By DANIEL KITTREDGE The City Council's Ordinance Committee on Monday delayed action on a proposed ordinance amendment related to rodent issues in the city, while the administration said efforts are being made to decrease the wait time for residents who
The City Council’s Ordinance Committee on Monday delayed action on a proposed ordinance amendment related to rodent issues in the city, while the administration said efforts are being made to decrease the wait time for residents who seek placement of rat traps at their property.
The ordinance amendment, cosponsored by Citywide Councilwoman Nicole Renzulli and Ward 3 Councilman John Donegan, would add new language to the existing rodent control regulations regarding the tracking and investigation of complaints.
Donegan called it a “small change just to kind of formalize the complaint process.” Renzulli said a more structure record-keeping process might allow the city “to solve problems before they’re too big.”
Department of Public Works Director Ken Mason, however, pushed back against the proposal as constituted. The city already maintains a “very detailed record” of rodent issues, he said.
He also read a handful of complaints his department has received over the last several weeks. On Brimfield Road, a man complained a neighbor was feeding pigeons and birds. On Milford Street, a resident raised alarms over a neighbor feeding peanuts to rats. Another concerned chickens being fed in a backyard.
“Are those requested to be investigated and resolved somehow?” he said. “I don’t have staffing for any of this, by the way.”
Mason instead asked officials to conduct a broader review of the existing rodent control ordinance, using blunt terms to describe the current guidelines.
“That whole rodent control chapter, to be honest, I think is a dumpster fire of confusing verbiage, unassigned responsibilities, weak enforcement rules,” he said.
Concerns over in neighborhoods go back decades, but the issue has garnered new attention of late following an issue at a property on Caporal Street in the Stadium area. In that case, which was the subject of a WJAR news report, a resident was found to be feeding animals including cats and pigeons outside her home, creating a situation ripe for rat infestation.
The city has since taken the resident to Municipal Court in an effort to address that situation, which Anthony Moretti, chief of staff for Mayor Ken Hopkins, previously called a “pretty deplorable localized condition.”
On Monday, Mason and Moretti said Griggs & Browne has been contracted at a cost of roughly $2,600 to conduct rat control work at the property in question and four neighboring homes.
“It’s going to take months to address that particular area,” Moretti said.
Administration officials said the new attention to the rat issue has spurred an increase in complaints. That, in turn, has led to longer wait times for residents who seek a visit from the city’s rodent control official and placement of bait boxes.
Mason on Monday said someone calling that day would receive a visit during the second week of September – a wait of six to seven weeks. Typically, he said, that wait time is a week to 10 days at maximum.
Mason also said that “99 percent of the time,” if the rodent control official identifies a potential source of a rat issue, residents are compliant and address the matter. If residents are not compliant, he said, the issue is forwarded to building inspections, which has enforcement authority.
“We haven’t had much history of doing that, to be honest,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve really had a call for doing that, until recently.”
Moretti on Monday told council members that the administration is working to have two additional city workers licensed for rodent control duties on a part-time basis to help ease the current backlog. That process requires the workers passing a test administered through the state Department of Environmental Management.
Ultimately, the Ordinance Committee voted to continue the proposal from Renzulli and Donegan until September’s meeting to provide additional time for discussion among council members and the administration.
Council President Chris Paplauskas said he had intended to support the ordinance amendment, but after hearing from the administration, “maybe we should continue this, look at the code as a whole, and then go from there.”
Renzulli added: “I agree. If we’re going to do this, I want to do it right, and do it once.”
Donegan, whose ward includes the Stadium area, was complimentary of the administration’s approach to the latest rat episode.
“I know they’ve been taking it very seriously, and they have for a while,” he said.
Ward 1 Councilwoman Lammis Vargas also noted that in 2019, the council created a task force to address nuisances. She said she plans to request the status of that task force be added to an upcoming meeting agenda.