Increased effort to rid neighborhoods of rats Baltimore to begin environmental court

August 06, 1998|By Paula Lavigne | Paula Lavigne,SUN STAFF

No matter how hard Verda L. Heck sweeps around her Pigtown rowhouse, she says, the rats keep coming.

They cross her property to reach the garbage strewn about the sidewalks and alleys of the 1100 block of Scott St., where residents say a handful of neighbors refuse to clean.

Residents and community leaders tired of the rats in Pigtown/Washington Village and other neighborhoods say they keep their yards tidy but want the city to crack down on negligent property owners who don't, and provide backup to their brooms and trash bags.

The city's response: It has transferred control of the city's Rat Rubout Program and plans to expand it, and intends to launch an environmental court within 30 to 60 days that targets property owners who don't clean up.

George C. Balog, director of the city's Department of Public Works, said the innovations should help reduce the rats and the rubbish that draws them.

City officials will likely get their first community response to the changes at the Pigtown community meeting at 6: 30 p.m. Tuesday at Dorguth Memorial United Methodist Church, 527 Scott St. Organized by Tri-Churches Housing, a nonprofit community group, the meeting will bring residents, Rat Rubout Program Director Stephanie A. Brooks and other city officials together to discuss rodent removal options.

On July 27, the Rat Rubout Program was transferred from the Department of Housing and Community Development to the Department of Public Works. Under his department, Balog said, Rubout teams will work with sanitation workers so neighborhoods are cleaned -- and the rats' food source removed -- before exterminators bait for rats. Balog said the Rat Rubout work force will double from 14 to 28 workers.

Brooks said the changes would make exterminations more effective.

'A people problem'

"The rat problem is a people problem, and that is a trash problem," she said.

Kelley W. Collings, Tri-Churches organizer, said some residents are committed to cleaning. So far, 600 of the area's 7,000 residents have signed up to participate in 12 weekend trash collections from March through September.

"Washington Village/Pigtown is one of the more stable neighborhoods, but it's a neighborhood that could go either way," she said. "We have to make sure people take ownership of preserving the neighborhood."

That means all the people. Kevin R. Randolph said most of the houses on the 700 block of W. Cross St. where he lives are clean, but the people who set trash on the curb in plastic bags overnight or leave piles of tires in their front yards can cause a problem for everyone.

"We want the city to crack down on people not taking care of the trash," he said.

Balog agrees, and said the city's new environmental court should speed the prosecution of negligent property owners.

A 12-member board of representatives from the departments of public works, health and housing; water, solid waste and real estate industries; the police and fire departments; and residents will appoint hearing officers who will act as judges. The court is financed by $1 million from the city's Department of Housing and Community Development, he said.

Balog said 25 sanitation enforcement officers will patrol neighborhoods -- and respond to complaints -- and issue fines from $25 to $250 to people with unkempt properties. He said a certified letter would be sent to owners of vacant houses. The officer will take a picture of the debris, and the photograph will be presented to the hearing officer if the property owner decides to appear in court instead of paying the fine.

The process will be similar to issuing parking tickets, he said, and the judges "will not be lenient."

Charles L. Smith, director of field operations for the Midtown Community Benefits District -- where residents pay a property tax surcharge for extra sanitation services -- said the current citation process "doesn't function" and residents are left to clean their negligent neighbors' yards. He called for stiffer fines.

Reporting problems

"When everyone thinks it's up to the community to take care of the problem, it wears out quickly," he said. "No one wants to spend their whole summer cleaning trash."

Residents can report rat problems to 410-396-6523 or 410-396-6524, and littered yards to 410-396-5819.

Pub Date: 8/06/98

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