State limits on administrative fines reduce local revenue
Administrative citations are a less lucrative option for the Wadena Police Department with Minnesota statute limiting eligible offenses and requiring a neutral third party for those who contest their fines.
"We're limited much more than what we were previously to the passing of that statute," Police Chief Bruce Uselman told the city council at its October meeting.
The only state offenses police officers can issue $60 administrative citations for are exceeding the speed limit by less than 10 miles per hour, stop line violations and some equipment violations such as hitching a sled behind a vehicle or unauthorized use of sirens.
The state offenses were basically eliminated when Minnesota Statute 169.999 took effect Aug. 1, City Administrator Brad Swenson said. Violations to city ordinance that are different than statute such as barking dogs and parking violations are still eligible.
The city will keep two-thirds of revenue from traffic citations listed in the statute and send one-third to the state. Previously all citation money went to the city.
"The revenue stream for us will diminish greatly and the paperwork will increase greatly," Swenson said.
Revenue amounted to $2,030 in 2007. It increased to $3,330 in 2008 when state offenses were added. The city has collected $4,180 so far in 2009. That yearly increase will likely stop with the new limitations, Swenson said in an interview.
The city will also have more paperwork from separating local offenses from state offenses and from documenting and sending in state offenses, he told the council.
Controversy was stirred up when Wadena and a lot of other cities added state offenses to their administrative citation policies, he said. Then the state started saying local governments couldn't do that.
The Wadena City Council approved a resolution to line up city policy with statute.
The resolution deletes the city's prior designation of 36 offenses such as failure to use child restraint and stop light violations that were previously charged as administrative offenses. It also now requires the addition of a neutral third party to hear and rule on challenges to administrative traffic citations.
Attorney Ryan Ries has agreed to act as the neutral third party, according to a letter from City Attorney Jeff Pederson.
Ries will charge $50 per hearing for a maximum of $200 per year, Swenson said. Anything over that would have to be negotiated.
Mayor Wayne Wolden said he thought it was stupid the city had to cover the entire cost of the hearing.
"We send them [the state] the 20 bucks and we have to pay for it [the hearing] out of the $40," Wolden said. "So we're basically losing money on that deal."
Uselman said it comes down to how many hearings there are.
"We don't control that," Wolden said. "The person who gets the citation determines that."
If it gets too expensive the city will just have to tell officers not to issue administrative citations anymore, Swenson said.
Wadena County was also affected by the statute changes and has stopped issuing administrative citations altogether since the law took effect Aug. 1, according to Sheriff Mike Carr. The state put so many limits on officer discretion as far as what offenses could be given administrative citations, that the county chose not to go forward with it anymore, he said in an interview. The $70 administrative citations were a good tool. It didn't affect people's driving records or insurance and it wasn't as big a financial blow as state citations, which generally amount to $130-140 with fees, Carr said.
"It was a win, win for everybody," he said.
Administrative citations amounted to close to $25,000 for the county in the less than one year they were in effect, Carr said. He originally proposed the citations as a revenue alternative for the county in the face of increased state cuts to local government.
"Times are tough," he said. "That's why we did it."