City defers to insurer

FAIRMONT — The Fairmont City Council on Monday accepted responsibility for a sewer backup that caused damage to a resident’s home, but deferred any action on reimbursement to the insurance companies involved.

Monica Shelgren of 1428 Oak Beach Drive sought restitution for the May 15 incident, which she claimed was caused by the city main being plugged by fish parts from the fish-cleaning station at Gomsrud Park. Shelgren said a local plumber confirmed her lines were clean and that the blockage was at the city main.

Shelgren estimated replacement costs for carpet, furniture, luggage, new water heater and vacuum, plus the plumber, a professional cleaning service and hours of her own personal time, based on her current salary of $60 per hour, to be more that $21,200.

The proposed settlement from the city’s insurance carrier was $6,400, and Shelgren requested that the city make up the difference of about $14,800.

“This was a known problem,” Shelgren said of the possibility of fish parts blocking the city main. “I don’t think I should have to pay out of my pocket.”

City Administrator Mike Humpal recommended the council continue to accept the decisions of the city’s insurance carrier, the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, and Elizabeth Bloomquist, city attorney, agreed.

“This is their job,” she said about the insurance trust. “I think it’s imperative we do not undermine their authority. The city has accepted responsibility. This is not a closed case.”

“I don’t think that’s fair,” countered Councilman Tom Hawkins. “I think we’re obligated as a city to make up the difference.”

Bloomquist pointed out that some of the items listed for reimbursement were outside the parameters of a normal claim, such as $8,000 for painting the upstairs interior of the home and the cost of a new water heater, as opposed to repairing the existing one.

Humpal expressed empathy for Shelgren’s situation.

“But I don’t believe this is the appropriate place to have an insurance claim played out,” he said.

He advised Shelgren to contact her own insurance company, something she said she was reluctant to do for fear her premiums would increase.

Hawkins reiterated that the city was responsible for her situation and “should make her whole.”

“We’ve already accepted liability. That’s not the issue,” said Councilman Jim Zarling, who felt the council was not in a position to make determination on damages. “Do you feel qualified? That’s why we have insurance.”

“If the City Council steps in, the insurance company might step out,” said Bloomquist, noting the council’s interference could result in the insurance carrier canceling the city’s coverage. “It is interfering in our contractual relationship.”

“As a City Council, we cannot. We cannot,” said Councilman Bruce Peters. “We could easily lose our insurance carrier. When you turn in a liability claim, you cede your rights to the insurance company.”

“I think you’re hitting the nail on the head,” agreed Councilman Wayne Hasek.

Both Hasek and Peters are insurance professionals.

“Our course of action would be to have the two insurance companies work this out,” Humpal said. “There is a much longer process here.”

The council took no action but stressed that Shelgren should contact her insurance carrier.

Turning to another matter, Fairmont Police Chief Mike Hunter reported that the recent survey on police body cameras and the proposed policy draft is available on the department’s link on the city’s website, Public input on the guidelines, which are based on the League of Minnesota Cities’ model policy, will be accepted at the Nov. 13 council meeting.

Hunter said comments have been mostly positive, with almost 80 percent of the survey respondents favoring the body cameras.

In other business, the council:

o Approved an on-sale/Sunday liquor license for Jessie’s Smokehouse at 1500 Albion Ave., the former VFW club.

o Approved a parade permit for Fairmont Glows for Nov. 17. The parade will start at 6 p.m. and follow a route from Ward Park to Lincoln Park.

o Heard Mayor Debbie Foster proclaim Oct. 30 as “Edward (Eddie) Murphy Day” in Fairmont. Murphy will be honored for his volunteerism by the Fairmont Exchange Club on that day.

o Heard a report from Roni Dauer, Community Education and Recreation director, on the offerings of CER as the program celebrates 46 years of activities in Fairmont. The mayor proclaimed Nov. 9 as “CER Day” in Fairmont, and CER’s annual open house will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. that day.

o Authorized city staff to submit necessary information for a local road improvement grant application. Funds would be used to improve Winnebago Avenue from Highway 15 east about 2,500 feet, a route that serves several industrial customers.