By Thomas E. Hammell

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FARIBAULT -- Rice County is catching up on zoning violators.

Kris Olson was hired by Rice County as code enforcement officer a year ago. She started the job with a backlog of cases and has since decreased the number of active zoning violations cases in the county.

Of the 283 cases that were referred to the Code Enforcement Program, 171 of them have been solved, Rice County Planning and Zoning Director Julie Runkel said.

"We've closed about 60 percent of these cases in the last year," Runkel said.

The Rice County Attorney's Office was involved in 37 of those cases, eight of which are closed, according to information from the Rice County Planning and Zoning Department. In that time the county has ordered one site owner to clean up the property in question.

"A majority of the cases or code violation issues have been junked vehicles," Runkel said. Several of those sites have existed for years.

Other violations that can land property owners in hot water are a second home on a property, zoning setbacks, messy property, conditional use permit violations and an imminent health threat.

Not all cases make it to the courtroom.

"This does not include all complaints to our office by any means," Runkel said.

Olson does not work with all of the violations cases as some go to other divisions of the department.

Runkel said some cases are handled by the water planner or the feedlot officer.

"I think Kris has set up a good process to go through," Runkel said. Olson works with landowners, only going to the city or county as a last resort.

In a separate interview, Runkel said the usual process is to call or send a letter.

The first visit to the property is usually to make sure the complaint is valid. If the property is in violation, the department follows up to make sure the owner is making progress.

Landowners sometimes don't know they are not in compliance, she said.

The department prefers voluntary compliance, Runkel said. "It's quicker for us and quicker for them."

The effort is far from over though.

"There will be some that will be on the radar for quite some time," Runkel said.

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-- Staff Writer Thomas E. Hammell may be reached at 333-3128.