A 44% increase in complaints has prompted Deschutes County commissioners to add another code enforcement officer on Monday.

So far this year, there have been 760 code enforcement complaints reported to the county compared to the 531 that were reported at this time last year.

The increase is largely a response to the amount of growth Deschutes County has been seeing in general, Angie Havniear, administrative manager of the code enforcement department, told the commission.

But the bulk of active cases fall under zoning and environmental soils violations, which in large part encompasses an increase in the number of people who are living in temporary situations like RVs or improperly handling human waste in areas where they aren’t supposed to be, Havniear said.

“People are asking the difficult question of: ‘Where are we supposed to go?’” Havniear said.

To handle the influx, the Community Development Department asked the commission to allocate more money to expand what is budgeted as a part-time, on-call code enforcement officer into a full-time post. The new position would also help handle new cases from the city of Sisters, which is asking the county to take over those responsibilities.

While the job has been on the books since July, the department has had difficulties finding someone to fill it. The full-time position would cost $90,500 a year, rather than the $33,000 budgeted for an on-call position, and would be covered by development fees.

The current three-person code enforcement staff is overwhelmed, Havniear said.

The department currently has an estimated 170 complaints that are unassigned because of the high volume of cases. The growing caseload means it is taking the department several weeks to get to new complaints, according to a staff memo.

“Right now we are triaging,” Havniear added.

Part of the backlog is due to the fact that code enforcement cases are more complicated than they used to be, said Nick LeLack, the county’s Community Development Director. More cases involve people with mental illness, requiring more behavioral health staff to become involved.

And finding ways to help a growing number of people living in RVs find resources is also a difficult task.

“The last thing we want to do is solve one problem but create another,” LeLack said.

Commissioners voted to approve the position and appeared supportive of the idea of code enforcement department having more resources.

“It’s amazing (that) there is 170 unassigned cases,” Commissioner Patti Adair said. “We definitely need to find the right person who wants to do this.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, bvisser@bendbulletin.com