Sirens a topic of debate in Columbia

Newly elected and re-elected Columbia officials sworn in Monday night are, from left: Steve Holtkamp, Ward 4 alderman; Gene Ebersohl, Ward 3 alderman; Mary Ellen Niemietz, Ward 4 alderman; Mayor Kevin Hutchinson; Jim Agne, Ward 1 alderman; Mark Roessler, Ward 2 alderman; Bob Naumann, treasurer; and Ron Colyer, city clerk. (Andrea Degenhart photo)

Monday night’s Columbia City Council meeting was standing room only as members of the community showed up in force to make their voices heard on issues of changing the emergency siren sounding schedule and requiring that vehicles be parked on hard surfaces.

The issue of the city’s sirens was raised at an April 22 committee meeting by resident Lindsey Swacil, who lives on Rapp Street near City Hall, said City Administrator Al Hudzik.

“I have a daughter who is scared of the sirens. She has been woken up by them,” said a neighbor of Swacil. She added she considers the sirens “noise pollution.”

Currently, the city has three sirens, located at City Hall, Parkview Elementary, and in the Columbia Lakes subdivision. They sound Monday through Saturday at noon and 6 p.m., for testing purposes, as well as to indicate fire emergencies between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., and for disasters, according to the city website.

While some residents have said the daily sirens are unnecessary, and that fire sirens should be sounded during a shorter period, others have spoken in favor of keeping the schedule just the way it is.

“When I found out they were going to be stopped, I thought, ‘There goes another tradition of Columbia,’” Geri Vogt said.

Vogt acknowledged Columbia is growing, and that is a “good thing. But with this progress, we are slowly losing our small-town feel.”

“I can understand tradition but when you have people that are having their daily lives affected by them, tradition has to be weighed,” the neighbor countered.

Courtney Matzenbacher, director of Columbia Kinder College, located across the street from City Hall, addressed the issue on behalf of her students and staff, calling them “not truly necessary.”

“I have children with sensory issues I take care of,” she said.

She told the council when the noon siren sounds, the preschoolers scream and some have to cover their ears.

Matzenbacher supports reducing the frequency of the sounding of the sirens rather than eliminating them entirely.

Members of the Columbia Fire Department were called away from Monday’s meeting by a fire call, but they were in attendance at the April 22 committee meeting. Fire Chief Mike Roediger and Fire District President Glen Stumpf said they would prefer to address the issue with their Board of Trustees before offering a formal response.

Mayor Kevin Hutchinson said the decision on what to do with the sirens will come down to two issues: tradition and testing.

He said the council will re-address the issue in June or July, after both the fire department and community have had ample opportunity to weigh in.

Also of public interest was a proposed ordinance change that would prohibit any vehicle, boat or trailer from being parked on an unpaved surface in either a residential front or back yard. Currently the code applies only to front yard parking.

“There were some issues with parking multiple vehicles and trailers in back yard areas in the city. Some of the aldermen were wondering what could be done to address the concern,” said City Engineer Ron Williams.

Columbia resident Ray Fischer said such a change would place a heavy financial burden on him to provide a paved surface for a camper that is only parked in his yard less than three months a year. Several of his neighbors spoke out in his favor.

“I hate for government to tell me I have to do so-and-so,” he said, adding he believes all the additional hard surfaces this ordinance change would necessitate could lead to stormwater drainage issues, as well as increased property tax burdens on affected homeowners.

The issue was tabled and will be discussed further during a May 28 committee meeting.

In other council action:

• Hudzik reported the state is currently $221,740 in arrears in income tax owed the city.

“(The state) is looking at our pockets to balance their budgets,” Hutchinson said.

•Hutchinson, aldermen Mary Ellen Niemietz, Gene Ebersohl, Jim Agne, and Mark Roessler, Treasurer Bob Naumann and City Clerk Ron Colyer were sworn in for new terms, as was newly elected alderman Steve Holtkamp.

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Andrea F.D. Saathoff

Andrea is a graduate of Gibault High School and the University of Missouri School of Journalism, the University of Missouri Harry S Truman School of Public Affairs and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville College of Education. She lives in Columbia with her husband and their twin toddler sons. When she isn't cheering on St. Louis Cardinals baseball or riding the emotional roller coaster of Mizzou Tigers football, she enjoys attending and participating in the many family events the county has to offer. email:
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