If voters in Erie County smell a rat this fall, it’s not surprising.
After all, the two candidates for the office of Erie County executive are talking about rodents on the campaign trail.
The issue is raising new interest, especially since the county recently stepped back from its rodent-control initiatives in an effort to get local towns and villages to trap and eliminate the hairy, sneaky pests.
The election will be decided Tuesday.
Read on for the views of Republican incumbent Chris Collins and Democratic challenger Mark C. Poloncarz on the subject.
Collins doesn’t want the county in the rat business.
He kicked up controversy earlier this year when he ended the county’s program in which trained Health Department employees laid poisons and traps to address rats in problem areas.
It’s part of his view that the county should review any non-mandated programs to determine if they should be continued.
“I’m comfortable with that decision,” Collins said of ending the rat program.
“As I’ve stated, [I want a] smaller limited government doing what we’re mandated to do, and should do. Then others have their own responsibilities, and we can’t be responsible for all things for all people.”
Pressed by county legislators, Collins agreed earlier this year to set aside $70,000 to help towns and villages pay for permits and training to start their own rat programs.
Three communities—the Village of Kenmore, the City of Tonawanda and the Town of Hamburg — so far have been approved for a portion of that money.
With mandated costs such as Medicaid increasing, Collins said, the coun-
ty must take a serious look at programs it isn’t required to provide.
“I feel that the county has certain roles to play, and the cities, towns and villages have certain roles to play,” Collins said.
“Prior administrations have had an attitude of the county will do anything for anyone regardless of the cost, and we got in some serious problems by virtue of the county taking over the unarraigned prisoners at the Holding Center, and the county got into some serious issues relative to running the city parks.”
Mark C. Poloncarz
Poloncarz, who currently serves as county comptroller, has exactly the opposite point of view on the issue of rats.
He thinks rodent control is the job of the county—not that of towns and villages.
Moreover, Poloncarz said, he thinks rodent-control programs are one of the basic services that residents expect and want their government to provide.
“I thought it was wrong of my opponent to do that,” he said of Collins’ cutbacks to rat programs. “If we’re not going to do it, who will?”
Poloncarz said that Erie County, unlike towns and villages, has a dedicated public health department, which is the natural place for rat-control efforts.
“All he’s doing is shifting costs, from Erie County to the towns,” said Poloncarz, who lives in North Buffalo. “To be eliminating those programs from the county is basically saying, ‘We don’t care about these issues.’ ”
“Well, maybe [Collins] doesn’t have rats running around Spaulding Lake. But I’ve heard lots of other residents talking about rats . . . all along the campaign trail.”
Poloncarz said that one Amherst resident told him he had found a sizable rat floating in his swimming pool this summer.
If he is elected county executive, Poloncarz said, his plan would be to reinstate the county’s two full-time rodent-control employees, basing them in the Health Department. He said he would cut some positions that had been added by Collins during his tenure in order to make funds available for the salaries of the rat catchers.
“There is sufficient funding in the budget,” he said. “It’s a question of priorities.”