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Beltrami County Board: Administrative citations approved for traffic offenses

Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp and County Attorney Tim Faver explain to county commissioners Tuesday night how an administrative fine system works for minor traffic offenses without receiving a more expensive state court fine. Commissioners unanimously approved implementing the system. Pioneer Photo/ Brad Swenson

Most minor traffic offenses committed in Beltrami County will carry a $60 fine, the Beltrami County Board decided Tuesday night.

And, run through the county, they won't carry the usual state-ordered surcharges and fees that could turn a small statutory fine into a penalty costing several hundred dollars.

"If approved tonight, we won't start issuing tickets tomorrow," said County Attorney Tim Favor.

A resolution to establish an administrative citation system passed unanimously on a motion by Commissioner Quentin Fairbanks and seconded by Commissioner Joe Vene.

After years of controversy, with some local jurisdictions adopting the system and some lawmakers proposing legislation to make it illegal, the 2009 passed a compromise bill that allows cities and counties to adopt an administrative fine system, Faver said.

The catch, however, was that lawmakers also dictated that of the $60 fine, $40 of it goes to the local jurisdiction but $20 must go to the state's General Fund. If the State Patrol writes the citation, $40 goes to the state General Fund and $20 to the local jurisdiction, Faver said.

In establishing the system in Beltrami County, the resolution commissioners approved Tuesday night states that county officers "may issue such administrative citations for individuals for ... if the violation consists of a speed under 10 mph in excess of the lawful speed limit; failure to obey stop line ... (or) operation of a vehicle in violation of the vehicle equipment and safety statutes ..."

The violations are all a part of state statutes Chapter 169, Faver said. Most are petty misdemeanors, and he noted that under current law a speeding violation of under 10 mph over the limit is not recorded on a driver's record.

Fairbanks asked if a citation would be issued in the case of an injury-causing accident with a speed 10 mph or less below the posted limit.

"I would say probably not," Faver said, "but the law is silent on that."

The new law gives "limited authority" to local jurisdictions to issue administrative citations, Faver said, and Beltrami County's adoption of the system comes after a joint meeting earlier this year with the county and city of Bemidji.

The system won support of both city and county attorneys, as well as the chief of police and sheriff. The Bemidji City Council has yet to take up the matter.

"The law also sets up a due process procedure where the individual has the right to a hearing before a neutral third party," Faver said.

To allow a civil process to appeal a citation, the new state law provides that a person may "challenge the citation before a neutral third party. A local united of government may employ a person to hear and rule on challenges to administrative citations or contract with another local unit of government or a private entity to provide the service."

The Legislature also called for a uniform system across the state, Faver said, meaning a form will be developed that specifies the offenses that may be cited and the $60 administrative fine. The state Department of Public Safety has until Oct. 1 to develop a form, so Beltrami County's new program must wait at least that long before taking effect.

The new law also includes administrative citations in a ban of local law enforcement agencies requiring or suggesting officers follow a quota for issuing such citations.

In other action, the board approved the low bid of Knife River Materials Inc. of three bidders for gravel base, paving and finishing of a County Road 35 project. Its bid of $688,969.66 was 7 percent under the engineer's estimate of $739,735.74.

The board later convened as the County Board of Equalization, with about 20 people attending to contest or question their property valuations or assessments.

County Assessor Duane Ebbighausen will respond to the complaints and possible resolutions at a later board meeting.