By Rebecca LaFlure

Killeen Daily Herald

Born and raised in Killeen, Ramon Alvarez recalls the slew of abandoned buildings home to vagrants and illegal activity. He remembers the older neighborhoods that were often ignored.

Now as one of the city's newest code enforcement officers, Alvarez says he's on a mission to clean up the city he grew up in.

"I take a lot of pride in my area," Alvarez said Friday. "This job appealed to me because I could play a small part in correcting things."

Alvarez, 31, joined the city's code enforcement team in the spring of 2009, and officially became an officer in March.

A graduate of Ellison High School, Alvarez's parents moved to Killeen from Puerto Rico with only two suitcases and $40 to their name.

He served as a firefighter in Belton and Nolanville for four years until he ran into Lee Watts, a Killeen code enforcement field supervisor who Alvarez used to work with at a parts store. When Watts told him about the city's need for more code enforcement officers, Alvarez jumped at the opportunity.

"Helping residents is a big benefit," he said. "In this position, I can clean up a lot of the older parts of Killeen where I grew up."

Each day Alvarez takes calls from concerned residents in reference to safety and health code violations, and drives out to the sites to investigate. He photographs and writes down everything he sees and enters the information into a database.

A code violation could result in a warning, citation and if an owner refuses to comply, officers have the right to shut down businesses and demolish homes if deemed beyond repair.

Violations range in severity and include junk-filled lawns, abandoned cars and unsanitary conditions inside businesses and homes.

Code enforcement officials recently proposed a program to cut down on illegal tire dumping, but failed to convince council members to implement it.

The job sometimes requires Alvarez to get dirty, sifting through bags of trash to trace the person who illegally dumped garbage on city property.

The city's code enforcement officers are never short on things to do. The team - made up of five officers, two field supervisors and a director - conducts about 23,000 inspections each year.

Alvarez said his job requires him to have "thick skin," often calming angry residents or business owners who received a citation. He said much of the frustration stems from a lack of knowledge of the city's rules.

"I try to explain the city ordinances and then they're more apt to listen to what I'm saying," Alvarez said. "I don't take it personally."

He said he feels fulfilled when he leaves work each day knowing he's helping to improve the safety and atmosphere of his hometown.

"When I come across a property that is a blight to a neighborhood and I'm able to restore it, that gives me a sense of accomplishment," he said.

Birthdate: Nov. 8, 1978.

Hometown: Killeen.

Occupation: Code enforcement officer for Killeen.

Family: Wife, Alyssa, and daughter, Kensley Rose, 14 weeks.

Hobbies: Work with cars.

Quote: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

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