A village-wide rat control program for the village of North Riverside hit a roadblock after two trustees voted against it on Feb. 7 – one without comment and one briefly criticizing the program’s fee structure.

Because two elected officials, Mayor Joseph Mengoni and Trustee Fernando Flores, were absent from the meeting, the motion to pass the rat control ordinance failed despite trustees Jason Bianco, Deborah Czjaka and Terri Sarro voting in favor.

The North Riverside code requires any ordinance or resolution to be passed by a majority of the elected members of the village board, meaning passage required four votes.

“I never would have put an issue that was remotely controversial on an agenda of a meeting where all of the trustees were not there,” said Village Administrator Sue Scarpiniti, who said neither of the two “no” votes — Trustee Marybelle Mandel nor Trustee H. Bob Demopoulos – asked any questions or expressed any concerns about the ordinance prior to the Feb. 7 vote.

“It was a complete surprise,” Scarpiniti said.

During the two occasions at the village meeting last week where either could have engaged in further debate or asked questions, both were silent. Upon casting an initial vote against the ordinance, Demopoulos said he was voting no because “I have a problem with the fees.” He did not elaborate.

Mandel voted against the ordinance without comment, but in an email responding to an inquiry from the Landmark said that she felt “the fees are too much.”

“Yes we are for control but this is for the homeowners and property owners and business owners to take care of,” Mandel wrote in her email. “They should be required to do this — on their own. Then bring in or mail in the property certificate from a licensed and bonded company and AVOID fees. Just the cost of the treating.

“Just do the work for the yearly or bi-yearly abatement. Get the place treated and that is it.”

Demopoulos did not respond to an email from the Landmark asking him specify his opposition to the ordinance or whether he had an alternate fee structure in mind.

The village board is scheduled to meet again Feb. 21, but Scarpiniti said not all trustees will be present at that meeting either. She said she plans to place the ordinance on the March 7 agenda for another vote.

The rat control ordinance has been on the drawing board for months and had received unanimous support when it was last discussed in October.

At the end of the village board’s Development Committee where the matter was discussed on Oct. 25, trustees present voted to direct staff to establish an extermination company registry and create guidelines for abating rats at commercial and multifamily properties.

The ordinance up for a vote Feb. 7, while it maintained the same goals, it used a different approach. Because North Riverside is a non-home rule municipality, it did not have the authority to license extermination companies, which are licensed by the state.

Since the village was unable to charge exterminators a registry fee to reimburse the village for its costs to run the rat control program, officials decided to create an inspection program requiring rental property and commercial property owners to hire a state-licensed exterminator to conduct inspections and then submit the inspection and service-call logs to the village.

Depending on the type of property – ranging from single-family residential properties to large commercial properties – owners would be charged an annual fee on a sliding scale between $100 and $500.

North Riverside Park Mall would be the only property in the village charged the top rate. Strictly residential properties of five or fewer units would pay no more than $150 a year while restaurants, schools, recreation facilities and larger multifamily buildings would pay $250.

The village, depending on the intensity of the use and its likelihood for attracting rodents would need to submit reports annually, quarterly, biannually or monthly, said Scarpiniti.

North Riverside employs a company called First Illinois Systems at $4,410 per quarter to conduct inspections and track infestations. The rat control ordinance defeated Feb. 7 also would allow the village to levy fines of between $50 and $500 to any property owner where violations of the law occurred.

A companion law threatening fines for anyone in North Riverside feeding wildlife was passed unanimously by trustees last November.

When the subject was discussed by the Development Committee back in October Scarpiniti told trustees that the village had spent about $20,000 in the past year and a half on rat mitigation.

The fees charged to property owners were to recoup the costs of administering the abatement program.

“I didn’t feel the fees were unreasonable,” Scarpiniti told the Landmark.