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Code enforcement gets a boost in approved St. Helens budget

City Council approves budget that creates full-time code enforcement officer position

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - St. Helens Police Department Code Enforcement Officer Scott Williams sits in his work vehicle outside the police department's administrative office. The approved 2017-17 city budget increases funding for the police department to hire a full-time code enforcement officer, an increase from the one day a week position, the department currently uses.The St. Helens City Council unanimously approved the proposed 2016-17 city budget Wednesday, June 15. Notable in the budget are allocations to increase staffing levels in most of the city’s departments, such as police, public works, the library and municipal court.

The budget establishes funding for one full-time code enforcement officer, increasing the job from one day per week in the winter and two days per week in the summer to five days per week, year-round.

“It’s big for the community and it’s big for the police officers because we get a lot of complaints related to code enforcement, the grass being too tall, the abandoned vehicles, and the list goes on and on,” said St. Helens Police Chief Terry Moss.

Moss added that officers often don’t have time to respond to those complaints.

“Having someone to take that off the plates of police officers is a big deal,” he said.

During a work session Wednesday, Moss said current code enforcement officer Scott Williams would not be interested in the full-time position and would likely return to his former job in the city’s Public Works Department. He said he expects to begin recruiting for a new code enforcement officer soon.

During its final hearing Wednesday, May 18, the budget committee discussed the change and debated whether or not to break a single full-time position into two part-time positions.

“Code enforcement is one of the most essentially important positions in the city,” said Doug Morten, the St. Helens City Council president, at the May meeting. “Why has code enforcement taken such a backseat?”

While Finance Director Jon Ellis warned that longterm sustainability of such a budget isn’t possible unless the city finds a way to bring in more revenue, members of the Budget Committee, like Patrick Birkle, insisted that adding a full-time code enforcement officer was critical.

Birkle explained that the Budget Committee as a whole should use the next year to figure out how to maximize revenue sources so that long-term budget projections look more promising. City Council members echoed the same sentiments during the budget adoption Wednesday night.

The budget as a whole accounts for 70.4 full-time employees, which brings staffing levels to a rate similar to what existed in 2013-14. Full-time employment positions have slowly increased over the past three budget cycles in St. Helens.

The budget also allocates $40,000 in one-time funds to the St. Helens Police Department to purchase a police vehicle.

Other highlights of the budget include the approval of hiring two part-time seasonal employees to maintain the former Boise White Paper and Boise Veneer properties; increasing the St. Helens Public Library budget by 0.2 FTE for an assistant librarian, which will help restore hours at the library; adding a part-time city building code inspector position; and making a 0.2 FTE, or one day a week, addition to the municipal court.