As 2012 gives way to 2013 on the calendar, one issue that's been discussed at length by city officials and Crookston City Council members not only in this year but in previous years will likely be discussed a great deal more: How best to deal with Crookston residents who frequently have junk in their yards, junk cars or cars that aren't licensed and are never driven, garbage lying around and/or renovation/remodeling projects that seem to be perpetually in progress with no completion date in sight.
Earlier this year, at the request of some council members, city officials - most notably Building Inspector Matt Johnson - started sending council members periodic updates on the status of various complaints made about the state of various residences throughout the community. While the enhanced communication loop has been helpful to some, others still feel like too many complaints are made that lack the necessary follow-up on the city's part, or if there is follow-up and progress is made on a complaint, not enough people know about it.
"I'm looking for some kind of reporting mechanism so I know what's going on, when something's coming to a conclusion or when a complaint is apparently going nowhere," Ward 4 Council Member Wayne Melbye, a soon-to-be at-large council member, said at a December city committee meeting. "Who does the judging on what's junk and not junk? I think there's a lot of hit and miss. Don't we get sick of calling repeat offenders? We can't run them out of town, though, so we have to figure out what we're going to do to make it work.
"It's not a problem for most folks, but it's a huge thing for a couple folks," Melbye added.
Although efforts to streamline the communication chain by getting "problem people" to City Administrator Tony Chladek so he can assign the appropriate staff to address specific complaints, there remain multiple departments within the city operation that deal with various types of complaints. The fire department, for example, addresses junk car complaints and junk-in-yard complaints. But if "raw garbage" needs to be picked up, Public Works crews are responsible for picking it up and the offending property owner is levied a $50 "penalty surcharge." For renovation projects that seem to never get done, that's more of Johnson's territory.
When most complaints are made, a letter from the city is mailed to the property owner that's the source of the complaint. Ward 5 Council Member Dale Stainbrook suggested that maybe increased face-to-face communication would help increase the likelihood that property owners comply with city ordinance.
Fire Chief Tim Froeber acknowledged that some procedures are old and in need of "tweaking."
Ward 1 Council Member Tom Jorgens said it's important that Crookston residents, the vast majority of which keep their yards and homes tidy and vehicles in good working order, know that their city isn't sitting on its hands when some of their neighbors aren't keeping things up to snuff.
Page 2 of 2 - "The point is that we take these things seriously and that our constituents know we're taking these things seriously; that's not always the case, I think," he said. "If there are situations where there's an obvious problem but no obvious solution, then we expect you (city department heads, etc.) to come back to us with suggestions and tools to make things better. If we need to fix some things, let's fix them."
Could some of those fixes involve graduated surcharges levied against repeat offenders? How about involving Polk County Public Health if it's believed that a particular situation is a threat to the public's health?
"Clearly, there are some things we need to look at, and some legalities we'd want to look into as well," Chladek said.