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Beltrami County mulls administrative fines

A new state law may put Beltrami County in the driver's seat to issue administrative fines, circumventing the state's high-priced fine system.

The Beltrami County Board will discuss implementing the new administrative fine authority as part of its regular meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the County Administration Building, 701 Minnesota Ave.

The board's normal 3 p.m. work session has been canceled, but it will meet at 6 p.m. -- after the regular board meeting -- as the County Board of Equalization to hear complaints from property owners about how their property values and assessed values were calculated.

Beltrami County commissioners and Bemidji City Council members earlier this year in a joint session discussed implementing an administrative fine system to be used by both the police and sheriff's departments.

The constitutionality of such a system has been in question, but the 2009 Legislature approved a compromise bill to allow cities and counties to adopt an administrative fine system but under certain conditions.

"The legislation authorizes a uniform statewide citation for a specific list of offenses with a fine of $60," County Administrator Tony Murphy states in a memo.

A main issue in going through the state courts system is that an original offense's fine sees court fees and state-mandated surcharges added. Thus, under the new mandatory seat belt law, a statutory fine of $25 grows to more than $100 with the fees and surcharges.

"The bill includes a cost sharing provision whereby the jurisdiction that issues the ticket keeps two-thirds of the fine revenue, with the remaining third going to the state general fund," Murphy wrote. "Of the share kept by the local unit of government, at least half must be used for law enforcement activities."

A person who commits an administrative violation -- such as driving less than 10 mph over the posted speed limit, failure to yield, stop sign violations or equipment violations -- will be fined $60.

Murphy notes the bill sets up a procedure for people to contest an administrative citation and in providing a hearing officer.

Another provision in the bill prohibits law enforcement agencies from mandating a quota from officers for administrative citations.

The administrative fine provisions in the law take effect Aug. 1.

Commissioners at their regular meeting will also discuss seeking well permits and variances for various agencies to construct monitoring wells as part of a past oil spill by Enbridge which is part of a national research study.

They will also receive two awards from the National Association of Counties for Beltrami County's work in establishing the Northern Dental Access Center in Bemidji for public assistance patients.

The County Board's consent agenda includes paying bills and warrant payment listing, approval of long-distance phone agreement with TDS Metrocom and approval of a remonumentation contract with Karvakko Engineering/Ayres Associates for Bemidji and Turtle River townships.

Also, commissioners will be asked to approve a bid award for gravel base, bituminous paving and box culvert in a County Road 35 project and a memorandum of understanding with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe on a joint project with County Road 33.

Other consent agenda items include approval of a federal boating safety supplement grant agreement, of a host county waiver services contract with Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society doing business at Good Samaritan Society of Blackduck, pay health and human services bills and receive monthly health and human services reports and licensing.

Also on the consent agenda is approval of a commissioner annual job evaluation of Murphy, which was conducted in a closed session earlier this month. State law requires the County Board to provide a summary of the conclusions regarding the evaluation.

"The county administrator received high marks for his performance during the past year," Murphy said in his summary of the closed session.