Central Maine communities consider different options for sharing code enforcement tasks

BELGRADE — When Anthony Wilson needed to hire a code enforcement officer, Belgrade’s city manager ran into the same hurdle that employers across the state encounter every day.

The supply of qualified candidates does not always meet the demand, and in the local government sector the situation is generally worse.

“There has been concern about the growing challenge of small towns in Maine not needing a full-time code enforcement officer to find people willing to fill this part-time role,” a said Wilson “The demand for code enforcement officers far exceeds the supply.”

Code Enforcement Officers are responsible for enforcing state laws and local ordinances that govern zoning of shore lands, land use regulations, internal plumbing, disposal of underground waste and construction standards.

This need for code enforcement, coupled with conversations Wilson has had with officials at the local and county level, could lead to the offering of county-level code enforcement services on a contract basis to communities that do not do not need the position to be filled. fulltime.

“It makes sense to me that city government and county government should come together in order to meet those needs that are often hard to meet in small towns,” he said.

For something like this to happen would require a change in state law, the agreement of county officials and communities wishing to obtain services in this way.

For Wilson, who is vice-chairman of the board of the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments, the idea of ​​the county government providing this type of service is familiar. Before coming to Belgrade in 2019, he worked in Texas, where, like much of the rest of the United States, county governments have more responsibilities than in New England.

The Kennebec Valley Council of Governments, also known as KVCOG, is looking for a more immediate, short-term solution. The Council of Governments, based in Fairfield, is a municipal service organization that is operated for the benefit of its members. over 50 cities and towns in Somerset, Kennebec and West Waldo counties. Generally, the organization offers assistance in regional and economic development planning.

In late January, the organization issued a request for proposals to its member communities, seeking two communities willing to pay 80% of the salary and benefits cost of a code enforcement officer KVCOG would hire and provide the 20% remaining. the cost. The salary range could be $55,000 to $65,000 plus benefits.

Communities, which should be no more than 30 minutes away by car, could share time and costs as they wish. When the Code Enforcement Officer is not in either community, he or she works out of the KVCOG office.

Proposals are due March 14, with award notification on March 28. Depending on when a Code Enforcement Officer is hired, Code Enforcement services could begin in May.

“We live in a development boom,” said Ole Amundsen III, executive director of KVCOG.

Almost since Amundsen started as the organization’s executive director in January 2021, he heard about the problem. “There are tons of different projects going on, and you need a code enforcement officer to keep the projects moving forward,” Amundsen said. “If there’s a vacancy for several months, that slows things down.”

At the root of the problem are overlapping demographic and economic trends, he said. Maine has an aging population, and as qualified people begin to retire, there aren’t many candidates to replace them. At the same time, interest in careers in municipal administration is declining.

What began as an ad hoc committee of its board of directors grew to involve other councils of governments and state officials as it was recognized that the problem was world-wide. the state.

“It takes a special breed of people to get the job done,” state building official Paul Demers said of the code enforcement officers. “There is a significant shortage of code officials in the state.”

Demers’ position, which is located in the Office of the State Fire Marshal, was established to assist in the training and certification of state code enforcement officers. “One of the comments made in the threads is where do you go to find a code officer?” he said. “The first thought is you find them coming out of trade schools.”

Demers said that after these graduates gain experience, they are good candidates for code agent positions.

When Wilson needed to hire a code enforcement officer for Belgrade, he hired Richard Greenwald.

While Greenwald, who served in the United States Marine Corps for nearly eight years, had experience in combat aircraft quality assurance and inspection, he had no experience in the applying the code. “I liked the inspection part,” he said.

Later he became an inspector for a housing authority, using his skills in a slightly different way.

“Adding up everything that being a code enforcement officer entails, that’s kind of my field,” he said. “I like inspection work and being meticulous about things.”

As part of an agreement with David Savage, Oakland’s code enforcement officer, to oversee code work in Belgrade, Greenwald is working to obtain the certifications he needs to serve as a Belgrade Code Enforcement Officer.

To make the job work, Wilson offered Greenwald a full-time job. He divides his time between working on code and working on installations for the city.

In January, Wilson and Amundsen presented the idea of ​​county-level inspection services to Kennebec County Commissioners at their meeting.

“We’re basically pitching the idea to see if there’s any interest,” said Kennebec County Administrator Scott Ferguson. “I guess from my perspective, this would be a good opportunity to standardize code enforcement and training across the county.”

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