents.

“At this point, we’re getting compliance through this method,” Marshall said of the warning policy. But a great concern is garbage can lids that many do not use. “We’re coming up on a big bunch of those,” he said.

The village is on the lookout for homeowners not using tight-fitting garbage container lids, overflowing garbage or for using plastic bags curbside.

Meanwhile, town and village leaders will meet April 1 with waste contractor Waste Management to explore the issue of rat-resistant garbage and recycling totes that many feel helps abate the rat problem.

Neither village nor town officials have made a decision.

If the proposed village code changes become law, village residents would be allowed just one violation in a 12-month stretch, followed by repeated fines for each subsequent violation which would be assessed in its monthly Housing Court.

Village officials talked Wednesday about possible tweaks to the village’s current code that offers a sort of “one size fits all” approach – as Village Attorney Arthur A. Herdzik described it – now calling for a maximum fine of up to $2,000 and/or 15 days in jail at the court’s discretion. Any proposed changes would face a public hearing.

Many have said the current village penalty is too severe. At the same time, there is concern that the town’s refuse district policies, which are different from the village, allows for greater leeway to residents cited for garbage violations. Town residents are allowed two warnings, including one from garbage collectors, over the span of about a month before they could face fines if the problem has not been resolved.

“One may argue the town is way too lenient,” Herdzik said. “It’s a little too liberal.”

Rat complaints have been pervasive this year throughout the town, but particularly in the village and downtown business district. Both town and village officials have assigned enhanced code enforcement patrols to monitor the problem and write citations.