County declines request for storm siren funds

At the times of dangerous summer storms, often the difference between being forewarned and being caught unaware can be the sounding of storm sirens alerting people that threatening weather is in the area. But, who pays for those sirens to be installed and maintained? At the July 29 meeting of the Wright County Board, the commissioners learned it isn’t them.

The item came to the attention of the board by Commissioner Charlie Borrell. Meeker County is constructing a storm siren along the Wright County border that will cost approximately $20,000. In discussions between Borrell and a Meeker County commissioner, Borrell said he thought Wright County should kick in on the cost because the siren would alert people in Collinwood Park that dangerous weather is imminent.
 “I was at Collinwood Park during some very bad weather and you couldn’t hear the nearest sirens in Cokato going off,” Borrell said. “While this is a Meeker County project, I’m bringing it forward to the board because it will impact Wright County residents.”
However, it was only during the discussion phase that it was learned that Wright County has never paid for emergency sirens in their own county, much less contributing to help a bordering county pay for one of its own. Commissioner Pat Sawatzke said that, upon seeing the item on the board agenda, he touched base with Wright County Emergency Management Director Steve Berg. At that point, he found out that Wright County doesn’t participate in such projects – and never has.
“We haven’t dealt with these requests in the past,” Sawatzke said. “What I find strange is that we’ve never funded these – even in our county. According to Steve, we’ve never funded sirens. They’ve always been funded by cities, townships or lake associations. We’re not even participating for projects in our own county. I don’t know why we should fund one outside our borders.”
Board Chair Christine Husom added that, by agreeing to participate, even if in a small way, it could set a precedent that would likely have a long-term impact on county funding of such projects.
“If we were to get involved in this, it might open up a whole new situation that we might want to avoid,” Husom said. “If we support this, we’re going to be asked every time a similar situation comes up here to participate in the funding.”
The board took no action on the item and Borrell said he would inform Meeker County of Wright County’s circumstances as to why it won’t be part of a cost participation for the project.
In other business, the board:
• Authorized board attendance at a public hearing hosted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 13, in the Wright County board room. The purpose of the meeting is an expansion request by the Rolling Hills Mixed Municipal Landfill.
• Signed off on a request from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to acquire a 60-acre land parcel adjacent to Lake Maria State Park. The park was created in 1963 in which a boundary area immediately surrounding the park was designated as a potential acquisition area should it come up for sale. The property in question is on the western edge of the park and within the statutory boundary for land acquisition.
• Approved a request from the administration department to allow AFSCME Local 2685 union members and non-union members to donate vacation time to fellow employee Jane Wimmer, who has been unable to return to work due to a medical situation. Similar measures were approved earlier in the month for donation of vacation pay to County Assessor Greg Kramber, who was in a life-threatening car accident in February and hasn’t been able to return to work since.
More information appears in this week's Messenger.