County Board Approves Budget Review

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Members of the Montgomery County Board unanimously approved a 30-day review of the budget for fiscal year 2022 as part of their monthly meeting, held Tuesday evening, Oct. 12, at the Historic Courthouse in Hillsboro.

Finance Committee Chairman Megan Beeler presented the budget, which is balanced in the general fund at just over $7 million, including a $600,000 transfer from coal royalty payments to make it balance.

Beeler said these are only estimates of the revenue with several things still unsure, like upcoming changes to the courts system and criminal justice reform.

“What everyone has to understand is this budget is balanced in the general fund, not through tax dollars, but through coal royalties,” Beeler said. “It’s not going to be possible to balance our budget on cutting copy machines and paper clips. It’s not materials. Our biggest expense is labor and health insurance.”

She said her committee had a long discussion about how to eliminate the deficit, but it would involve big changes in the way the county operates or big changes in the way they provide health insurance to employees and their families.

At this juncture, Beeler said her committee felt it would be hard to make such big changes while having $4.6 million in coal royalty funding sitting in the bank.

As for the total budget picture, Beeler said they are looking at $33.7 million in expenses and $28 million in revenues, making note that some departments carry a balance from year to year, saving up to do projects that are appropriated in one year.

Following the budget discussion, the focus turned to tax levies.

Beeler said they made some changes this year in separating out service areas from the county’s overall aggregate levy, at the suggestion of Montgomery County State’s Attorney Andrew Affrunti, who said that’s how many other counties do it.

Those special service areas have been included in the aggregate levy for years, but when one makes a change it could force the county to fall above the 5 percent increase and need to host a “truth in taxation” hearing.

This year, those service areas were pulled out, and the county’s aggregate levy includes only county business. The county plans to levy $4.2 million, which is a 4.999 percent increase.

The county also levies for several special service areas, but has no say in how much those boards levy. Among them are the county senior social services, Veterans Assistance Commission, community mental health, Hillsboro Area Ambulance Service, Litchfield Ambulance Service, Nokomis/Witt Area Ambulance, Raymond/Harvel Area Ambulance Service, Farmersville/Waggoner Area Ambulance Service and the University of Illinois Extension.

Of those, Beeler said two fall above a 5 percent increase, meaning those entities will have to host a “truth in taxation” hearing. Both the Litchfield Area Ambulance Service, which is looking to raise their maximum from .15 to .45, and the Nokomis/Witt Area Ambulance are asking for more than a 5 percent increase to their levies.

The final numbers for all the levies will be approved at the November board meeting.

Other Business

Board member Jeremy Jones was absent from the meeting. EMA Director Kevin Schott led the Pledge of Allegiance.

Board members unanimously approved minutes from the previous meeting as well as mileage and per diem requests from board members.

During the consent agenda, Montgomery County Clerk and Recorder Sandy Leitheiser noted her office added some links to their portion of the county’s website with mining information, including pending permits with IDNR (Illinois Department of Natural Resources) and three state geological surveys. The county’s website is www.montgomeryco.com.

Liaison Reports

Board member Earlene Robinson reported the 708 Board made its annual awards. They awarded $182,000 to FAYCO, $160,389 to the Montgomery County Health Department, $8,000 to SADD, $54,000 to the Hillsboro School District, $41,673 to the Panhandle School District, $45,000 to the Nokomis School District, $56,700 to the Litchfield School District and $51,840 to Litchfield Family Practice Center.

In addition, they had two applications requesting under $10,000 that were also awarded, including $6,500 to TASC and $7,800 to UCAN. With the $10,000 they awarded to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s office, it brought their grand total to $623,902.

Robinson invited board members to attend the meeting where they interview those asking for funding. She said it’s interesting to hear what all have to say about their needs, especially the school districts.

Board member Ron Deabenderfer asked if the county should enter into an intergovernmental agreement to award funding to the school districts. Robinson said she would ask Affrunti to look into it.

In CEFS news, board member Tim Fogle said they are still looking for volunteers for the Meals on Wheels program in Litchfield. They are also hiring an employee in the client sector in Montgomery County.

In 911 news, board member Bill Bergen said the microwave link on one of the radio towers (which had been struck by lightning) has been fixed with even more power. It previously had 10 megabytes and now has 50 megabytes.

Deabenderfer reported the Planning Commission will meet on Dec. 8 to review the county’s comprehensive plan.

In Extension news, board member Connie Beck reported the University of Illinois Extension had honored the Montgomery County Farm Bureau with its Community Partner Award this year.

In West Central Development Council news, board member Richard Wendel said they accepted the resignation of Kristy Swearingen as fiscal officer and hired Gina Wright with a one-year contract. Chris Casey has been hired to assist in the reorganization of the program. Wendel reminded the board of an upcoming job fair and said their youth program still has funding for anyone intersted.

Coordinating

Chairman Evan Young reported the information services department was staying busy. The server that housed the IT tickets went down, but is now back up and running.

In EMA news, Schott said they are coordinating a ground search and rescue training this Saturday morning in Walshville with several dog teams and a helicopter.

Young said he would be meeting with the Rules Committee this Friday to discuss committee realignment.

Buildings and Grounds

Buildings and Grounds Committee Chairman Bob Sneed reported that the new maintenance technician Phil Ernst started this week, and they are very pleased. They have no major maintenance issues.

The committee had a request about accessibility issues for evening meetings when the Historic Courthouse is closed to the public. They have added a phone number to the sign by the basement entrance (near the elevator), and anyone needing access can call to be let in that door.

Sneed said they are still looking for contractors to fix the sidewalks around the Historic Courthouse in Hillsboro. Deabenderfer said the city has a program when if the interested party pays for either the concrete or the labor, the city has people who can do the work. Sneed said they had not had much luck in that department.

Development

Development Committee Chairman Donna Yeske reported the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation is working on phase one with CORI, a Vermont-based company to help communities identify local assets, opportunities, gaps and challenges that factor into building inclusive digital economy ecosystems.

The committee also discussed the future of the Revolving Loan Fund program. Yeske said that all outstanding loans are currently being paid.

The county is still discussing the Mid-Illinois Regional Planning Council, and Young said they are waiting until the West Central Development Council gets reorganized. Yeske said the CEDS document is now up and running for the county and will need to be updated every five years.

In a few final notes, Yeske said the county has heard from a couple of companies contacting local farmers in the Raymond area about wind farms. She added they are hearing rumors that Vistra is cleaning up the former Coffeen Power Plant for battery storage.

Finance

In addition to the levy and budget discussion, Beeler said the supervisor of assessors continues to work on exemption renewals that have not yet been received.

She presented the capital improvement report, noting a couple of CDs had been re-invested for .3 percent interest. Beeler added the county received coal royalty checks in the months of August and September and are on track to receive $1.9 million total in 2021.

The board unanimously approved a rubric for awarding funding from the $5.5 million ARPA (American Recovery Plan Act) money. Beeler thanked board member Russ Beason for looking it over carefully. She said initially, the Department of Treasury said reports were due in October, but they were having technical issues, and very few entities had spent any of the ARPA funding as of yet.

As part of the ARPA funds, the county calculated lost revenue from the pandemic at $1.1 million. Under the guidelines, the county can take $1.1 million of the $5.5 million they have been granted and use it for county business.

“We’re using coal money all the time, and we could relieve that by using ARPA funds,” said board member David Loucks.

Beeler disagreed, and felt the funding could better be used to help other municipalities and townships in the county who didn’t receive as much in ARPA funding, especially since the county is still receiving coal royalty funding each month.

Board member Bev McCoy said she felt they should take care of the county first. Deabenderfer asked which option would be easier for bookkeeping, and Beeler said both options were fairly complicated in terms of bookkeeping.

Loucks said he made the motion in part due to the closure of the power plant. Board member Patty Whitworth agreed with keeping the money for the county, noting that it was considered lost revenue, and if not, the county would have had that money already.

Beeler said the county is projected to get $1.9 million in coal royalty funding this year, and she knows it won’t last forever.

“We have lived through a shutdown, and that’s when you make changes,” Beeler said. “I have a hard time taking $1.1 million and adding it to the $4.6 million we already have in savings.”

Board member Mark Hughes said he felt it should go to the county. Board member Andy Ritchie said that initially he felt the funding should go to county expenses,;Beeler’s remarks changed his mind.

Chairman Young said he sees the struggles of many municipalities. One example he gave was a community that could get a grant for a new sewer system, but couldn’t afford to pay for the engineering fees.

“A lot of communities didn’t get much in ARPA dollars,” Young said. “This can help everyone in the county, instead of hoarding it. The county can still use some of it for county projects.”

Beeler said there’s no timeline for moving the money to the general fund, and they had more time to think about it. Board member Doug Donaldson said he supported the motion to move the money to the county, but cautioned against it becoming a “slush” fund.

Board members Bob Sneed and Bill Bergen felt the money should go to the county, and Bergen noted county employees did a lot of work coming up with the lost revenue figure.

Beeler added the county had already gotten $318,000 in CURES Act money for lost revenue and was still awaiting news on the FEMA grant funding.

At the end of the discussion, the motion to move the $1.1 million in lost revenue to the county’s general fund was approved 14-6. Those voting against the motion were Young, Beason, Connie Beck, Beeler, Gene Miles and Ritchie.

Board members unanimously conveyed a deed in East Fork Township to Allied Tire Recycling, LLC.

In a few final notes, Beeler said the county got quotes for its property/casualty insurance, but are still waiting for cyber liability and workman’s comp. She added the county should get its final rate from IMRF in November.

Personnel

Personnel Committee Chairman Bill Bergen said the insurance company raised the life insurance rate 21 percent for employees. The company also applied for rate relief on behalf of the county for employee health insurance, but was denied.

Bergen said the county’s HRA usage is 11.1 percent this year, which is down from last year’s 14 percent.

In a split vote, the county approved Juneteenth (June 20) as a holiday for employees. The state approved the holiday earlier this year. Those voting against the measure were Beason, Hughes, Sneed and Whitworth.

Bergen said the committee continues to work with the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) union on their contracts.

Road and Bridge

Road and Bridge Committee Chairman Gene Miles said the fuel tanks at the new highway department are up and running.

Board members unanimously approved the purchase of a new John Deere backhoe from Erb Equipment for up to $120,000. It will be taken out of next year’s budget.

Miles said the highway department is working to utilize coal royalty funding for work on the Nokomis Road from Oconee Avenue to Fillmore using blade mix on the 12.5-mile stretch. Engineer Cody Greenwood said the cost will be $551,558 in materials, plus labor. He said the motor fuel tax funding will also help pay for the project.

In a final note, Greenwood said he is working with townships and municipalities on funding from Rebuild Illinois. The county was also awarded funding, and they have until July 2025 to spend it.

Safety and Elections

In his report, Safety and Elections Committee Chairman Mark Hughes said the ambulance billing software had been hacked, but they were working to restore it.

County Coordinator Chris Daniels said she continues to work with the EPA on landfills and has no update on a tire collection date.

The next county electronic recycling drive will be Saturday, Oct. 23, from 9 a.m. to noon at the corner of Illinois and Ryder streets in Litchfield.

In animal control news, Hughes said the roof leak had been fixed. They are currently housing nine cats and 14 dogs. He added that Animal Control Warden Amanda Daniels was trying out some new software to make some of the paperwork easier. It costs $360 per year, and can eventually be utilized for online payments.

Hughes presented the updated animal control ordinance for a 30-day review to board members. County mayors will be invited to the next committee meeting to look at the ordinance.

Public Comment

Bill Schroeder thanked Young and Whitworth for attending the two-hour IDNR public hearing about the coal mine, and he invited other board members to attend. Schroeder was upset that no questions were taken from the audience at the hearing.

After paying the bills, the board recessed their October meeting at 7:28 p.m. They will meet again on Tuesday evening, Nov. 9, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the Historic Courthouse in Hillsboro.

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