Ordinance change would give police more flexibility
By Mike Christopherson, Managing Editor
Published: Wednesday, January 3, 2007 12:55 PM CST
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Has this ever happened to you?

A Crookston Police officer pulls you over somewhere in town and says you're speeding. You weren't racing around town, the officer says, but you were going zero to nine miles per hour faster than the posted speed limit.

Chances are, you received either a warning, or a citation carrying a $117.50 fine.

If you got the warning, it probably didn't cause you to slow down very much. Maybe it did for a short while, but you likely reverted to your speeding ways sooner rather than later. And if you received the ticket and fine, you were probably seething, thinking you were the victim of excessive punishment for a relatively minor moving violation.

An ordinance change in line for approval by the Crookston City Council at its Jan. 23 meeting seeks to change all that. The amended ordinance received its first reading at the council's meeting Tuesday evening.

The change is found in chapter two of the ordinance, and implements provisions relating to "administrative offenses and penalties." Simply put, it will give police officers and others with the authority to enforce city codes more flexibility when violations occur. For the speeding infraction mentioned earlier in this story, for example, the officer would have the option of imposing a $50 fine instead of $117.50.

"Currently, the only opportunity available to correct non-compliance is to write a pretty stiff citation," City Administrator Aaron Parrish said. "And it really doesn't help us when it comes to correcting behavior by writing warning tickets. That's not an effective deterrent."

The city Public Safety Committee has been discussing an ordinance amendment in recent weeks, and the committee recommended the change to the council.

The administrative fee schedule for city code violations included in the amended language reads as follows:

# Alcohol: beer, wine and liquor licensing and regulations: $100

# Public protection, Crimes and Offenses: Curfew, unlawful acts in public parks, open burning of leaves, dog and cat violations, animals and fowl, a $25 fine for each; Minnesota Fire Code violations, fireworks and trespassing, a $50 fine for each

# Traffic: Seatbelts, $25; Exhibition driving, speeding (1 to 10 mph over), stop sign, and recreational motor vehicles including snowmobiles, a $50 fine for each

# Parking Violations: All regular parking violations would remain $5, with a second violation within six months $10. If not paid within 15 days, an additional $5 is added on. Handicapped parking, $200

# Land Use Regulations: $50

# Building Code Violations: $50

Implementing an administrative fee system is not uncommon in municipalities, Parrish explained, but he added that state legislators have a discussion almost every year about whether or not cities should be allowed to implement such practices.

"The primary reasoning behind our decision is to give officers and other city staff more flexibility in enforcing ordinances," he said. "This provides a broader range of options, it's another tool in the tool chest."

In addition to a smaller fine for speeding, Parrish said the new system is kinder to violators because the administrative violation does not go against the offender's car insurance. The ordinance as it's currently written does, he said.

Police Chief Tim Motherway was out of the office today and could not be reached for comment