City split on storm shelter debate

If severe weather tears through town, you can bet that the majority of Monticello’s residents will find their way to the safest part of their homes. For those living in mobile home parks, however, the safest place to be is not in their home at all, but in a storm shelter or other reasonable evacuation option that the state of Minnesota requires mobile home park owners to provide for its residents. Concern for Monticello’s mobile home residents’ safety in severe weather led the city council to deny Kjellberg’s request to build an additional storage facility on-site on Monday evening, unless more shelter space is added as well.
Kirk Kjellberg initially approached the city council in April with his expansion proposal, seeking a new 24-foot by100-foot storage facility for the park’s residents, which would be connected to an existing storage building. When an addition or change like this is requested, Mayor Clint Herbst said it is one of the few opportunities the city has to make sure the mobile home park has sufficient evacuation procedures for its residents.
The council tabled the issue in April so it could review the park’s emergency procedures within Kjellberg’s park.
Kjellberg’s mobile home park spans either side of Hwy. 25, and the east side’s evacuation plan includes one shelter space that some members of the council said would best fit about 30 people, though it was listed as a space for up to 70 residents. Two hundred thirty-five residents currently live on this side of Kjellberg’s mobile home park. Because there is not enough space to accommodate all of the east-side residents, off-site shelters such as an adjoining office complex and Wal-Mart were listed on the evacuation plan. City council members were left to determine whether or not they felt this was a “reasonable” plan that could safely evacuate residents in five minutes or less in case of a weather emergency.
Some members of the council voiced concern and doubt that Kjellberg’s residents would have time to make it to these remote shelter locations in advance of a severe storm.
They also expressed concern with having residents try to cross busy roadways on foot as they attempt to seek shelter, saying that east side residents who try to seek shelter on the west side would need to cross seven lanes of traffic on Hwy. 25 when considering turn lanes.
“I’m not willing to give a pass on safety,” Herbst said. “I don’t want to be the one standing there saying we’ve had this on our radar for years and years but we never did anything about it,” he added, “because it only takes once.”
“I hate to impose a cost on them, but I think they need more of a storm shelter out there,” councilmember Tom Perrault said, in agreement with Herbst.
Herbst made a motion to deny the permit for the additional storage garage, saying he wanted the council to work with Kjellberg’s to make it work with an additional on-site shelter space. Glen Posusta recused himself from the vote due to the fact that he owns a storage facility business and therefore has a conflict of interest with Kjellberg’s putting in additional storage space. Without his vote, the council was split 2-2 on the issue, with Herbst and Perrault voting to deny the permit and Stumpf and Hilgart voting against that motion.
Stumpf said he didn’t feel the city should supersede what the state already allows and enforce additional requirements; Herbst took the opposite view: he felt the city should be responsible for the safety of its residents in this aspect without the state needing to tell them what to do. Hilgart voted against the motion because he said the shelter situation has been this way for a long time, and he didn’t have enough information to say that Kjellberg needs to put in additional space. He thought it was reasonable to expect that Kjellberg residents could get into their car and drive to a safe place.
Because there was a 2-2 split vote the motion was denied. Herbst said they would work with Kjellberg to add some type of shelter to the proposed storage facility.
In other business, the council:
Heard updates from Kitty Baltos, Community Center Director, regarding the city’s first Movie in the Park night on Saturday, June 30. The movie, Mouse Hunt, will begin around sunset (shortly after 9 p.m.) in Pioneer Park. She and Clint Herbst also updated the council on upcoming Riverfest happenings. For a full list of events, see the Riverfest tab in this week’s Monticello Times.
Voted to contract with Tom Kelly to provide budget preparation services for the city. Kelly, the city’s finance manager, will be leaving as of July 3. The council also reviewed proposed processes for interviewing and selecting a new finance director. City administrator Jeff O’Neill said the city has five qualified candidates, whom they will be interviewing this week. He also commended Kelly on his service to the city and his exceptional handling of the city’s finances. Kelly told the council that it was “the most difficult decision of his life” to take a different job, saying he feels his co-workers at the city are second to none.
Awarded a contract for the 2012 Rural Road Improvements to Knife River in the amount of $693,359. This bid came in 20 percent lower than the engineer’s estimate of $865,525. City engineer Bruce Westby said bituminous prices are quite sporadic this season, and Monticello’s bituminous prices came in on the low end of that swing for this project.
Voted to maintain the individual pension contributions for Monticello’s volunteer firefighters at $2,750 per person, per year for those who have served more than 20 years on the fire department. This is the amount the volunteer firefighters relief association requested.
Voted to do a speed study to determine whether or not stop signs should be placed at the intersections of Maple and 4th St., Maple and 3rd St., Elm and West River St. and Linn and West River St. Herbst said by a month from now they should have results in. Several residents stepped forward on West River St. to plead their case-vehemently, at times, for the stop signs on W. River St.
This study will tell us how many people are down there, what type of vehicles they are driving and how fast they are going. The study should be done and results studied by a month from now.
We look like the bad guys but really none of us have made a decision,” Herbst said. “It just needs to go through the correct process.”