While city officials say Clintonville residents are contributing to the major rat problem in the North Side neighborhood by leaving out tempting food, homeowners there blame the city for letting the rodents run wild and are pushing for a bigger rat-control budget.
The debate follows the news that Columbus health inspectors found evidence of rats at one-third of the properties they surveyed in the Clintonville area.
That's far above the 2 percent rate at which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends taking steps to control rats.
It's been years since the city has had an active rat-control program.
Residents who are inadvertently attracting rats to their properties -- by keeping pet food outside, having uncovered compost piles or spreading bird seed in their yards -- are being told to clean up or face being hauled into environmental court.
That doesn't sit well with some in Clintonville.
"Why are you so quick to blame the residents?" asked Indianola Avenue resident Michael Butcher, who has seen a rat on his property even though he doesn't have a compost pile or garden. "The city should be taking responsibility."
The city said its survey found those types of problems at 69 percent of the properties where rat activity was suspected.
Health inspectors began randomly surveying properties in October. In all, they looked at 885 properties across 50 blocks, some of them in the northern area of the University District.
The six-week inspection revealed rat burrows, droppings, hair, tracks and defined paths at 34 percent of those properties, said Jose Rodriguez, spokesman for Columbus Public Health.
The findings confirm what Clintonville residents had been telling the city since summer.
"I would not say we were surprised," Rodriguez said. "We heard from the residents that they were seeing rat activity. We heard that loud and clear."
The city will continue sending educational materials to residents to help rid them of the rats.
"We know that three things -- food, shelter and water -- keep them coming back," Rodriguez said.
Inspectors will return to the properties where they found signs of rats. If they continue to find evidence, they'll give residents 21 days to address the problems. After that, they could be referred to Franklin County Environmental Court.
Rodriguez said the city will work with residents.
"It's not about enforcement, it's about education," he said.
He added residents with questions should call the city's 311 line.
Mayor Michael B. Coleman's proposed 2014 budget includes $150,000 for a new rodent-control program, including two workers who will assess neighborhood problems. Inspectors already are surveying the Harrison West neighborhood northwest of downtown Columbus. After that, they will target the Linden area, Rodriguez said.
Clintonville Area Commission Chairman Daniel B. Miller said the city will need more money to keep rats under control.
"This is just the beginning," he said.
The city spent $275,000 annually during a two-year pilot program that targeted downtown, the Short North and the University District. The program ended in 2008.
Coleman's spokesman, Dan Williamson, said the mayor will listen to health officials.
"If we need to do more, then the mayor is going to want to do more," he said.