County Hears Updates In Long Meeting

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It was a long night for members of the Montgomery County Board who met for two and a half hours as part of their regular monthly meeting, held Tuesday evening, Jan. 11, at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hillsboro.

The meeting included less than a dozen action items and nearly an hour’s discussion on the possibility of restructuring the committees. Board members Jim Havera, Richard Wendel and Donna Yeske were absent.

In calling the meeting to order, Chairman Evan Young asked member Andy Ritchie to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. Board members unanimously approved the monthly mileage and per diem stipends as well as the minutes from the December meeting.

They also unanimously approved the consent agenda, including reports from office holders and department heads. Montgomery County Clerk and Recorder Sandy Leitheiser passed out economic interest statements to all board members, which her office is required to collect by law. The state requires all elected officials and certain state employees with supervisory duties or authority over state contracts/funds to file annual statements of economic interest. Leitheiser said her office sends out around 1,100 in Montgomery County, and that once turned in, the forms do become a matter of public record. She suggested board members talk to their attorney or accountant for questions as her office cannot offer legal advice. The forms are due to be returned in May.

Board member Ron Deabenderfer asked Leitheiser about a change allowing the county to consider up to 1,200 voters per precinct. She said it’s possible, but could be challenging as they are required to have a precinct in every township. Leitheiser said some precincts are very small, seeing fewer than 100 voters. Others are quite large. She said they would have to work out some logistics if that’s what the county decided. Deabenderfer said he worried seniors would have to drive a long way to vote with fewer polling places.

Board member David Loucks asked Health Department Administrator Hugh Satterlee about the scarcity of home tests for COVID. Satterlee said his office requests 1,200 to 1,900 kits a week, which includes testing for all the schools. The health department also offers free testing five days a week, and they ask patients to call first.

Liaison Reports

Board member Tim Fogle said CEFS offered its thanks to all the volunteers who help to make Meals on Wheels a success, and said they can always use more volunteers.

Deabenderfer said the Planning Commission is working on an ordinance about battery storage for solar and wind power.

Young reported the West Central Development Council hired Matt Jones of St. Clair County as their new chief executive officer. The group continues to look for a chief financial officer.

Coordinating

In information systems news, Young said Curt Watkins has ordered all the parts to update the county’s squad cars.

Buildings and Grounds

Building and Grounds Committee Chairman Bob Sneed said his committee members got a lengthy update from the new maintenance technician, but things are going well. He added they may have to look into replacing the boilers for county buildings in the near future.

The committee discussed installation of new locks at the Historic Courthouse at the accessible door in the basement, allowing key fobs for entry, which is more secure. He thanked Leitheiser for working on a grant through election security, which would help to make interior doors more secure. They also offer a free assessment on the security of the building, which has been scheduled for Thursday.

In a final note, Sneed said the highway department no longer wants to pay the power bill at the former property on Seymour Ave. in Hillsboro, as they have moved everything out. EMA is currently using the property for storage of trailers. The committee approved paying the monthly power bill, which is less than $80 per month. Deabenderfer said he felt residents in the area were looking forward to the county being out of that space and hoping it could be repurposed for residential needs. Sneed said this was only temporary, adding the county wants to be a good neighbor too. Board Vice Chairman Patty Whitworth echoed Deabenderfer’s comments that it was crucial to get that property back to residential as soon as possible.

Development

In the absence of Development Committee Chairman Yeske, Deabenderfer provided the report.

He said the group is discussing a potential refocus of the Revolving Loan Fund, perhaps focusing on loaning money to municipalities for projects rather than businesses.

In tourism news, Deabenderfer said tourism grant (funded by a hotel/motel tax in unincorporated areas of the county) applications would be due March 29. Awards will be made at the April meeting. Board member Megan Beeler said there are currently two businesses paying into the fund, including one hotel and one bed and breakfast. 

In a final note, Deabenderfer said they may be looking into some legal action with a property owner over removal of debris on the Green Diamond Bike Trail in Farmersville.

Finance

Finance Committee Chairman Russ Beason said they finally received feedback from Bellwether on using the ARPA (American Recovery Plan Act) funds, but would need more time to look things over.

He said Vistra countered the offer on the assessment of the former Coffeen Power Plant in Coffeen, so the county plans to submit another offer.

The monthly capital improvement fund report shows the county has received nearly $1.6 million in coal royalty funding since December 2020.

The board unanimously approved an amendment to the Lost Revenue Ordinance to authorize the transfer of $235,175 for election equipment. Beason said each transfer would have to be approved by the board.

Due to a clerical error, the board unanimously made a change to the resolution establishing civil fees and criminal traffic assessments for the circuit clerk’s office. It was changed from $266 to $256.

Circuit Clerk Danny Robbins applied for an AOIC tech grant for $53,521.78 for IT upgrades. If the county is awarded the grant, they will have to spend the money and then be reimbursed for the upgrades.

Beason reported that Treasurer Nikki Lohman continues to work on the FEMA grant, documenting what preventative measures were taken for COVID. Lohman said she had help from EMA Director Kevin Schott, who took many of the photos.

The board unanimously approved a motion to pay county senior clubs half of their requested funds for the year, according to the club’s budget. Those groups are typically reimbursed for meeting expenses as part of a senior services tax levy in the county. As many of those groups did not meet during the pandemic last year, those funds were not paid out. The board agreed to pay half now as those groups start to meet again, and if they need more, they can submit vouchers for reimbursement. 

Deabenderfer felt they needed to have a clear-cut policy for how the funds were paid out. Beeler said that in addition to funding five or six clubs at $1,000 to $2,000 a year, the levy also helps provide funding for Golden Circle Nutrition and the health department. Beeler said the county can decide on how to spend the tax money collected each year, as long as it is spent on senior services.

The board unanimously approved an increase in mileage reimbursement from $.56 to $.585, per recommendation from the IRS. Deabenderfer abstained from the vote.

In a final note, Beason said they were beginning the process to set salaries for elected officials, as they have to be in place 180 days before office holders take office, and the general election will be held in November.

Personnel

Personnel Committee Chairman Bill Bergen reported the health insurance cafeteria plan had been signed. Lohman said there were a few changes due to COVID.

The board unanimously approved the part-time hiring of two assistants in the EMA department. Schott requested hiring Dan Hough of Raymond and Joe Gasparich of Nokomis to help him. The county approved $24,000 for the two positions at $25 an hour. Schott said their actual hours may vary from week to week, but the two positions will not exceed 20 hours each week. Gasparich will take on some of the administrative duties, like grant writing, while Hough, who serves as captain of the search and rescue team, will focus more on operations. 

In a final note, Bergen reported the sheriff’s department hired a deputy and an additional dispatcher, along with a new employee in the county clerk’s office and one in the circuit clerk’s office.

Safety and Elections

Safety and Elections Chairman Mark Hughes said they are working on a meeting with all the ambulance districts in the county to discuss billing.

Hughes said they were unable to meet with the mayors about the municipal contracts for animal control, but he hopes to get that scheduled soon. The committee made a few small changes to the contract as they continue to move forward.

Hughes added they have three cats and 13 dogs at animal control right now.

In elections news, Leitheiser reported the maps are now complete at the federal and state level. The entire county will be part of the 15th congressional district at the federal level. At the state level, the county is split in two Senate districts (54 and 55) and three House of Representative districts (107, 108 and 110). Districts for the county board did not change.

Maps are now available on the county’s website. Leitheiser said her office is currently working on new voter registration cards, which will be white with red lettering.

Leitheiser said that Jan. 13 is the first day to circulate petitions for the upcoming general election, and the primary will be held on June 28.

In EPA news, County Coordinator Chris Daniels said they plan to schedule both a spring and a fall electronics recycling drive this year. She added they are still waiting to hear about a tire collection.

In a final note, State’s Attorney Andrew Affrunti said the county will have to consider a policy on COVID vaccinations and masks as OHSA has required employers of over 100 to follow their guidelines. Affrunti said the county doesn’t have to follow OHSA, but they do the Illinois Department of Labor, which guidelines are as strict or stricter than OHSA. He said the county will have to be in compliance by Feb. 24, though that could change depending on a ruling from the Supreme Court. Board member Earlene Robinson asked what would happen if the board voted against such a policy, and Affrunti said they would likely be fined every day they were not in compliance.

Road and Bridge

Road and Bridge Committee Chairman Gene Miles said County Engineer Cody Greenwood wrote a letter to the Village of Walshville president about concerns over hauling rock through the village. Village President Joy McDonald was unable to attend their last committee meeting, so Miles didn’t have any updates on the Walshville Road.

Board members unanimously approved the low bidders for MFT (motor fuel tax) rock letting for both the townships and the county.

Committees

Before adjourning, Young asked the board members to reconsider a restructuring of the county board’s committees. Currently, there are six committees, plus the coordinating committee, which is comprised of committee chairmen.

The board discussed the matter for nearly an hour and no action was taken.

Previously, the issue was brought to the board in November, and after another lengthy discussion, any changes to the committees were postponed.

Jones said he was the one to make the motion in November because he felt like it was a “back door” way to get it done. He also felt like they were trying to streamline the leadership, giving fewer members a voice in decision making.

Young said his personal feeling was that with the board going from 21 to 14 members in December, it would be better to restructure the committees now and make changes if things weren’t working. Beeler said it was her hope they could streamline some of the work so that committees shared an equal workload. Currently, some committees meet for several hours each month, while others have much shorter meetings.

Whitworth said she applauded the efforts to streamline committee work, but felt it should wait until the board actually has only 14 members.

Donaldson said he felt the presentation of the idea at the November meeting was clunky. He asked how many committees they were talking about changing to. Young said they were looking at three (finance, infrastructure and personnel), as well as a coordinating committee. 

“It would be nice to have a running start when the board goes down to 14,” Young said. “The only way we know if it’s going to work is to try.”

Ritchie suggested a “tabletop exercise” to look at how the committee changes would look on paper before actually making any changes.

Hughes suggested getting rid of the coordinating committee. Beeler said she felt it was important as the way for other committee chairmen to know what’s going on.

Discussion continued about how committee members are selected. The chairman of the county board selects the committee chairman, and then uses input from those chairmen to select committee members. Beeler said Young tries to make everyone happy, but some committee chairmen don’t want certain board members on their committees, which makes it challenging.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Bill Schroeder said he appreciated the discussion, and encouraged the chairman to place members on committees based on their resumes and areas of expertise. He suggested waiting until the new 14-member board was set to make changes.

The discussion ended shortly before the end of the meeting.

After voting to pay the bills, the board adjourned at 8 p.m. They will meet again on Tuesday evening, Feb. 8, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hillsboro.

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