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The city of Coon Rapids has added both a stick and a carrot to its toolbox for dealing with properties that violate city code.

The City Council voted Tuesday to approve a measure that adds teeth to its citation process and streamlines the appeals process to help quickly address property maintenance issues, as well as animal control problems and other issues.

The new system will go into effect within a month.

Under the current system, inspectors who find a problem send out a notice, along with a time frame during which property owners must respond with a repair, an appeal or a request for extension.

If the problem is not resolved within that time frame, the city hires a contractor and assesses the property owner for the cost of the repair. When the city can't just fix the problem, extended noncompliance can result in criminal charges, depending on the severity of the violation. And resolution can take years.

Now, inspectors can issue citations on-site. A first-time violation will result in a $300 fine. Property owners who fix the problem within the allotted time can have the fine waived. But repeated violations will result in escalating fines up to $10,000.

The change is about making sure that neighbors fulfill their obligations to one another, said Marc Nevinski, Coon Rapids' community development director.

"There are minimum standards that people keep their properties to," he said. "Not having junk and debris or a house in disrepair is a minimum expectation. It's not so much that the city is out trying to enforce codes, as that citizens have expectations that minimum standards are met."

And it's about preserving the city for future generations, he went on.

"As a community overall, our future is tied to the overall value and appreciation and impression people have of the community," he said. "If property values are down, that means, ultimately, lower levels of service. People won't feel safe or want to invest in the community. So what people do on their own piece of property does have an impact on the broader community."

The city will have to do some work educating people about community expectations, and Nevinski hopes that the new system will allow for some flexibility to educate property owners in the case of minor violations.

And the city still can resort to assessing property owners for repairs on their property, and property owners can appeal citations with a city staff member, then through the city's Board of Adjustment and Appeals, and then to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, bypassing a traditional run by the City Council.

"We're not really taking away any of the tools we currently have," Nevinski said. "We're just adding a tool to the toolbox."

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409