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City seeks volunteers to help crackdown on blight
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Applications are now available at City Hall and Ceres Fire Station #1 for persons who wish to help the city clean up blight and focus on code enforcement in Ceres.

The Volunteers in Code Enforcement (VICE) program is starting up to add more eyes and ears to help city staff fight problems. Code enforcement activities have been lacking since tough budget times forcing the City Council to make serious cuts to code enforcement personnel. Since then, illegal signs, accumulated trash and illegal businesses have been on the increase. Now the council is ready to tackle the problem of a lack of manpower to help enforce city law through the use of volunteers who will act as the eyes and ears of the city.

Volunteers will not be enforcing the law nor being confrontational but will be reporting instances of violations as well as taking photos to document conditions. Some may assist in the office doing paperwork. Volunteers could help the city search and cite for certain aspects of code enforcement such as excessive amounts of yard sales, illegally placed yard sale signs, trash accumulation on properties, illegal auto repairs being conducted in neighborhoods and general conditions of blight.

Volunteers must possess a high school diploma, and a valid drivers' license, offer references and undergo a background check before training would commence. Applicants would be matched up with jobs to their skill set.

City Fire Marshall Bryan Nicholes is in charge of the city's code enforcement program, and the city's sole code enforcement officer Frank Alvarez.

"Our goal is to have volunteers use this program to cut down on paper work," said Nicholes.

"It's going to be a tool, I think, that will actually enhance the program but still not going to make up for not having enough people out there but at least more eyes and ears."

He said the volunteers may be instructed to just "pull down" illegal signs.

"We're going to notify the people that put it up there that we've taken their sign down, give it back to them if necessary, and then that will be their initial warning and if we catch their signs up again any place then they will get a citation for it. Unfortunately I think we're going to be a little tough with signage because they go up everywhere, not just for yard sales, you know, lost puppies and businesses are starting to put them on utility poles."

Some volunteers can also alleviate a lot of paperwork and letters that ties Alvarez up in the office and away from the field. Nicholes said that for every couple of hours in the field, Alvarez has to deal with an hour of documentation and letter writing.

"The less time we're in the office the more time we can be in the field."

The cost of a volunteer program would run about $3,500, including $1,500 to cover background checks, and $1,000 for uniforms.