Atlas 46 President Visits County Board

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"Our goal is to create an epicenter in Montgomery County for premium American-made products," Atlas 46 President Brian Carver told members of the Montgomery County Board at their monthly meeting on Tuesday evening, April 9, at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hillsboro.

Carver was joined by Atlas 46 Hillsboro Manager Kyle Anderson, Robert Buda of the Montgomery County Growth Initiative, Hillsboro Mayor Brian Sullivan, Litchfield Mayor Steve Dougherty and Andy Ritchie. 

Atlas 46 creates premium gear for construction workers, and opened a facility in Hillsboro earlier this year with 18 employees. Buda introduced Carver to the board, and gave a brief history of how the Fenton, MO-based company selected Hillsboro and Montgomery County as a home for its expansion project.

"The words American-made are central to everything they do," Buda said. "Now, they're here. They're producing, and you'd be proud to purchase any of their products. Go over and see what their operation looks like."

Carver gave thanks to the community for helping to make the transition to Hillsboro a good one.

"Every time we have needed anything, someone has helped," he said.

Carver gave a brief history of the company, which was started by his grandma in her basement. Eagle, later run by Carver's father, would eventually employ 2,500 people. The company was later split into FirstSpear, owned by Carver's brother, and Atlas 46. FirstSpear provides premium tactical products for military.

Atlas 46 was started about three years ago, and continues to grow. Carver said he now offers 18 jobs in Hillsboro, but hopes to grow that number to 500 in five years. He said he would provide jobs from manufacturing and customer service to industrial design.

"We want to have plenty of opportunities to work in Hillsboro," Carver said. "We put jobs downtown, and we want to make it enjoyable to come to work."

At the end of April, Carver will be hosting a tour for 12 other company CEOs at both the Fenton, MO and Hillsboro locations. His vision is to bring other premium, American-made products to this area.

Buda would also introduce Mike Fleming of Litchfield National Bank, who is working with banks in Montgomery County to provide investment opportunities to these businesses.

"The opportunity is right, the people are right. The next push is the buildings," Carver told the board in his plans to restore some old buildings. "I just love history."

Carver and Ritchie briefly touched on an upcoming project teaching veterans to sew at Graham Correctional Center, which houses the largest number of veteran inmates in the state.

Another project Carver talked about is working with local schools to have students help design products that are sold on the Atlas 46 website and the profits given back to the schools to grow those programs.

Before concluding his program, Carver asked both the mayors of Hillsboro and Litchfield to speak on the importance of unity in Montgomery County.

Hillsboro Mayor Brian Sullivan thanked Carver and Atlas 46 for their investment in Hillsboro and the county.

"Lightning has struck in Hillsboro," Sullivan said. "And we have the opportunity to make Montgomery County the epicenter of this boom. Think big. Win big. But it's bigger than Hillsboro. It's bigger than Litchfield."

Litchfield Mayor Steve Doughterty challenged the county to continue to pursue economic development in this area.

"We need to get rid of all the animosity in this county and start working together," Dougherty said. 

Carver then turned and asked Montgomery County Board Chairman Evan Young what Atlas 46 could do for the county. Young said to be a good employer and treat people fairly. Board member Glenn Bishop encouraged Carver to promote Montgomery County on its website sales, and Carver said many of the new products would feature Hillsboro names.

Board member Bob Sneed encouraged the company to work with the schools and their vocational programs, and board member Ron Deabenderfer asked them to give high school students a reason to stay in Montgomery County. Board member Sandy Johnson, who resides in Nokomis, said she would like to see their company expand to other communities as well.

Board member Jeremy Jones asked Carver what the county could do for Atlas 46, and Carver said unity was the most important thing and to keep talking about these ideas. Mayor Steve Dougherty said the county needed to work to restore the West Central Development Council and extend the Enterprise Zone.

"To me, right here, this is the beginning," said Economic Development Committee Chairman Donna Yeske. "We're all ecstatic that you're here."

To celebrate their new business, Atlas 46 will be hosting an American-Made Day in Hillsboro on Saturday, May 18. It will include a ribbon cutting at Atlas 46, food from local vendors, music, a 4.6K race/walk, kids' events, hayrides and more. For more information about the event, visit them online at www.americanmadeday.com.

Other Business

Chairman Young called the April meeting to order with board members Megan Beeler, Bill Bergen and Dillon Clark absent. He asked Buda to lead the Pledge of Allegiance.

Board members would unanimously approve both the mileage and per diem reports, as well as the minutes from the previous meeting.

Coordinating

Information Systems Coordinator Curt Watkins presented the board with a five-year contract from Illinois Century Network, which is the third piece to their communications program. The county is switching to CTI as the main provider for internet and phone service with Consolidated Communications providing a small portion of services and back-up. 

Watkins said they already work with the Illinois Consolidated Network for leads and elections, and said ICN will provide the link from one company to the other if one goes down. He said the five-year contract actually came in $100 less than he anticipated, and said the county will be spending less than before. Board members unanimously approved the five-year agreement, as they had previously approved five-year agreements with CTI and Consolidated.

University of Illinois Extension Unit 18 Director Amanda Cole made her annual presentation to the board, asking for $154,925, which was levied last summer. She said in the seven years since she has taken over the job, that number has increased only $15.

"We try to hold the levy the best we can," she said.

Cole also reported they just hired Lisa White of Fillmore to replace Dara Jagadinski and Penny Grundy in the Hillsboro office.

Liaison Reports

Board member Earlene Robinson reported the 708 Board met, and currently has a bank balance of $283,106 with one more set of quarterly payments due. She added that this year, the board had nine applications for funding, including two new applicants, for a total of $730,687.15, which is more than what they will be able to award. Robinson said the board will also be hosting a drug endangered children's workshop on Aug. 1.

In her CEFS report, Robinson said that April 10 was the last day to bring tax information for free preparation at the CEFS office. She also said they had a job opening for a county resident, over the age of 55 and low income.

In Planning Commission news, Deabenderfer said two members met last week without a quorum. He said they had a visit from Melba Petroline of Coventry Homes in Litchfield on housing issues in Montgomery County, and that discussion will be ongoing.

Economic Development

In addition to the presentation from Atlas 46, Yeske reported the annual meeting for the Montgomery County Economic Development Council will be Thursday evening, April 11, at the Litchfield Country Club. She also told the board the trade show for this year's Montgomery County CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities) class would be May 7, at Aumann Auctions in Nokomis.

The board unanimously approved the awarding of several tourism grants, including $1,000 to the Ariston Cafe, $1,000 to the Hillsboro Summer Concert Series, $650 to the Old Settlers Car Show, $1,000 to the Litchfield Pickers Market, $500 to the Illinois Association of Circuit Clerks, $500 to the Litchfield Spring Dualthon and $500 to the Route 66 Jet Rally. Deabenderfer reminded the board that these grants are paid from the county's hotel/motel tax and not from the general fund.

In a few final notes, Yeske said they were working with the mayor of Farmersville about the Green Diamond Bike Trail to move some concrete blocks. She added that work continues on the clean-up at the Eagle Zinc site.

County Coordinator Chris Daniels said she did not have an update on the Enterprise Zone, as the office was short-staffed and had not reviewed any of the applications yet. Board member Glenn Savage reported the West Central Development Council is also looking to hire an accountant and encouraged qualified local residents to look into it.

Finance

In the absence of Finance Committee Chairman Megan Beeler, Vice Chairman Jim Moore provided the monthly report.

He introduced Rick Gratza of Kerber, Eck and Braeckel, who presented the county's annual audit for the year ending Nov. 30, 2018.

Gratza said they gave the county an unmodified opinion for the audit, which is the best of three opinions they can provide. He said it means the county fairly presented the financial picture.

Although KEB does not audit the county's internal controls, they do examine it, and found one significant deficiency in the federal awards recording. The county is required to list all grants received from the federal government, and Gratza said that because the county has decentralized this, some grants were not included and some information was provided incorrectly. He said the county did receive a non-compliance finding, as they are required to provide a complete and accurate recording of federal grants.

Among other notes, Gratza said he would encourage some budgetary controls, as in some funds the expenses exceeded the budgeted amounts. He also suggested the board adopt a financial policy and procedures manual, which Treasurer Nikki Lohman is currently working on.

Gratza said that each year, they audit one of the county's programs for compliance, and this year, they did an audit of the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program, which is the county's largest federal program. They offered an unmodified opinion and found no internal control or compliance issues

Board member Kirby Furness asked if there was any measure in the budget to use available funds that have not been budgeted for specifically, and Gratza said he felt the best way to do that was to amend the budget.

Moore said the board would have 30 days to review the audit and would vote to approve it, as well as the audit of the Circuit Clerk's office at the May meeting.

In capital improvement news, Moore said Treasurer Lohman had re-invested some of the fund balances at a better interest rate.

Moore also reported the sheriff's department had hired two new employees, and that one had started already. Sheriff Rick Robbins reported he would have two retiring from his office on May 1, and would be looking to hire again.

Moore said the committee also started discussing salary increases for non-union employees as well as the new minimum wage law.

"Currently, we're ahead of the game," Moore said. "We're going to continue to work on it over a period of time."

He said the committee is also looking at funding help for the recycling program. He added they discussed the possibility of a special referendum for a special services rate to see if voters wanted to continue the recycling program.

"We lose money there every year," Moore said. 

The board unanimously voted to convey three deeds in Butler Grove Township to Steven J. Groom.

Moore gave a brief update on a change to state law giving less of the traffic fines and fees to the county, while the state will keep more. He said they will get more information at the next meeting from Circuit Clerk Holly Lemons.

The board would unanimously approve up to $13,000 for maintenance on new 911 software for the sheriff's department in fiscal year 2021.

And in a final motion, the board unanimously approved the hiring on a new, full-time position for the information services department. Moore said that Watkins and his assistant are overworked and in need of more help. The salary range for the new position is $40,000 to $50,000, and Moore said they want to find someone as soon as possible. Sheriff Robbins said the information systems department is critical to all county offices, and added that Curt and Matt Marietta do a wonderful job.

Board member Ron Deabenderfer asked where the money for the salary would come from, and Chairman Young said they would find it. Furness added they also needed to find some additional space for the department as well.

Road and Bridge

Road and Bridge Committee Chairman Gene Miles presented a low bid from Yamnitz and Associates from Fieldon for $395,499.11 for work on Cottonwood Trail over E. Fork Shoal Creek in Nokomis Township. The board approved the bid with Deabenderfer voting against it.

The board also unanimously approved the low bid from Louis Marsch for $204,160 for the county's oil letting. Miles said that County Petroleum issued a complaint about the bidding process, claiming the way the oil was grouped together was unfair. County Engineer Cody Greenwood said the bid was approved by the Illinois Department of Transportation and that the county followed all the correct protocols.

Board members also unanimously approved oil letting bids from Louis Marsch and Litchfield Bituminous for the county's townships.

They also unanimously approved the hire of Chad Millburg of Waggoner as the new Highway Department maintainer. He started on Monday. Greenwood said they had 23 applications and conducted seven interviews before making the tough decision.

The board then went into a brief closed session to discuss a settlement offer from the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was unanimously approved following the closed session. Miles said they would not be able to disclose the amount per the agreement. The Journal-News has already submitted a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to the county for the release of that information.

Building and Grounds

After many months of discussion, the board approved a contract with Smart Watt for $604,276 to complete an energy savings project. Building and Grounds Committee Chairman Bob Sneed said they would be self-funding the project through the capital improvement fund.

Board member Jeremy Jones asked for a list of equipment that would be replaced with the project, and Sneed said there would be a new HVAC system at the jail, water conservation at the jail, lights in the new courthouse and windows would be sealed.

Deabenderfer asked about borrowing the money to pay for it, and Sneed said they didn't want a long-term agreement. Smart Watt agreed to take half the money in this fiscal year and half in the next fiscal year. Deabenderfer also asked how much the county would save by self-funding the project, and Sneed said they would save considerably in interest, as well as an annual service cost.

Smart Watt has guaranteed the county to save at least $40,000 in energy costs in the first year. If they don't, Smart Watt will make up the difference.

"We should start seeing savings real quick," Sneed said. "And those savings will go right back into the general fund."

Board member Mark Hughes asked on the return on investment, and Orry Cummings of Smart Watt said 14 to 15 years. Originally, it was around 20 years, but by self-funding, the county can save on interest costs. Hughes also asked about the contractors, and the low bid for much of the electrical work was Henson Robinson, which Cummings said would be a good fit. Heise Plumbing of Litchfield also hired for the project.

Jones asked how long the new equipment was expected to last, and Cummings said 25 years, and that they should get 14 to 15 years out of the new lights.

In maintenance news, Sneed said the chiller went out at the new courthouse the first time they turned it on this spring, in need of a new flow switch. He added they had some of the carpet cleaned in the new courthouse.

Sneed said they are still working on turning the conference room into a lactation room, as well as the new locks on the treasurer's office. The committee is also still discussing updates to the sound system in the County Board meeting room in the Historic Courthouse. Board member Glenn Savage said he would bring a hearing expert to the next committee meeting.

Sneed reported one of the sheds for the Highway Department had roof damage during the high winds this spring, and they are waiting on an estimate.

Board members unanimously approved putting county surplus items at the new Highway Department facility (formerly Wright Automotive in Hillsboro). Deabenderfer asked about a list of items, and Sneed said they are working on it. Sheriff Robbins asked if other departments could add surplus items, and Sneed said it was open to all county departments.

In a final note, Sneed said they are continuing to work on the possibility of turning the lounge in the basement of the new courthouse into new space for the information systems department.

EMA

In the absence of EMA Chairman Bill Bergen, Vice Chairman Chuck Graden gave the monthly report.

He noted that EMA Coordinator Greg Nimmo had attended several training opportunities.

HWE

HWE Chairman Chuck Graden said the consolidated elections were over, and County Clerk and Recorder Sandy Leitheiser reported they went very well.

Graden said Bill Gonet provided a monthly EPA report to their committee as well.

In recycling news, Graden told the board the next electronics recycling drive would be held Saturday, May 11, in Hillsboro.

In animal control news, Graden said they were unable to purchase a new vehicle for the department, and are still looking for one.

Personnel

Personnel Committee Chairman Kirby Furness said his committee discussed the employee insurance plans and trying to boost it up. He said they had a good discussion about potential options on improving employee health insurance, though the committee was still discussing it.

Board member Mark Hughes asked Sheriff Robbins how much the employee insurance affected his ability to hire employees, and Robbins said it would be impossible to pinpoint to just one thing.

Board member Gene Miles said he thought the board was happy with the employee insurance plans, and Furness said they are, but that many employees are not utilizing them because of the high deductibles.

Furness said the out-of-pocket expenses for the employee is less than the Blue Cross Blue Shield plan for better coverage, but the HRA plans are front loaded, meaning employees are responsible for more of the payment up front.

"The value of our insurance is higher than it used to be," Furness said. 

Furness also said they are not looking to hire a position in the recycling department right now.

He added that his committee is also discussing the new minimum wage increase law, and looking at the spread of salaries across the board. Furness said they will continue discussions in the coming months.

Announcements

Before adjourning, the board unanimously approved the payment of April bills.

They also appointed Stephen Voyles as president of the Coffeen Fire Protection District for a three-year term and Robert Matli to the Raymond Fire Protection District for a three-year term.

With no public input, the meeting adjourned at 8:20 p.m., just under three hours from when it started. The next full meeting of the Montgomery County Board will be Tuesday, May 14, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the Historic Courthouse in Hillsboro.

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