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August 17, 2022

7/22/2022 1:01:00 PM
North Branch nuisance property frustrates city council

A nuisance property case in North Branch had city council members all riled up last week.  The messy site is to be blamed on the county’s bureaucratic paralysis, council members alleged. They pretty much laid the continued existence of the 9th Street city lot, overflowing with debris, vehicles, watercraft, and piles of stuff, on the county.

Mayor Jim Swenson complained that “the county needs to step in.”  He said there are tools to resolve this situation the county hasn’t pursued.
Council member Kelly Neider said of the property owner,  who at one time was in custody on older unresolved warrants that have been quashed,  “...they (jailers) shouldn’t have let him go.”

The alleged property owner/offender Anthony Contreras, 44, was booked and released by the court after being charged July 6, 2022 with receiving stolen-property.   His next court date is August 8, which will be remote on Zoom.

He was first cited by North Branch in August 2019 for unlawful storage and accumulation of trash under North Branch ordinances.  In many nuisance property cases (ie: Terry’s Disposal headquarters on the north end of North Branch) it’s not extraordinary when elected officials allow years for compliance after property violations are cited.

The 2019 code violation ticket was followed this summer, by a citation for storing an abandoned vehicle on property without consent.  North Branch Police soon after executed a search warrant on one of the Contreras property vehicles, based on an anonymous tip.

The VIN came back as stolen from Maplewood, MN. According to district court files, Contreras was charged July 6, 2022 for receiving stolen property with Judge Seabrooks II setting the initial hearing August 8.

The legal process required under city code, for North Branch to take authority over cleaning up the parcel, requires a city council hearing.  The hearing was opened last month and continued to last week, with council asking for additional information to be gathered.  

The city attorney reports that she continues to meet with the mortgage holder/creditor who is in the midst of foreclosing on this residence.

County records show the property was last assessed for taxes at a value of $239,700. A sheriff sale took place in April 2022 and the public notice listed the amount due at $160,488.  

The published notice stated that Contreras must vacate by March 13, 2023 if mortgage is not reinstated.  North Branch’s Attorney Alissa Harrington explained the redemption period goes until October 2022.  

She stressed for the city council that the hope is the property retains enough value that the lender/buyer will want to work with the city on cleanup —but the home’s interior is a big question mark.  

According to those who have been in the home it is “uninhabitable” Harrington declared.

Council member Patrick Meacham felt if that’s the case, county Public Health and vulnerable adult protective services should have been involved by now.
He stated this situation is rife with “blatant misses” and argued county staff should be holding Contreras for assessment of mental capacity.  An emergency guardianship at the very least could be underway, he stated.   “The county should be a better partner,” Meacham concluded.

Attorney Harrington said it’s her assessment the county hesitates to get embroiled when there isn’t a child at the homesite nor has vulnerable adult status been requested.

Chisago County Attorney Janet Reiter was asked about the county taking the brunt of city council frustrations.  She said she understands that nuisance properties are troublesome for communities but any alleged offender still has rights to be protected, adding, “...a defendant in a case where they are alleged to have broken the law does not diminish an accused rights.

“At the end of the day we are looking for compliance,” the county attorney continued. “Gettng there starts with the first interaction between the local authority and property owner and the county has been working with local law enforcement and code officials on this all important first step towards “problem solving.”  
“Property compliance is not as simple as those broadcast commercials advertising make junk disappear simply by pointing.

“There are avenues the city can pursue on the civil side.  Municipalities can initiate injunctive relief or get a court order authorizing removal of the debris.  The action addressing the mental health or well being of a resident does not automatically result in removal of what is alleged (as being the nuisance)” she concluded.

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