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Collins failing to halt the spread of West Nile virus, Poloncarz says

First it was rats and programs to control them that dominated the county executive contest between Republican incumbent Chris Collins and Democratic challenger Mark C. Poloncarz.

Now, mosquitoes are the latest vermin to enter the fray after Poloncarz on Tuesday accused Collins of failing to proactively reduce the risk of mosquito-borne diseases following the discovery of West Nile virus in Amherst.

"New York State needs a partner in Erie County government to prevent the spread of West Nile virus," Poloncarz said Tuesday. "Chris Collins is only concerned with doing the minimum of what the county is legally obligated to do, but it's not enough. The taxpayers of Erie County deserve more."

The latest mini-flap in a so-far sleepy matchup between Collins and Poloncarz revolves around reports that the county Health Department caught mosquitoes in Amherst traps that tested positive for West Nile virus -- a malady that can produce high fever, headache, muscle aches, stiff neck, vomiting, seizures and tremors.

The Poloncarz campaign Tuesday contended that Collins has downgraded county efforts to control rats, mosquitoes and other pests by effectively eliminating a partnership that included Erie County, the state Department of Health and various town governments. The partnership was established in 2000 after the virus was discovered in 25 local birds.

This year, Collins put an end to the county's role in rat baiting and trapping, later setting aside $70,000 for locally based rat-control efforts.

"Erie County continues to provide what the state mandates for vector and pest control," Collins spokesman Grant Loomis said earlier this month, noting the Health Department still takes rat complaints, sends employees to properties when appropriate and suggests ways to eliminate food sources.

However, the county hasn't spent any of its rat funds, and suburban rodent-control efforts vary.

"These are serious public health risks, especially for young children and the elderly, that Collins is simply ignoring," Poloncarz said. "His priorities are not those of the community. I will ensure that the public's health is a top priority."

Collins spokesman Stefan Mychajliw shot back by labeling Poloncarz a "Chicken Little" who is trying to scare Erie County residents with "blatant lies."

"The facts are simple. There has not been a local human case of West Nile virus in many years," Mychajliw said. "Even when the larvicide program was in effect, local mosquito pools still tested positive for West Nile virus. Erie County has focused its efforts on prevention practices, which have proven far more successful."

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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