Members of the Montgomery County Board approved their annual budget for fiscal year 2021 at their regular monthly meeting, held Tuesday evening, Nov. 10, at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hillsboro.
Board member Chuck Graden was absent from the meeting, which was held partly in person and partly by phone conference, due to the ongoing pandemic.
Among the changes from the previous month’s tentative budget proposal, Finance Committee Chairman Megan Beeler said on the revenue side, they were transferring $350,000 in coal royalty money to fill the $318,000 budget deficit.
She added they were forming a new line item called judgements and deductibles to pay for insurance deductibles and possible judgements, including boarding expenses in a neglect case with animal control. The county budgeted $100,000, and Beeler noted they are still checking to make sure it’s legal to pay deductibles from that line item.
Board member Glenn Bishop expressed concern that the county was keeping too large a balance in the IMRF (retirement) and social security funds.
“I can assure you those funds are not in the budget to make it look bigger,” Beeler told him.
She explained that the accounts were built up around 2000 with Treasurer Ron Jenkins because they were constantly in deficit and borrowing from the general fund.
“I’m not saying we couldn’t spend down some of that money, but the question is how much,” Beeler said. “Treasurer Nikki Lohman is the county’s fiscal officer and these are the numbers she feels comfortable with.”
Beeler added that the fund is not a “slush” fund and money from that fund cannot be used to fund anything in the general fund or pay for any expenses outside IMRF.
Personnel Committee Chairman Kirby Furness added that the IMRF fund has not been overtaxed the previous two years, noting the county only charges what it collects now.
Beeler reminded the board that the fund is also part of a fluctuating market, meaning that it gains and loses funding, and they want to make sure it has enough funding to make balloon payments (often $750,000 at one time) when needed. Bishop and board member Jim Moore voted against the budget.
Following Beeler’s budget presentation, the board unanimously approved the aggregate levy for 2021, which is $5.6 million, and a 3.085 percent decrease from last year’s tax levy. Both Bishop and Moore voted against the aggregate levy as well.
Montgomery County State’s Attorney Bryant Hitchings presented a series of resolutions for the collection of tax levies in the coming year. All passed unanimously. The first was a resolution to adopt the fiscal year 2021 financial appropriation ordinance for $24.38 million.
Among the others was a resolution to pass the general corporate fund levy for $921,375; the County Health Department levy for $591,500; the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund levy for $745,000; the Social Security Fund levy for $525,000; the levy to pay the costs of insurance premiums for $325,000; the Community Mental Health Board levy for $643,000; the County Highway Fund levy for $455,000; the County Highway Federal Aid Matching Fund levy for $227,500; the Special Aid to County Bridge Fund levy for $227,500; five ambulance services levies, including $185,000 for Litchfield, $104,500 for Hillsboro, $275,500 for Nokomis/Witt, $76,500 for Raymond/Harvel, and $75,000 for Farmersville/Waggoner; the levy for the County Extension service for $150,425; the levy for the Senior Citizen Social Services for $109,000; and the levy for Veterans Assistance for $48,225.
Two other resolutions dealt with salaries, including $64,807 for the Supervisor of Assessments, $85,046 for the probation officer, $223,398 for the assistant probation officers and up to $15,000 to use the State’s Attorney appellate prosecutor.
Board members unanimously approved the monthly consent agenda, including reports from department heads, as well as the minutes from the previous meeting and the per diem requests from board members.
In liaison reports, board member Tim Fogle reported that CEFS is looking for county volunteers to help with the Meals on Wheels program.
Board member Richard Wendel reported that the West Central Development Council is working on an audit, and board member Jeremy Jones added the group has additional money for training workers.
In his report, County Board Chairman Evan Young said the new 911 upgrades are up and running, and Montgomery County Sheriff Rick Robbins added that one station still needs to have a part installed for the project to be complete.
Young added the sheriff’s department is also looking for some funding to upgrade their phone system.
In a census update, Montgomery County Clerk and Recorder Sandy Leitheiser said the census data collection is now complete, and the county is waiting to hear the totals. She said the numbers could be announced as early as the end of this year or beginning of next year.
“Whatever happens, I feel like we did the best we could,” Leitheiser said.
Chris-Mont EMA Director Greg Nimmo reported that COVID cases continue to climb in this area, and Region 3 (which Montgomery County is a part of) currently has a 15.2 positivity percent rate. Last month, it sat at 5 percent. Nimmo said the county has seen an increase of 301 cases since the last county board meeting, which accounts for 40 percent of all the county’s cases since the start of the pandemic. The county also has seen three additional COVID-related deaths and currently has 80 cases in the hospital.
Region 3 is currently under additional mitigations due to the rise in cases, and Nimmo said they have to get back down to 6.5 percent over a three-day period. The region will soon be re-evaluated and could have even more mitigations, which include an end to elective surgeries and smaller indoor gatherings.
“You could be looking at a statewide lockdown if things don’t get better,” Nimmo said.
He added that while hospitals are making additional ICU rooms to treat COVID patients, the issue has become staffing demands. Nimmo said they look for the virus to continue to be more of a problem as temperatures drop and people spend more time inside.
“We could easily overwhelm our hospitals,” Nimmo said.
In a schools update, Nimmo said that the Panhandle district is currently offering all-remote schooling due to staffing issues, and all four of the county school districts have seen positive cases.
Nimmo reminded the board about federal business interruption grants, and said priority is given to bars and restaurants. He noted there are still tens of millions of dollars in the fund that have not been requested yet.
Nimmo also said the EMA management team continues to work on vaccine planning for when it becomes available.
In a final note, Nimmo said the county has applied for CURES reimbursement and is waiting on review. Beeler asked about reimbursement from FEMA, and Nimmo said the county has requested $40,000 so far, but added it would be much slower for reimbursement than the CURES funding.
Board member Bill Bergen asked how come the state classified areas as regions instead of just treating each county individually. Nimmo said it was set up that way by the Illinois Department of Public Health, based on medical resources available in that area.
Following Nimmo’s report, the board unanimously extended the county’s declaration of disaster due to the ongoing pandemic until the next monthly meeting.
In addition to approving the budget and levies, Beeler presented the monthly capital improvement report to the board. To date this year, the county has received $413,457 in coal royalty funding.
The board approved a new unemployment insurance program through ICRMT. Beeler said they didn’t have many details, but the new program would save them $4,000 a year. Furness said they were asked to commit to two years in the program, but Beeler said they could only commit to one and see how the year goes.
“I have full confidence they will deal with us fairly,” Beeler said.
The board unanimously conveyed several deeds, including one in Pitman Township to Brandi Boehler, two in Hillsboro Township to John and Kendra Wright and one in South Litchfield Township to Christopher Blevins.
Beeler said they did not have an update on the power plant legislation. She added they met with other taxing bodies affected by the closure two weeks ago with no new updates.
The board unanimously approved an amendment to the fiscal year 2020 budget that was presented at the last meeting.
They spent 30-minutes in closed session discussing union negotiations with Local 773, which is correctional officers in the sheriff’s department. Those changes were reflected in the fiscal year 2021 budget.
In a few final items, Beeler said in IMRF news, it looks like the county will be grandfathered in for some of the new changes. She said the committee also continues to work on the financial control policies.
Building and Grounds
Building and Grounds Committee Chairman Bob Sneed said they had only a few routine maintenance items as they continue sprucing up the county buildings.
The coroner has requested additional space, and they are cleaning out a room next to his current office that used to be a server room.
In recycling news, the committee approved seven totes for $5 each per month to DC Waste and Recycling. That’s three for the Historic Courthouse and the new courthouse and two for the sheriff’s office. The totes will allow the offices to do more recycling than is currently available.
The committee also approved the purchase of fake candles to light the windows of the Historic Courthouse for $1,100. Economic Develoment Committee Chairman Donna Yeske said the lights they were looking at didn’t work, so they were still working on that project.
In Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation news, Yeske reported that Wisper Internet met its goal of 300 to 500 pre-sign-ups, and was currently looking for tall towers to install their equipment.
Yeske said the Revolving Loan Fund is going great. In tourism news, she said the committee voted to spend $900 on a quarter-page ad in the next Great Rivers and Routes Tourism guide. Yeske added she felt they do a good job promoting the area.
The board unanimously approved the wind siting ordinance that was worked on by the county’s Planning Commission. The only changes from the previous month’s were a few grammatical changes.
In bicentennial news, Yeske reported they changed the date of the celebration from Friday, Feb. 12, to Saturday, Feb. 13, with a reception in the lobby of the new courthouse. She added that the wooden nickels for the celebration are in, and thanked all the communities for their participation in planning the county’s 200th birthday party.
Another bicentennial celebration is being planned for June 6 at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Butler. They have also set a COVID date in October, should the pandemic continue.
In ambulance billing news, Bergen reported the county sent a bill for $1,648 to the city of Litchfield for work they had done on ambulance billing for the city. The city requested a breakdown of hours spent on the work, and the committee was including a cover letter when they resubmit the bill.
Bergen said he went on a walk through of the new 911 system upgrades at the sheriff’s office, which are nearly complete. He said the 911 Board has a plan to pay off the upgrades in five years.
In the absence of HWE Chairman Chuck Graden, board member Sandy Johnson made the monthly report.
In elections news, Leitheiser thanked voters and everyone who helped make the November general election a success.
She said the county had more than 13,800 voters, which was a turnout of 83.71 percent of registered voters in the county. Of those, 51 percent voted in person on election day, while 28 percent voted early in person. The county saw 21 percent of voters request a mail-in ballot, and of those 43 percent used the county’s new ballot drop box outside the Historic Courthouse.
Leitheiser gave special thanks to her staff, election judges, the information systems department, the sheriff’s office and other local law enforcement for ensuring the election was a success.
In EPA news, County Coordinator Chris Daniels reported she was on a training conference call with other EPA managers in the state. They are looking to approve a five-year intergovernmental agreement to replace the current one that expires on June 30, 2021. They are also looking at ways to help promote recycling education and tire facility inspections.
Johnson reported the electronics drive was a huge success, noting they collected 43,172 pounds of electronics. Since 2015, the county’s electronics recycling drives have collected 189,914 pounds of electronics. The one this fall was held at the former Wright Automotive property, and was the only one held this year.
In animal control news, the neglect case has been postponed until Dec. 7. Johnson said they spent $2,100 to fix the lift station, which was damaged when a valve broke, allowing sewer back up from the prison into the building.
In a final note, she said the committee is looking into the possibility of offering rabies vouchers, since they cannot hold their typical rabies clinics due to the pandemic.
In employee health insurance news, Furness reported the county has spent just over $51,000 of the allotted HRA money. Last year at this time, they had spent around $70,000.
The board approved an agreement with Local 773, which is correctional officers at the sheriff’s department.
Road and Bridge
In his report, Road and Bridge Committee Chairman Gene Miles said the work on the Taylorville Road in Nokomis is on schedule. The roadwork itself is complete, but they still have to finish the ditches and the striping.
He added that the guardrail upgrade project is going well, and signage was put up on the Coffeen/Irving Road.
Miles said the County Engineer Cody Greenwood is going to advertise for the purchase of bulk fuel.
In a final note, Miles said the committee approved some work at the new Highway Department, located on the former Wright Automotive property. They approved Wright Brother Drywall and Painting to do some drywall work for $22,425, and are still awaiting a bid on electrical work.
Chairman Young encouraged the community to be safe in public amidst the ongoing pandemic.
During public comment, Rachel Tester thanked the board for letting her be part of the wind siting ordinance work with the Planning Commission.
Young thanked six outgoing board members who attended their last meeting on Nov. 10, including Glenn Bishop, Kirby Furness, Chuck Graden, Jim Moore, Dennis McCammack and Glenn Savage. Each received a plaque in thanks of their service.
Young reminded the board that the county’s next meeting will be a reorganizational board meeting on Tuesday evening, Dec. 1, beginning at 4 p.m. at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hillsboro. New members will be sworn in and a chairman will be elected.
The next regular monthly meeting of the Montgomery County Board will be Tuesday, Dec. 8, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hillsboro.
After voting to pay the bills, the meeting was adjourned at 7:25 p.m.