By JOHN T. WARD
Worthley Street residents Jeff and Allison Welker, joined by a handful of neighbors, told the borough council that they cannot allow their children or pets into their backyard because of a recurring “fireworks display” of the rodents.
Jeff Welker shows video of the infestation to Mayor Pasquale Menna and Chief Darren McConnell. Below, the McLaren Street property that neighbors say is a source of the infestation. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
On Monday, a half-dozen or so public works and code enforcement officials stood in disbelief watching what Jeff Welker described as a “fireworks display of dozens of rats, of all shapes and sizes, dancing around the property, going under my fence, climbing up the trees and shrubs, all in broad daylight.
“My children’s bedroom windows are less than 10 feet away from this,” he told the council in open session.
The Welkers said the rats are being fed peanuts and other food by an elderly neighbor on McLaren Street, William Tomaino, whose property abuts theirs. redbankgreen got no response knocking on Tomaino’s door Thursday morning.
In addition, the Welkers said, rats and raccoons have been seen coming out of a hole in the foundation of a vacant home at 31 Worthley.
Rats first appeared about two years ago, the Welkers said, but the problem seemed to have been addressed when the borough pressed Tomaino to clean debris from his yard.
In recent weeks, however, the rats have returned with a vengeance, forcing the Welkers to keep their children indoors and not to allow their pets in the yard, they said. At a cost of $200, they had an exterminator place bait boxes in the yard.
On Saturday, Allison Welker recorded “a disgusting and haunting video that has been circulating around the community,” Jeff said. It showed “at least a dozen rats, probably closer to 20, in broad daylight, frolicking, fighting and mating, feet away from my property,” he said.
Police were called, and Tomaino acknowledged feeding the rats, Welker said, but the officers determined that no crimes had been committed and a social services and health situation existed instead.
Other neighbors, some of whom were present Wednesday night, have also seen rats in their yards as far away as John Street.
Seven of them gathered in a closed room with borough officials to discuss the matter after the council concluded the public portion of its semimonthly meeting.
Business Administrator Ziad Shehady told the group that the town has obtained verbal consent from Tomaino to allow a borough-contracted exterminator onto his property Thursday. His written consent is still needed, and in the absence of that, a court order will have to be obtained to allow the action to proceed, Shehady said. A court summons was issued to Tomaino Wednesday, Shehady said.
Borough Attorney Greg Cannon told the gathering that the source of the problem would be addressed immediately.
“We’re going to kill all the rats,” he said. “There are no animal protections for rats. They carry disease. We are going to kill all the rats… and that’s going to happen tomorrow.”
While other property maintenance issues may be contested by the homeowner, “getting rid of the rats is a public health and safety emergency,” Cannon told the gathering.
In addition, Shehady said a six-page alert would be distributed Thursday to residents in the area advising them of the “best practices” for combatting the infestation, which could require them to individually hire exterminators.
“It’s going to be a community effort,” Shehady said. “Everybody has to make sure they clean up, and address feeding sources, burrowing sources.” A borough employee who lives nearby removed bamboo from his yard and discovered it was concealing rat burrows, Shehady said.
“We’re going to do our part addressing [the source] property,” Shehady said.
Also, the company responsible for maintaining the nearby vacant house, which is registered under the town’s abandoned property ordinance, has agreed to send crews to address both infestation and security concerns, Shehady said.
“They’re being cooperative,” Shehady said, but if they fail to act, the borough can impose “substantial fines” or even demolish the site, said Mayor Pasquale Menna.
The Monmouth County Regional Health Commission has assigned an environmental health specialist to the case, Welker said.
In addition, social services agencies have been alerted to check in on Tomaino, Shehady said.
After the meeting, the Welkers and other area residents told redbankgreen they were pleased with the response by Monmouth County and Red Bank agencies so far. But one said he was concerned that if the neighbor declined to allow exterminators onto his property, “this is where the red tape could begin.”
redbankgreen saw four rats in Tomaino’s yard at around 8:30 a.m. Thursday, and watched another dash across McLaren Street. A rat burrow hole was visible just inches from Tomaino’s front door.
The Welkers told redbankgreen that they would not share the rat video out of concern that it would adversely affect home values in the neighborhood.