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Rat problem in Lancaster demands magical thinking

Seriously? The $45 cost of a garbage tote is what’s stopping Lancaster from leaving the Middle Ages?

Maybe the pecuniary objectors should ponder what they’ll lose in property value when the town gets labeled the “Rat Capital of Erie County”!

Despite that inevitability, Supervisor Johanna Coleman is taking a measured approach to the problem she inherited, saying village and town officials will discuss how best to deal with the issue – including current garbage contracts – after a resident again brought up the subject of rodents at a Town Board meeting. The village encourages people to buy their own totes and is preparing fliers urging them to at least keep cans covered until officials figure out a next step, said Mayor Paul Maute.

Yet with Buffalo, the Town of Tonawanda, Amherst, Cheektowaga, Depew, Lackawanna and West Seneca all using totes, the dawdling is like hanging out a curbside “all you can eat” sign. That’s even though Peter Tripi, Erie County’s senior public health sanitarian, said that “the main food source for rats is garbage.” He said complaints about rats to the county from the other municipalities dropped by 57 to 73 percent in the first two years after they switched to totes, and declined by an additional 18 to 30 percent the third year.

Still, many Lancaster penny pinchers may not give a rat’s a-- for such evidence. So for the slovenly and the cheap, we’ve helpfully come up with other revenue sources to cover the cost:

• Emulate the popular “living history” re-enactments in which actors portray historical figures for visitors who buy tickets. Lancaster officials could dress as the Pied Piper and lead tourists to rodent hot spots such as the Central Avenue business district.

This modern-day version of the 13th-century ratcatcher could don the multicolored coat and wind instrument used to lure rats out of town, taking tourists past overstuffed garbage cans, backyards filled with overflowing bird feeders, and dog waste littering the lawn or tossed under bushes. Maps could be sold for self-guided tours.

• Open a Bubonic Plague Museum with exhibits on the millions of people who died when the disease, long thought to be spread by rats, hit Europe in the 14th century. Displays could explain how fleas from infected rats bit into humans.

Sure, some scientists now think that gerbils, not rats, spread the plague. But for a public gullible enough to think that Social Security is not socialist and poker is really a sport, Lancaster has plenty of time to capitalize. In fact, though there is no evidence of the disease itself, a study last year found that New York City rats carry fleas capable of transmitting the plague. Lancaster could put together displays documenting that its rats have just as much potential as New York’s. Visitors would be fascinated.

• A Jimmy Cagney wing of the museum could show the 1932 film “Taxi!” on endless loop, with the legend pulling a gun and supposedly immortalizing the line “You dirty rat!” The actual phrase was “You dirty yellow-bellied rat,” but the sentiment is the same. The rest of the museum could explain how “rat” has become such an epithet.

Of course, Lancaster’s head-in-the-cheese approach also has an upside for politicians in contiguous municipalities.

Borrowing a popular campaign slogan, they can run for office vowing protection from rodents emigrating from the village and the town:

“We’ll build a rat wall – and make Lancaster pay for it!”