The city of Brainerd has taken two steps toward creating safer neighborhoods.
The first step was to contract with a temporary agency to provide the city with clerical and administrative work, including notification to landlords and tenants to set up appointment for rental housing inspections, and to send out requests for proposals from agencies to do those inspections, which the Brainerd City Council approved unanimously Tuesday.
The second step was taken by the city council was to include discussion of a comprehensive crime prevention strategy, including rental housing inspections, for discussion at its next budget meeting set for 7 p.m. Monday.
In July of 2002, the city council amended its housing maintenance codes to include registration of all rental units, inspections by building inspectors as well as trained firefighters, authorization of building inspectors to issue petty misdemeanor citations and implementation of a crime-free multi-housing strategy. There also now is a point of sale inspection for all housing. The annual inspection fee was set at $12 per rental unit. Failure to register a rental unit is a $25 fine.
Council member Bob Olson said he was upset that the start of the inspections had been delayed and offered an amendment to hire an inspector immediately.
"I think it's important to get a private inspector on staff as soon as possible," said Olson, noting inspections were supposed to start in January. "As I talk to these citizens, and even the landlords who've paid their fees, they all wonder when the inspections are going to happen."
Olson's amendment was defeated by a 4-3 vote, with council members Anne Nelson Fisher, Lucy Nesheim, Mary Koep and Gary Scheeler voting against.
In voting against Olson's amendment, Koep pointed out that in hiring a temporary service to begin paperwork the city would also be in the process of hiring an inspector.
"It's a dual track," said Koep.
Fisher said she wasn't in favor of the amendment because she didn't want to see the city move away from hiring full-time employees to contract workers.
Later in the council meeting, Brainerd Police Chief John Bolduc presented a memo that, along with getting the rental housing inspections started, included crime prevention and overall neighborhood improvements.
"What I envisioned... from the council were proposals on how we do that," said Bolduc. "The crime-free multi-housing program is barely off the ground. The issue is staffing."
In a memo, Bolduc presented several steps he would like to see the city take, including funding the necessary housing inspection program by hiring an inspector or contracting with an outside agency, establish a board or independent committee to handle appeals of rental property sanctions and nuisance complaints, establish and fund the Crime-Free Multi Housing Program and add community service officer hours to handle nuisance complaints instead of hiring a nuisance inspector.
Bolduc asked Elizabeth Harris, a retired crime prevention specialist with the city of Minneapolis who recently moved to the Brainerd area, to speak to the council.
Harris said in the mid-1980s the Minneapolis Police Department saw an increase in crime proportionate to a decrease in housing values. In working in neighborhoods with declining housing stock, Harris said rental managers and owners didn't know how to address the problems.
"Most owners want to do a good job and rent to good tenants," said Harris. "It was very rare that a property owner wouldn't work with is.
"I know that through experience it's possible to bring about a positive change in a community. It just takes time... I've seen it happen over and over again."
By consensus the city council included discussion on the comprehensive crime prevention strategy at a special budget meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at Brainerd City Hall.
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