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Crookston sees progress with new property maintenance code

Shannon Stassen

CROOKSTON — A new property maintenance code is a little more than 5 months old in Crookston, but City Administrator Shannon Stassen says it's already making a difference.

The new code, which went into effect April 1, replaced a longstanding one that had been on the books for many years, Stassen said.

"We were just looking for a stronger tool for enforcement for staff, where we could implement fines that actually got the attention of violators and we actually could charge an individual who wouldn't comply," he said. "That was our goal, so we could have more teeth in it. This code is definitely more strict. The fine structure is more progressive and (cases) can end up with either civil or criminal charges if nothing is done."

Stassen said the new code continues to be "complaint-driven," meaning the process must begin with a resident filing a complaint — instead of originating with a city-led inspection — before it then follows a consistent series of formal steps involving notices and up to three fines. If no efforts are made to remedy a legitimate complaint after a third fine, the case may advance to legal action.

So far, Stassen said the city has seen forward movement on some complaints.

"We've followed up with those, and we've seen some improvements," he said. "And we've also had those who shared with us the financial hardship that goes with some of those improvements. In those cases, we steer people to existing resources to help them with the financial part."

Stassen said the city receives complaints both about untidy yards and structures that fall "outside the code in terms of safety."

"We want to make sure people are keeping up their homes, garages and outbuildings," he said.

Street talk

Stassen said City Council members also recently brought up the condition of one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, the Woods Addition.

"The streets themselves are in good shape, but the curbs are old and certainly could use some improvement," Stassen said.

He said the city typically puts in new curbs at the same time as street reconstruction, but the streets there are not scheduled for reconstruction for at least a few years.

The city follows a five-year plan on infrastructure and reviews that plan each year in case any problems might call for a project getting moved up.

"With street projects, it cuts both ways. Certainly, we think our street system, No. 1, is in very good shape overall because we prioritize what streets are in the most need to be done first," Stassen said. "But when we redo streets, there is an assessment charged to the homeowners. ... Once we make that decision, we also sometimes get pushback on the other end when people don't want to pay the cost-sharing portion. So, streets are a tough thing."

Stassen added that he has complete faith in the city's engineers and consulting firm Widseth, Smith, Nolting.

"We look very closely at all our streets every year to prioritize the ones that need the work first. That's just good planning," he said.