After dealing with problem properties for years, the Peterson Council started improving zoning issues in 2018. That November, after working with the city attorney, the council approved a zoning ordinance to regulate public nuisances within the city. The ordinance went into effect the following January 1. The city began mailing administrative citations to non-compliant properties in May of that year. Discussion of this issue continued this month, at the October 12 council meeting.
After three years of working on the ordinance, however, the council was still struggling with long-standing issues, and several properties still needed to bring their properties into compliance. In August 2022, the council voted to give a push to property owners by implementing fines as a means of enforcement.
In July 2022, the council amended the ordinance to include junk and clutter. It clearly defines non-compliance, gives a reasonable amount of time to rectify the situation, and provides a means of enforcement. Before that change, when the city looked at only properties with nuisance vehicles, 19 properties were non-compliant. Now, properties with either nuisance vehicles or junk/clutter mainly revolve around just two.
The city communicated multiple times with the property owners regarding the non-compliance. Per the ordinance, if the property owner takes no action, the city can impose a fine of at least $100 or not more than $300 per day that the condition exists. If left unpaid, the city certifies the amount to the county and the county adds the fines to the property tax rolls. All of it can add up quickly.
“I can send out letters, but we have to put something behind them,” said Mayor Chris Stenzel. He suggested the option to remove the fines following significant improvement.
“Why would we return any of it? If it gets to the point where they get fined, they’ve received phone calls and letters,” said City Clerk Chris Grindland.
According to Councilor Gail Boyum, both properties are in very visible spots to anyone visiting the city. “These are people that have been talked to, received a letter, had visits, and still don’t comply. These things just carry on, and then citizens talk to us. If it’s $100 a month, they could say, ‘I’ll just pay that,’” she warned.
The council ultimately approved applying a $100 fine to the properties. The properties have until October 31 to comply with zoning ordinances. If they are not, the council will review the situation at the November meeting and impose a $200 fine.
Stenzel suggested there may be others and directed the council to conduct individual walkabouts in the city to document properties that may also be in violation. Their surveys are due in one week. The council will compile and review the data to determine if citations are needed.
The council also discussed the ordinances revolving around dogs at large. “It doesn’t appear that people are taking it seriously,” said Councilor Kristina Grindland. “One nearly bit my child. I don’t feel comfortable with a fine when they keep getting the same offense. It seems like people don’t care to take it seriously.”
The city’s ordinance specifies a fine of $100 per occurrence per dog at large. The city currently has a dog catcher. Councilor Justin Simon suggested any cost related to a dog at large be paid by the owner, including the cost for the dog catcher to come and possibly hold the dog, with payment made before releasing it to the owner, like the impounding of a vehicle.
“What other options do we have? We can call the police, but the incident may be done by the time they arrive. If he arrives and is unable to catch the dog, pass that cost to the property owner,” he stated. “Sorry, but don’t let your dog run around. There’s some consequences.”
The city will review how other cities handle the issue, what they are implementing for fines, and who handles the situation and revisit the topic next month.
In other news, the city has polled its residents regarding preference for in-person or mail-in voting. There were 25 votes for mail-in and 15 for in-person. The council voted to utilize mail-in balloting for the 2024 election.
The council also approved the final budget and levy. The proposed budget has remained the same. The final levy will stand at a 4% increase.
Water connection inspections have begun in compliance with the state-mandated MN Lead and Copper Rule mapping. As a reminder, residents can document their water connection setup and report it to city hall if they’d prefer not to have Public Works do it.
The next regularly scheduled meeting is Wednesday, November 8, at 6 p.m. at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.