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Hamburg and Lancaster look to garbage totes in battle against rats

When garbage totes move in, rats move out.

Buffalo and a dozen surrounding municipalities saw a drop in rodents after putting out totes, and now some second-ring suburbs that are getting more complaints about rodents are moving toward totes.

Hamburg, the village that battled residents over using clear plastic garbage bags, is poised to move to totes by this summer to combat rats.

“It’s a big change. There’s going to be bumps in the road for sure,” said Donald Witkowski, Hamburg’s village administrator.

But the road probably won’t be as bumpy as when the Village of Hamburg switched to clear plastic garbage bags to encourage recycling.

That requirement, instituted June 1, 1999, and its vigorous enforcement, sparked grumbling, dissension, court appearances and challenges that reached the state’s highest court.

Hamburg is not alone in its desire to quash the rodent population, as Lancaster village and town officials are grappling with rat problems, and a rat infestation closed a Dunkin’ Donuts restaurant in Williamsville for at least a week.

In Lancaster, town leaders also are talking about committing to totes, but no decisions have been made. The town, which handles solid waste for the village, discussed totes years ago but dismissed it because of the cost.

Village of Lancaster officials are launching an education campaign in the community to attack the growing rat problem, and say that getting garbage totes would not be a magic bullet to abate the pesky rodents.

The Lancaster Village Board Monday night talked about different options, but said it ultimately boils down to educating the public, including getting people to clean up after their pets daily along with any fallen bird seed.

“I think education to constituents is a huge portion of this, beyond totes,” Deputy Mayor Kenneth O’Brien III said. “It all starts where we live.”

Trustee William Schroeder said government can’t be the watchdog for making sure all garbage cans have tight-fitting lids. “We will do whatever it takes to get some control over it,” he said. “I’ve seen rats in Lancaster. I don’t think they’re overtaking the village, but I don’t think it would take long.”

The Village of Depew recently lent about 30 extra totes it had to the Village of Lancaster. The Village of Lancaster distributed about 15 of the totes to property owners in the business district on Central Avenue and West Main Street, said William G. Cansdale, superintendent of public works.

And in the next two weeks, the village is mailing formal fliers to every resident to tell them how to combat rats.

Village and town leaders also plan to meet soon with Waste Management officials to learn more about tote options and the one-time cost that would need to be assessed to residents if that is a route the town decides to go. But the town’s garbage contract, which includes the village, runs through 2019.

“The Village and Town are not sitting back idly,” Schroeder said. “It’s not something that happens overnight.”

Statistics from Erie County show complaints about rats decline after municipalities start using the rat-resistant totes. The complaints went down 50 percent from 2006 to 2009, when many municipalities went to totes, said Peter Tripi, a county public health sanitarian.

On a different note, this year’s mild winter apparently has been kind to rodents.

Tripi said that from Jan. 1 to Feb. 24 last year, the county received 162 complaints about rats. There were 444 complaints this year over the same period.

The garbage issue in Hamburg had been quiet for about eight years, until the rats moved in. The village tried to attack the problem with education in 2014, delivering pamphlets to property owners, explaining how to make life difficult for rats by keeping lids on garbage cans, picking up dog feces and removing bird feeders.

Erie County also laid down poison bait, and the problem subsided.

But the rodents made a resurgence last summer, and the village again asked residents to place their garbage bags in cans.

Some residents, used to placing clear plastic bags by the curb for years, still don’t use cans.

The rats expanded into the neighborhoods, and they are expected to return with the warmer weather.

“We expect it to flare up again this summer unless we get the totes in place,” Witkowski said.

Hamburg village will conduct a public hearing March 7 on a proposal to place a one-time charge for garbage and recycling totes onto the tax bills.

It would probably be a unit charge, based on the number of living units on a property, Witkowski said.

“We haven’t really gone to bid yet on the totes, so we don’t know what the actual cost will be,” he said.

The village plans to distribute the totes in June.

“We were able to retrofit the trucks, so they’re ready to go,” he said.

It hopes to put the charge on this year’s tax bills, but may have to wait until next year’s bills.