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Proposed Budget Cuts Target Department that Attacks Rat Problem

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – Erie County residents may soon have to call in a pied piper to get rid of the county's growing rat problem. The County Executive's threatened non-mandated, budget cuts include the county's Vector Control Department.

On any given day in Erie County, you'll find Vector Control Supervisor Peter Tripi and his team of investigators combing backyards and alleyways. They're hunting and killing rats -- lots of them. There have been nearly four thousand rat complaints so far this year -- a 70 percent increase.

Fighting mosquitoes is also their job. And the public threats that come with all these pests -- West Nile, rabies and the emerging pet killer, Leptospiroris. Tripi says that's a lot of protection to cut with one budget line.

"They're proposing eliminating Vector Control as we know it, which would involve eliminating mosquito control that the county does, our mosquito surveillance program for West Nile Virus and all the other emerging diseases, and basically, completely eliminating the rodent control program that we run, and leaving us with only a handful of people to do the work and no one to supervise them," said Tripi.

Tripi says it's a particularly risky time to cut the vital, yet surprisingly, non-mandated services. Vector diseases are on the rise, including rodent spread Leptospiroris. At least 65 dogs have died from it this year. Vector Control is trying to curb the disease, before it begins infecting humans. Recently, the department has also been quietly helping with surveillance against a potentially bigger threat to humans -- bio-terrorism.

"Our program would be asked to go into other areas and the people would be eliminated and I wouldn't have the capacity to do it," said Tripi. "The bio-terrorism program would still exist, but there would really be limited staff in the county health department to help respond to some of these events."

There are eleven full-time employees in the health department run vector control program. The County Executive says he needs an extra one percent on the sales tax to avoid cuts in services such as these from the budget in 2005.

County lawmakers begin deliberating the budget this Friday.