County Board Discusses Budget Hearings, Deficit

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The budget for the coming year as well as employee health insurance changes were the focus of the Montgomery County Board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 14, at the Historic Courthouse in Hillsboro.

Board member Tim Fogle was absent from the meeting.

In her report, Finance Committee Chairman Megan Beeler said the county held budget hearings in August and was looking at a $600,000 deficit in the general fund alone. Her committee continues to look at ways to cut the budget and will be presenting a draft budget to board members this week.

“I do anticipate there will be a lot of change by next month,” Beeler said.

She added that the committee worked through concerns about revenues and expenses with ambulance billing. Her committee was also working with the Safety and Elections Committee since employees in that department requested a larger raise than anticipated.

Beeler said Treasurer Nikki Lohman asked the board to grant her permission to move automation funds to an operating line so she could pay personnel, and it was granted.

Also during budget hearings, the board learned there would be an increase in the maintenance agreement for the new election equipment. Beeler said the rate went from $22,000 to $75,000, and she was concerned that it was not public knowledge about the increase. County Clerk and Recorder Sandy Leitheiser said prior to the new equipment vendor, she paid three vendors for maintenance on election equipment, and the increase for maintenance will actually be just over $20,000 per year by paying one vendor instead of three.

The Finance Committee approved the tax levy of $150,425 for the University of Illinois Extension. Beeler said it has not gone up since she’s been on the board.

In addition to budget talks, the board also discussed an increase to employee health insurance. 

Personnel Committee Chairman Bill Bergen said the insurance company lost $336,997 last year and $652,353 this year with large claims from the county. 

Annual renewal for employee health insurance was up nearly 23 percent, and Bergen said that was quite a jump from what they expected.

At the suggestion of insurance representative Amanda Mast, the county unanimously approved a new four-tier system for employee health insurance. It will add two tiers with a higher deductible, but employees would not have to pay a premium each month. Mast told the committee that 63 percent of the county’s employees spend less than $2,000 a year, so the fourth tier might be a better option for them, and it would provide savings to the county as well.

State’s Attorney Andrew Affrunti asked if anyone had looked into the existing tiers where the company is losing money. He said if those tiers still exist, the company will continue to lose money on claims. Board member Doug Donaldson said with such a large number of employees spending less than $2,000 a year, these new tiers should help with that.

Board member Jeremy Jones asked if the large claims were COVID-related and Donaldson said they were not.

Bergen said they were not trying to drive employees off the health insurance plan with the new tiers. Board member Earlene Robinson added they looked into other insurance as well, but since the Springfield Clinic will no longer accept Blue Cross Blue Shield, they didn’t think that was a good choice either.

Jones asked if the employees had seen the new tiers, and Donaldson said that Mast would come to present it ahead of open enrollment for insurance. Board members voted unanimously for the new four-tier plan.

Other Business

In calling the meeting to order, board members unanimously approved minutes from the previous meeting as well as mileage and per diem reports.

During the consent agenda, Dave Strowmatt, superintendent of the Veterans Assistance Commission said the office would be open intermittently in the coming week as he would be attending training for continuing education in East Peoria.

In addition, Strowmatt said he was very disappointed that the county did not have a ceremony or service to mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Liasion Reports

In 708 Board news, Earlene Robinson said the group met to decide on funding awards, and she would present it at the next board meeting.

In 911 news, Bergen said things were running smoothly.

In Planning Commission news, board member Ron Deabenderfer said they will meet soon to go over the county’s comprehensive plan.

Deabenderfer also reported he received the bank balances for the Senior Citizens group, who are still not meeting due to COVID.

Board member Gene Miles said UCCI will start meeting soon with an educational seminar this month in Springfield.

In West Central Development Council news, board member Richard Wendel said the DCEO approved a one-year plan, so they can move forward.

Finance

In addition to the budget discussion, Beeler said the sheriff’s department is in discussion about a contract to cover patrol service in the city of Witt. Currently, the county has a similar contract with the Village of Panama.

The board approved a motion to pay a $5,000 deductible for lightning damage on the Cress Hill communication tower. In addition to serving 911, the tower also serves the highway department and the sheriff’s office.

Beeler reminded the board of a special hearing for the Litchfield City Council on Thursday evening, Sept. 16, at 5:30 p.m. for the Litchfield ambulance tax levy.

In a report from Bellwether, Beeler said they are trying to identify any lost revenue from the county last year due to COVID. Right now, they estimate $1.1 million, and they can use the ARPA (American Recovery Plan Act) funds up to that amount in the general fund. However, Beeler reminded the board that $1.1 million would not be in addition to the $5.5 million awarded to the county, it would be taken out of that.

Beeler said they are also still looking at how that ARPA money will be spent.

“These are big decisions and they don’t just affect county government,” Beeler said.

She added they have compiled a municipal and organization wish list for spending the money, and Beeler will provide additional information to Bellwether on some of the projects.

Beeler has asked to see the rubric for awarding funding from other counties and is still working on it.

In cyber liability news, the county’s policy is back up for renewal, and they are working on getting a quote.

Beeler said the county’s FEMA grant keeps getting kicked back out. It was originally started by former EMA Director Greg Nimmo, who is no longer with the county. Work has been transferred to Treasurer Nikki Lohman, who doesn’t know all the answers to questions. Beeler has asked new EMA Director Kevin Schott to help. Beeler said the grant request is supposed to be submitted by the end of September, and the county is still hoping to get some funding back.

From the surplus sale, the county unanimously approved the conveyance of several deeds.

“It’s great news to get these properties back on the tax rolls,” Beeler said.

In Zanesville Township, they conveyed a deed to Calvin G. Glover. In Nokomis Township, they conveyed a deed to Stella Johnson and Jeffery Johnson and another two to Piggy Bank Investment Properties. Board member Mark Hughes asked if the county knew who owned that company, and they did not.

In North Litchfield Township, they conveyed a deed to Plummer Holding, Inc. Irving Township saw the conveyance of two deeds, one to Karen Summers and Loren Caulk and one to Krista Wineburner.

In Hillsboro Township, they conveyed a deed to Alice Matthews, one to Charles Eugene Knisley, one to Matthew D. Sykes and one to Auction Flippers LLC. They conveyed a final deed in Walshville Township to Ricky A. McDonald and Myrna J. McDonald.

A conveyance in East Fork Township was tabled for one month as the county looks into it.

Coordinating

County Board Chairman Evan Young said the information systems department is staying busy, and might need more storage for security cameras and other equipment.

In his EMA report, Schott said in addition to the FEMA grant, he was working on a hazardous mitigation plan grant. The county’s expires in 2022.

Schott said the EMA drone had been deployed a couple of times to incidents on the interstate, assisting Illinois State Police and the Mt. Olive Police Department. Schott said they’re always happy to help.

In a census update, Leitheiser said her office is awaiting federal redistricting maps, which could come as late as the end of this year. She said they won’t issue new voter registration cards until that’s final. They do have maps from the state redistricting, but with pending lawsuits, it might not be finalized either.

Young said he continues to work on restructuring the county’s committees.

Building and Grounds

Building and Grounds Committee Chairman Bob Sneed said they’ve been working on routine maintenance issues. They had a motor go out on the chiller and are looking to pick up a spare motor for the future.

The clutch is bad on one of the mowers, and they’re trying to fix it.

He added they have found various leaks on the boiler, leaks in the vault and the roof is leaking at the animal control facility. Four lights are out at animal control as well.

The committee approved just over $1,000 in maintenance to the county’s 2008 F25 maintenance truck at Route 66 Repair.

Board members unanimously approved Phil Ernst to the county’s new full-time maintenance position. They interviewed three candidates on Aug. 30, and Ernst was the top choice. He’s expected to start on Oct. 4.

In a few final updates, Sneed said he didn’t have any news on the coal mine easement at the county farm, and they are holding off on fixing the sidewalk at the Historic Courthouse at this time to research different ideas.

Development

Development Committee Chairman Donna Yeske said the county was been selected by CORI (Center on Rural Innovation) from Vermont. They help communities identify local assets, opportunities, gaps, and challenges that factor into building inclusive digital economy ecosystems.

Montgomery County is the first county in Illinois to be selected, and they will come to the county for two months. The Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation paid for the grant application.

Yeske said the Revolving Loan Fund was going well.

In tourism news, Yeske encouraged local groups to submit their event dates for 2022, so it can be sent to Great Rivers and Routes for promotion.

Yeske said there was not an update to the Mid-Illinois Regional Planning Council as they await for things to be finalized with the West Central Development Council.

Yeske said she’d been keeping watch on the governor’s energy plan, which was signed into law by the governor. Vistra sent out some information on the plan, which could use old coal plants (like the one in Coffeen) for battery storage.

Yeske said some issues at the bike trail in Farmersville had been taken care of.

In other business, Yeske said they are looking into some construction near Donnellson of a potential solar farm. During public comment, Bill Schroeder asked about the sale of the property in that area, and Leitheiser said it was only leased. Young said they don’t have any new information on the proposed solar farm.

Personnel

In addition to the discussion about employee health insurance, Bergen said they continue to work on contract negotiations with the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police).

Road and Bridge

Road and Bridge Committee Chairman Gene Miles said the second of two concrete pads had been poured at the new highway department building (formerly Wright Automotive). They hope to get fuel tanks installed this week.

The board approved the purchase of a Bush Hog mower for $6,500 plus the trade in of the John Deere mower. The John Deere mower will be used to the end of this season and then traded in.

The board approved a pipe culvert project in Rountree Township for a 36-inch by 38-foot pipe. The project is split 50/50 with the township and the county, and the county will pay $4,000.

They also approved drainage improvements on the Black Diamond Trail, using $15,000 of federal aid matching funds and $15,000 of motor fuel tax money.

The county fielded a complaint from a property owner in Nokomis who is afraid a split tree might fall on her property. The tree is on property owned by Montgomery County Trustees (which is not the county). Affrunti said they will have to look at the risks. Right now, the county is unlikely to be liable if the tree falls on the property. However, if they decide to take down the tree, and something happens and it falls on the property, they could be liable. County Engineer Cody Greenwood also wondered about setting a precedent of taking down trees on trustee property. They will continue to look into it.

In other business, Miles said the City of Witt wants the county to take over a road and maintain it. The committee is still discussing it.

Safety and Elections

In elections news, Leitheiser said the updated election equipment should come soon. The vendor was on site. They took the old hard shell cases and will retrofit the new equipment to them at no cost to the county.

In EPA news, County Coordinator Chris Daniels said they continue to work on issues at the bike trail in Farmersville. She didn’t have an update on tire recycling.

Daniels did remind the community about the upcoming electronics recycling drive on Saturday, Sept. 18, at the former Wright Automotive property in Hillsboro from 9 a.m. to noon.

Safety and Elections Committee Chairman Mark Hughes said they contacted the caretaker at McDavid Cemetery and Nichols Cemetery about some funding opportunities.

In animal control news, Hughes said they had 23 dogs and 22 cats, and they are working on a roof leak.

Hughes said they continue to work with the state’s attorney on municipal contracts for animal control with some wording changes.

In other business, Hughes said they discussed a Facebook post by Animal Control warden Amanda Daniels that has since been taken down, and the committee has talked to her about it.

In announcements, Young reminded the board of an IDNR (Illinois Department of Natural Resources) meeting that was held on Wednesday, Sept. 15, about Deer Run Mine in Hillsboro.

The board unanimously appointed Randall Singler to a three-year term as commissioner to the Mutual Drainage District #1 of Irving, Nokomis and Rountree. It expires Sept. 3, 2024.

After paying the monthly bills, the board adjourned at 6:50 p.m. The full board will meet again on Tuesday evening, Oct. 12, at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hillsboro, beginning at 5:30 p.m.

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