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Paynesville Press - July 16, 2003

City, township consider fines for minor offenses

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

New Paynesville Police Chief Kent Kortlever thinks that the state fines for speeding and other minor offenses are too high for mostly law-abiding citizens.

Instead, Kortlever wants the city to levy its own fines, reducing the cost for offenders while increasing the amount collected by the city.

Kortlever proposed to the city council last week that the city use administrative fines for minor violations of the city code. Instead of criminal charges for minor offenses - speeding, crossing yellow lines to park, dogs at large, public intoxication, seat belt violations, etc. - Paynesville officers would have the option of issuing a city citation with a fine that would be paid directly to the city. The new penalty would be lower than the state fines, saving offenders money, while the city would get more.

During the 2003 legislative session, surcharges for criminal and traffic offenses were increased by $25, increasing the minimum fine for a ticket from $78 to $103. Of that $103, the city receives about $26.

The state has always taken a portion of fines, but in the past the money was put into a police officer training fund and used to maintain a law enforcement library, said council member Dave Peschong. Now, the surcharges go into the state's general fund. "The state is essentially taxing people and making cops their tax collectors," said Peschong.

According to Kortlever, issuing administrative fines would be a win-win situation. Minor offenders would benefit because they wouldn't have to pay such steep fines and administrative offenses would not be recorded on their driving or criminal records. The city would benefit because tthe total fine would go to the city's general fund.

Kortlever heard about levying local fines during a recent meeting of police chiefs. According to Kortlever, several Minnesota communities have turned to administrative fines, including the city of Kimball.

In Kimball, the administrative fine for a first-time dog at large offense is $25, a first-time speeding offense is $75, and a public consumption ticket is $60.

The minimum fine for each of these offenses, according to the state, is $103.

Kortlever doesn't want to lose the deterrent effect that fines provide. Officers have the discretion of giving verbal or written warnings for minor offenses. This gives officers just one more option, he said.

Officers would use their discretion to determine when a criminal citation should be issued. For example, repeat offenders would be issued a criminal citation. So would those driving under the influence, driving recklessly, or those committing any offense considered a gross misdemeanor or a felony.

In the event that an administrative fine wasn't paid in the allotted time, a traditional criminal citation could be issued retroactively, and the offender would be liable for the higher fine, which the state would be responsible to collect.

If the use of administrative fines is approved by the city council, a method for disputing tickets would need to be established. Kortlever proposed that the council could be responsible for holding hearings, but he doesn't think there will be a large demand for hearings because most offenders would realize that they were given a break when they were not issued a criminal citation.

Kimball has had administrative fines for three months, and no hearings have been requested after 200 fines, said Kortlever.

The program is a few months away, said Kortlever. Currently, legal issues are being ironed out by the city attorney. A fine schedule still needs to be established and approved by the city council.

Kortlever also approached the township board with his proposal on Monday night and suggested that both the city and township should keep their administrative fines uniform. (Paynesville Township contracts for police protection with the Paynesville Police Department.)

The township board put the proposal onto their agenda for Monday, July 28.

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