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Willmar City Council passes intersection option to committee for more discussion

A meeting last week to discuss options for Willmar's torubled intersection drew a large crowd. Tribune file photo

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council's Public Works/Safety Committee will discuss next week a possible solution to reducing a higher-than-average number of crashes at the Business 71/County Road 24/23rd Street Northeast intersection.

A consultant hired by the city, Kandiyohi County and the Willmar office of the Minnesota Department of Transportation studied safety improvements and recommended three options out of nine possible solutions.

The consultant explained the three options to the public last week. This past Monday afternoon, staff members from the city, county and MnDOT discussed the three options and agreed on a design, which they're calling "number three-and-a-half,'' because it includes aspects of the third option and half of the eighth option.

On Tuesday, the Kandiyohi County Board approved the combined option. Now it's the City Council's turn to decide.

City Administrator Michael Schmit explained number three-and-a-half to the council Monday night and asked council members what they want to do.

"I think MnDOT has already determined this is their alternative,'' he said. "The city should respond.''

Council members discussed the option and agreed to send the issue to the committee for further discussion. Council member Doug Reese, committee chairman, hopes Kandiyohi County commissioners and MnDOT representatives will join the May 26 meeting and have a thorough discussion.

Reese wasn't convinced the option was the best solution, and said he leaned more toward a roundabout, which was the costliest of three options recommended by the consultant.

"We need to do something, but make sure what we do is eliminating to the highest extent the crashes, in light of the loss of life at that intersection,'' Reese said.

Council member Denis Anderson said he didn't think any of the council members were enamored of the preferred options when the consultant's study was presented for the first time in January to city, county and MnDOT officials.

"Their preferred option is no good,'' said Anderson. "We have to come up with something that's better for the long term. This is not acceptable.''

Council member Jim Dokken said he has heard Police Chief Jim Kulset say signals will not work because eight of Willmar's most crash-prone intersections are signalized. But Dokken recommended the speed limit be reduced to see if crashes would be reduced.

Council member Steve Ahmann was not opposed to looking at it again.

"If we're going to do it, let's do it right. If it's going to cost us some money, let's spend it,'' he said.

In other business, the council voted to hold a hearing June 1 to consider an ordinance that allows criminal background checks of police department applicants.

The ordinance was recommended by City Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday. He said an audit by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension found that the Willmar Police Department -- or any other local police department -- should not be conducting criminal background checks without the governing authority adopting an ordinance authorizing those checks.

Council member Ron Christianson asked if previous background checks were illegal.

Halliday only recommended following the new procedure. The background checks would include volunteer coaches.

The council also:

* Voted to let the Community Education and Recreation Department contract with a state-licensed liquor caterer to sell beer during the Willmar Fests Softball Tournament at Swansson Field.

* Appointed Eric Banks to the Community Education and Recreation Advisory Board. He is employed at Gurley's Foods.

* Approved an ordinance to sell 2.45 acres of industrial park land for $1 to Kandiyohi County for construction of a Kandiyohi County Humane Society shelter.

* Received a report on the Kandiyohi County UCAN needs assessment from Stacey Roberts, executive director of United Way of West Central Minnesota. The study, conducted from January 2006 through June 2007, identified human service needs, assets and gaps in service in Kandiyohi County. The report is available at

* Voted to retain the statutory municipal tort liability limits at $400,000 per claimant and $1.2 million per occurrence. On July 1, the limits increase to $500,000 per claimant and $1.5 million per occurrence. The limits set the maximum liability compensation that an individual could claim for an injury caused by the city.

* Approved a three-lot preliminary plat of Bethesda Nursing home Second Addition. The plat was requested to allow an addition onto a building.