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Housing inspectors were one of the few topics discussed by city residents at Thursday’s Keene budget public hearing.

Two residents of the lower Main Street area east of Keene State College backed a measure that would combine two part-time housing inspector jobs in the city’s community development department into one full-time position.

Both positions have been vacant since about December, so now seemed like the perfect time for his department to request converting the roles to full-time, said John Rogers, the city’s building and health official, in a phone interview Friday.

One of the residents, Andrew Oram, said at Thursday’s hearing, “We saw a real deterioration in our neighborhood over the past year in terms of keeping things inspected because of the difficulty filling the two part-time positions, so … (it) seems not only reasonable but prudent.”

Rogers agreed Friday that the part-time roles have seen plenty of turnover through the years.

“We’ve certainly had very qualified people in the position, but retaining them as just part-time has been difficult,” he said.

In the proposed budget, which councilors will vote on this week, the measure would result in an increase of about $8,000 over this fiscal year, which Rogers said is mostly because of the benefits package for a full-time job.

The salary listed in budget documents for the full-time position is just over $46,000. That cost does not include benefits.

With no housing inspectors, Rogers said he and other code enforcement officers have split up the duties and prioritize calls and complaints from residents.

“So there certainly has been a delay in our response time to the complaints because of the vacancies,” he said.

Housing inspectors help enforce city requirements for property maintenance and housing standards. Rogers said the department also has a voluntary inspection program for rental units in the city, through which landlords or tenants can call and request a basic housing inspection.

According to the city’s budget documents, the department receives about 350 property and housing standards complaints per year and about 350 calls for the voluntary inspection program.

Part of the hope is that a full-time inspector will have the flexibility to take a more proactive approach, Rogers said.

“If you can help the house that’s in kind of the roughest shape, if you can maybe lift that up condition-wise, it helps the whole neighborhood,” Rogers said. “It tends to make the rest of the neighborhood look at it and go, ‘Oh, hey, maybe I can fix my house up a little bit, too.’ ”

Sierra Hubbard can be reached at 355-8546 or at shubbard@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @sierraHubbardKS.