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Code officer fixes problems

Does your neighbor have a junked car creating an eyesore along your street? Or maybe there’s a bush or hedge obstructing your view of a busy intersection or blocking a sidewalk.

Or perhaps a nearby lawn is so overgrown with weeds it’s become a fire hazard.

Finding solutions to these problems — and others — is the job of Oak Harbor’s new code compliance officer.

The city created the part-time position as a way to provide residents help in cleaning up their streets and improving the livability of their neighborhood.

Ray Heltsley, a long-time Oak Harbor police officer who retired in 1998 as a patrol sergeant, was tapped for the job.

“I want to keep it friendly and informal if possible,” says Heltsley. “But if it has to go to abatement, that’s part of the process, too.”

Heltsley, who served on the Oak Harbor police force for over 21 years, says he knows the lay of the land. He also knows a lot of people. He’s on a first name basis with many of the people who have contacted him since he started the job a few weeks ago.

Oak Harbor’s police department deals with the city’s criminal codes. But up until now, the city hasn’t had someone whose sole task was to make sure residents don’t run afoul of civil codes that center on quality of life, public health and safety issues.

After Heltsley determines there’s a problem that needs fixing, he works with those involved to come to a solution.

“It’s a kinder, gentler form of persuading people to follow the rules,” he says.

But for those who don’t, Heltsley says, civil court and fines are possibilities.

Just don’t call him with complaints about noisy parties or dangerous animals. Those are issues the city’s police department and animal control handles.

When Heltsley isn’t working as a code compliance officer, he serves part time as a Deputy Marshall for the town of Coupeville. He also teaches criminal justice classes at Skagit Valley College’s Whidbey Island campus.

So far, as a code compliance officer, he’s been impressed with Oak Harbor’s relatively tidy streets.

“The things that I do will only help make it better,” he says.

Heltsley works out of City Hall and is on duty all day Monday and Tuesday, and until noon on Wednesdays. If he’s not there, leave a message on his answering machine or contact him via the city’s Web site at www.oakharbor.org. His phone number is 279-4527.

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