BELGRADE — When Anthony Wilson needed to hire a code enforcement officer, the Belgrade town manager was up against the same hurdle that employers across the state encounter every day.

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

“There has been a concern about the growing challenge of small towns in Maine who don’t have a need for a full-time code enforcement officer finding people willing to serve in that role on a part-time basis,” Wilson said. “The demand for code enforcement officers far exceeds supply.”

Code enforcement officers are responsible for enforcing state laws and local ordinances that govern shoreland zoning, land-use regulation, internal plumbing, subsurface waste disposal and building standards.

That need for code enforcement, coupled with conversations that Wilson has had with officials at the local and county level, could lead to code enforcement services being offered at the county level on a contract basis to communities that don’t need the position to be staffed full time.

“It makes sense to me that municipal government and county government would partner together in order to provide for these needs that are often challenges for small towns to provide for themselves,” he said.

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To make something like that happen would require a change to state law, the agreement of county officials and communities willing to secure services in that way.

For Wilson, who is vice president of the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments’ board of directors, the idea of county government providing that kind of service is a familiar one. Before coming to Belgrade in 2019 he worked in Texas, where like in much of the rest of the United States, county governments have more responsibilities than they do in New England.

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

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

The communities, which should be no more than 30 minutes’ drive apart, could split the time and cost however they like. When the code enforcement officer is not in either one of the communities, he or she would work out of the KVCOG office.

Proposals are due March 14, with the notification of award coming on March 28. Depending on when a code enforcement officer is hired, code enforcement services could start in May.

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

Almost since Amundsen started as executive director for the organization in January 2021, he’s been hearing about the issue. “There are tons of different projects going on, and you need a code enforcement officer to move the projects along,” Amundsen said. “If there’s a vacancy for many months, that does slow things down.”

At the root of the problem are the state’s overlapping demographic and economic trends, he said. Maine has an aging population and as qualified people start to retire, there aren’t many candidates to take their place. At the same time, interest is waning in careers with municipal government.

What started as an ad hoc committee of his board grew to involve other councils of governments and state officials as recognition grew that the problem is statewide.

“It takes a special breed of person to do the work,” State Building Official Paul Demers said of code enforcement officers. “There is a significant shortage of code officials in the state.”

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

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Demers said after those graduates earn some experience, they are good candidates for code officer positions.

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

While Greenwald, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps for nearly eight years, had experience in quality assurance and inspecting fighter jets, he had no code enforcement experience. “I liked the inspection part of it,” he said.

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

“Adding up everything being a code enforcement officer involves, it’s kind of right up my alley,” he said. “I enjoy inspection work and being meticulous about things.”

Under an arrangement with David Savage, Oakland’s code enforcement officer, to oversee code work in Belgrade, Greenwald is working to attain the certifications he needs to serve as Belgrade’s code enforcement officer.

To make the position work, Wilson offered Greenwald a full-time job. He splits his time between code work and facilities work for the town.

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

“We are essentially kicking the idea around to see if there is any interest,” said Scott Ferguson, the Kennebec County administrator. “I guess from my standpoint, it would be a good opportunity to standardize the code enforcement and training across the county.”


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