NEW YORK — New York is losing the rat race.
Citizen complaints about pests to the 311 hotline plus online reports went from 22,300 in fiscal year 2012 to 24,586 the next year, city Comptroller Scott Stringer said Sunday.
"Rats are a daily, stomach-turning insult to New Yorkers — whether they're scurrying over people's feet on the sidewalks, invading homes where children sleep or swarming through restaurants," Stringer said.
Stringer said an audit conducted by his office found that the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene isn't managing its pest control program effectively. The audit said health inspectors didn't always follow on their own protocols, and in 160 cases, no field inspection was conducted.
"Without a vigilant and timely response by the city to citizen complaints, this problem will come back to bite us again and again," he said.
A health department spokesman told New York's Daily News that the agency "strongly disagrees" with the audit, and is taking a proactive response to exterminating pests in the city. Phone and email messages from The Associated Press requesting comment were not immediately returned on Sunday.
Auditors found that in 24 percent of the cases examined, the agency did not check out complaints within its own 10-day target, Stringer said. In addition, action was stopped prematurely on some citizen complaints before the required number of inspection attempts, according to the audit. And in fiscal year 2013, there was no indication that assessments were conducted in 44 percent of 386 instances where inspectors requested cleanup services.
The comptroller also reported that the department failed to notify some property owners about city orders to eliminate rodent conditions, increasing the risk that rat infestations could spread through a neighborhood.
The comptroller's office recommends that the health department identify complaints that have been pending a long time, ensure complaints are not closed after only one failed attempt to gain access to a site, and make sure problems in the field have been dealt with efficiently and completely.