New York City is stepping up its fight against rats, targeting "reservoirs" such as subway tunnels and public parks where the rodents rebound from extermination attempts, health department officials announced Tuesday.
Mayor Bill de Blasio's executive budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, includes $611,000 in new funding for "rat indexing" to track and reduce the city's rat population, officials said.
"Rats burrow and live in colonies," health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett told City Council members in testimony on her agency's finances. "I'll sometimes imagine when I walk through a park, if I could have sort of a 'rat vision,' there are all these tunnels under there that are occupied by rats. And from there the rats fan out."
Health department workers will close up burrows, denying the rats access to food, in addition to educating community members and property owners, said Dan Kass, a deputy health commissioner.
Councilman Mark Levine (D-Manhattan) said the rat problem is an "epidemic" in his Manhattan Valley district.
"This is about more than just aesthetics," Levine said. "We have rats who are going into cars and eating out electrical cables. We have rats that are entering homes. They carry disease."
Bassett, appointed by de Blasio, also announced a new Center for Health Equity as part of the mayor's effort to close the gap between the wealthy and low-income parts of the city.
The center, funded with $3.2 million in de Blasio's executive budget, will improve access to health care in communities with higher incidences of poor health and early death, officials said. It also will include a pilot program using community health workers to encourage enrollment in health insurance programs and teach residents to manage conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma.
Also Tuesday, officials said the health department -- which conducts restaurant inspections, checking for compliance in food handling, vermin control and other areas -- expects to collect $15 million less in fines in the next fiscal year. The decrease in fines is due in large part to continued improvement by restaurants, and 88 percent of city restaurants currently post an A grade, officials said.