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Residents plea for code enforcement position

To prop up ailing police budget, St. Helens planners consider code enforcement cut


Faced with a tight budget and an understaffed police department, the city of St. Helens has considered eliminating the code enforcement officer position, allowing for more money to hire additional patrol officers.

But community members say the decision could cause more harm than good.

Roger Kadell, a deputy with the Sheriff's Office and the county's animal control officer, spoke at a budget committee meeting May 16 as both a citizen and an officer. He said code enforcement is a complex speciality field and not something other officers are necessarily trained for.

"Police officers, I hear them all the time, 'Well, the dog comes at me, I'll shoot it,' and that's their response" he said. "When police officers get assigned to these tasks, it's a lower grade task, they don't feel it's important, they don't take it as seriously."

He believes St. Helens has good officers who bring in dogs whenever possible, "but they pick them up, bring them in, drop them off at the shelter. [Laura Snyder] is the one we call the next day… we need that connection, we need that resource for dogs to go home."

"I don't want to see the killing of dogs go up in this county because there's nobody there to say, 'Hey, can you find out who owns this dog and make them come pick up the dog,'" he said.

St. Helens resident Diane Dillard said whenever she has had animal issues or concerns, Code Enforcement Officer Laura Snyder has been able to deal with the situation in a timely manner.

"To me that all contributes to quality of life in this city," Dillard said. "I think it's a service we need."

But, she said, she realizes the city is in a corner, juggling a tight budget and the police department's need for more officers.

A St. Helens police officer spoke up later during the public comment period.

"On the weekends we do take the dog calls in just the same way, and just as compassionate about any animal as anyone else," he said, adding that mediating problems is just as much a part of his job as Snyder's.

"I have other tools other than my gun to take care of an animal," he said.

Finance Director Jon Ellis said Snyder's duties would be split across several different departments. There is already some crossover, he said, not just in the police department but also in the building and planning departments.

Snyder also spoke to the budget committee, asking it to reconsider eliminating her position.

"I think the number one reason for that is livability in the city of St. Helens will decrease. Calls will not be answered," she said, citing the numerous calls she responds to, from aggressive dogs to abandoned vehicles and rabid raccoons.

"These calls are not going to go away and they're not going to be answered and the citizens of St. Helens expect a certain level of service that the city has provided by maintaining this position for 35 years," she said.

City resident Nancy Whitney also spoke in praise of Snyder's work, citing more than 30 years in St. Helens and multiple interactions with Snyder.

"She has established an incredible connection with our community," she said. "Actually, you know, she is probably the very best outreach person you have. When you have some problem that you do not call 911 for, you call Officer Snyder."