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mikerandleman / By MIKE RANDLEMAN mrandleman@faribault.com 

Faribault’s Khadar Farah, right, scored twice in Tuesday’s weather-shortened win at Winona. (Mike Randleman/Faribault Daily News)

Council gives thumbs up to traffic-altering median at Lyndale, Fourth

Faribault’s City Council has signed off on the Rice County’s plans to improve traffic safety by restricting a dangerous entrance to Lyndale Avenue.

Under the plans, a median will be installed next year in the middle of the intersection between Lyndale Avenue and Fourth Street NW (at the Taco John’s and Arby’s). Once the project is completed next year, motorists on Fourth Aveue NW will be required to take a right turn upon reaching the intersection.

Currently, the intersection is considered one of the most dangerous intersections in the city, with motorists attempting to cross Lyndale Avenue at significant risk of being hit by oncoming traffic. County Engineer Dennis Luebbe said the intersection was brought to his attention after a severe crash in 2016.

While the intersection hadn’t previously been on the county Highway Department’s radar, Faribault police regarded it as particularly troublesome. Each year, several crashes there are reported to the state, and law enforcement is aware of many more minor crashes that go unreported.

After discovering a significant need for extra safety measures, the Highway Department weighed several options, including lowering the speed limit and adding an extra stoplight. Luebbe said the department ultimately concluded that both of those options would unnecessarily inhibit the efficient flow of traffic on Lyndale Avenue.

Councilors Elizabeth Cap and Janna Viscomi raised concerns that creating a blockage on Fourth Avenue NW could increase traffic to other east-west streets, especially Division Street and Hwy. 60. Luebbe said that according to studies produced by engineering firm Bolton & Menk, the increased traffic on nearby roads would be manageable.

For motorists who wish to make a left turn onto Lyndale, the new arrangement will make doing so even trickier. City Engineer Mark DuChene said that such motorists would ultimately need to make a U-turn at the intersection of Lyndale with Hwy. 60 or Division Street, or find an alternate route.

Even at peak times, Luebbe estimates that no more than two additional cars per minute would likely make a right turn onto Lyndale Ave, which would subsequently lead them to be diverted onto Division Street or Hwy. 60 if they wish to continue traveling east or west.

Bolton & Menk also analyzed pedestrian traffic at the intersection to determine if extra measures were needed to ensure pedestrian safety. Ultimately, the number of pedestrians crossing the intersection averages only about two per hour, with roughly four per hour crossing at peak times.

Based on Minnesota guidelines, Bolton & Menk recommended that the resulting structure should be pedestrian friendly, complete with sidewalks and a median refuge meeting Americans with Disabilities Act standards. However, due to the limited foot traffic and high speed of traffic on Lyndale Avenue, Bolton & Menk recommended against pedestrian signage and crosswalk markings, arguing it would give pedestrians a false sense of security.

The project will be completed by the end of summer 2020 at a cost of about $560,000. Half of the funding has been provided by a grant from the Minnesota Highway Safety Improvement Program, while the other half will come out of the county’s state aid construction fund.

The city of Faribault will not contribute funding to the project, aside from assuming electricity costs for new streetlights at the intersection.

Luebbe said that when a similar intersection at 17th Street NW and Lyndale was modified, crashes dropped in half. He’s hoping for a similar or even larger reduction in crashes once the Fourth Street intersection is modified.

Don’t ‘suck it up’ but talk it out: First responders get help for trauma

In recent years, increased focus has been paid to the mental health of military members and first responders. In large part due to the stress of the job, peace officers have higher rates of heart disease and suicide and a shorter life expectancy than the general public.

Those who serve our country and communities valiantly often see gruesome sights and deal with troubling situations in the line of duty, but for years, seeking out help was seen as a sign of weakness. In southeastern Minnesota, a program known as the Critical Incident Stress Management Program has long served the local law enforcement community.

The program’s coordinator, Southeastern Minnesota Emergency Medical Services, recently approached the Rice County Board of Commissioners with a request for $5,000 to support its programming. Rice County Sheriff Troy Dunn encouraged the board to strongly consider the funding request from SEEMS.

Based out of Rochester, SEEMS is a public consortium serving law enforcement and first responder agencies throughout southeast Minnesota. One of eight such consortium in Minnesota, SEEMS’s board of directors is composed of county commissioners from each of the 11 counties, including Rice, SEEMS serves.

In addition to Critical Incident Stress Management Program, SEEMS provides a variety of other services. Among the most important for local law enforcement agencies is the Medical Directors Consortium, which provides small and rural ambulance and first responders units with a part-time Medical Director and the training and continuing education that first responders need to do their jobs.

Traditionally, SEEMS has received public funding from the Minnesota Legislature through general fund allotments, as well as receiving a portion of the proceeds from seat belt tickets. As Minnesotans have become better about wearing their seat belts in recent years, the funding from seat belt tickets has largely dried up, leaving SEEMS to look to county boards for the support they need.

Dunn said that although Sheriff’s Office has only requested the services of SEEMS about once a year, the program has made a big difference for officers. Other local law enforcement officials say they strongly support the program, saying it serves a key role in improving the mental and physical well being of officers and first responders.

“We have an obligation if you’re wearing a badge and a first responder patch to make sure we’re looking out for each other,” said Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen. “Everybody processes things differently and sometimes the things that first responders deal with can be quite ugly so it can be good to have those services available.”

After a particularly stressful incident, such as a fatal crash or a homicide, law enforcement officials and first responders can request a Critical Incident Stress debriefing. The debriefing usually takes around 60-90 minutes and is closed to those who were not at the scene of the incident.

At the stress debriefing, counselors, former officers and specially trained professionals can help officers improve their coping skills and share their feelings. If officers need further resources to ensure their mental and physical well-being, SEEMS can help officers get connected with additional help.

You’re a human being, not a superhero, and you can’t do all these things without it affecting you,” said Faribault Fire Chief Dustin Dienst. “The resources have always been there, there’s been more of a culture change to make it OK to ask for this help.”

While fewer younger people considering careers in public safety and burnout rates are high among those who do enter the field, advocates for officer wellness and mental health programs are hopeful that those trends can be reversed with more support for police officers. By reducing stress overload, wellness and mental health programs could help officers to be more supportive of those who are dealing with law enforcement because of deep personal tragedies.

“When you’re suffering significantly from compassion fatigue, the last thing that you want to do is connect with someone who’s in a lot of emotional pain,” said Daniel Blumberg, a professor of psychology at Alliant International University. “So, that person comes to the scene, and is not being as helpful or supportive as that victim may need in the moment.”

Northfield Police Chief Monte Nelson said that the program is helpful to officers in his department as well and he’s hopeful about the increased discussions around mental health. However, Nelson lamented that in his view, there still are just not enough resources to help officers with the unique mental health challenges they face on a daily basis.

“There are more resources than when I started in this business, but I would say there’s a long way to go,” he said. “It is fairly unique what police, firefighters, EMS go through, and I still think we have a lot of improvement.”

Members of the Faribault High School 2019 homecoming court are Nick Flom, Bryce Nolen, Evan Larson, Luke Leppert, Tyler Ta, Gabby Hollund, Becky LaCanne, Trang Nguyen, Madelyn Skjeveland and Chau Truong. Also pictured is FHS Assistant Principal Joe Sage. A week of festivities culminates at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4 as the Falcons football team takes on Mankato East. Gates open at 5:45 p.m. (Photo courtesy of Faribault Public Schools)

School taxes decrease, board schedules operating levy open forum

Faribault Public Schools presented positive news for taxpayers at its Monday board meeting: the district has a 6% decrease in its total levy.

According to Superintendent Todd Sesker, education tax usually accounts for 12 to 13% of the total property tax bill, and that should decrease if property values remain the same. The district’s education tax decreased by about $500,000 last year. While that doesn’t include the proposed operating levy, which the community will vote on in November, Sesker said the lower levy will be “a true decrease for fiscal year 2020.”

The main reason for the decrease, said Sesker, is that the district decided to hold out on installing an HVAC system at the Faribault Area Learning Center. This health and safety feature may be added in the future, but the district wants to wait and see if the operating levy passes. Since health and safety falls into a separate account, the discontinued item has no impact on the general fund for which the district budgeted.

The November 2019 referendum will ask voters to approve an increase in the district’s general education revenue to fund a seven-period day at Faribault High School (question one) and provide additional student support and more transportation options (question two). How voters respond to the questions could impact the percentage decrease in property taxes, but Sesker said it’s too soon to predict that specific percentage.

Sesker said new industries being built in the community haven’t been calculated into the tax piece, but they will be figured in later. Commercial and industrial growth in the region helps to shift the tax burden away from residential properties largely due to higher valuations and the greater tax burden the state places on commercial properties.

“When a new industry is built in our community, that doesn’t give us more money, it just reduces the tax impact,” said Sesker. “Increases the base.”

Open forums

The Faribault School Board approved a date for an open forum in regard to the special election in November. That in-person meeting, which is open to the public, has been scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 14 in the Faribault District Office.

The format of this meeting involves three discussion tables, where community members can meet with School Board and cabinet members to learn about the finance and tax impact, the seven-period day mentioned in question one on the ballot and how the levy would impact the district’s graduation rate.

Each group will have 20 minutes to gather knowledge about each topic and ask questions, then rotate.

The School Board also approved dates for three Facebook Live chat information sessions, in which administration members will share factual information about the operating levy. These sessions will be held from 9 to 10 a.m. Oct. 23, 24 and 25, but viewers can tune in even after the discussion ends.

Sesker, FHS Principal Jamie Bente and FHS Assistant Principal Joe Sage hosted the first discussion about the operating levy Sept. 19 and attracted 1,000 viewers. That post is still available for viewing on the Faribault High School Facebook page.