County Board Approves Business Grant Program

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Members of the Montgomery County Board approved a $250,000 business relief grant program as part of their regular monthly meeting, held Tuesday evening, June 9, at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hillsboro. All board members participated in the discussion, either in person or by phone.

Finance Committee Chairman Megan Beeler said the goal of the program is to offer financial relief to businesses that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Local businesses may apply for the grant to cover operating or labor expenses and rent or mortgage payments from March 1 to May 31. 

She said that by statute, the county cannot offer to loan money to the businesses, but they can distribute it as part of a grant program. Businesses may apply for a grant up to $5,000.

Funding for the program comes from the Revolving Loan Fund, as well as Fund 375, which is the coal royalty fund. The county would transfer $100,000 from the Revolving Loan Fund, which would leave $65,000 in that fund, enough for one more full loan, and Beeler said there has not been any interest in that program lately. Another $50,000 would come from the 375 contingency fund and $100,000 from the 375 general fund transfer line. That fund was budgeted for $800,000, so it would leave $700,000 to fill the budget gap. Beeler said that money is already appropriated so a budget amendment for the program is not needed.

She plans to meet with members of the Revolving Loan Fund board about finalizing the three-page application, as well as the scoring system used to rate the applications. 

Beeler said any board member who is thinking about applying for the grant should abstain from the vote.

Applications will be due June 30, and will be reviewed at the next finance committee meeting before being brought to the full board. Board member Ron Deabenderfer asked if the list of grant recipients would be made public, and Beeler said it would to keep the program as transparent as possible.

Deabenderfer would also make a motion to table the program until the July meeting until the final details were ironed out. He felt some businesses would need more help later on.

Board member Donna Yeske said that she felt like some businesses needed the help now. Beeler said she also felt the businesses need the funding now.

“It’s my hope and desire to put cash in their pockets to restart as businesses begin to open their doors,” Beeler said.

Board member Kirby Furness said he felt it needed to start sooner, rather than later, because the funds could also get used up very quickly.

“There is a level of need out there, and if we have the ability to help, then we should,” Beeler said.

The motion to table approval of the program would fail in a voice vote, and the program would be approved by board members. Board members would also approve funding for the program. Deabenderfer asked about whether or not this left enough “rainy day” funding, and Beeler said they would still have well over six months of funding to cover county expenses in case of emergency.

“I can’t think of anything better to use the money for than to help our businesses,” said board member Tim Fogle.

In another update to the COVID-19 pandemic, the board would vote to extend the county’s disaster declaration for another month. This declaration allows the county to apply for a reimbursement of funds used to cover additional expenses due to the pandemic.

Board member Mark Hughes asked about the number of positive cases in the county, and Montgomery County Health Department Administrator Hugh Satterlee said there are still 40 positive cases.

Beeler asked if the disaster declaration from the state also covered counties, and Montgomery County State’s Attorney Bryant Hitchings said the statute clearly indicates for the counties to receive aid, they must declare a disaster locally.

Board member Glen Bishop asked how much the county had spent in response to the pandemic, and whether or not it included employee salaries. To date, the county has spent between $32,000 and $33,000 on protective measures, including new, permanent screens at the windows in all county offices. Veterans Assistance Commission Superintendent Dave Strowmatt said a screen had not been installed at their office in the Annex yet, and they would not be able to open until it was installed. The county expects that work to be done soon.

Treasurer Nikki Lohman said that under the CARES Act, the only items that are eligible for reimbursement are those not already budgeted for. Since employee salaries were already budgeted, they would not be eligible, unless there was some overtime work done due to the pandemic that might be considered eligible. 

County Board Chairman Evan Young said it was his understanding that the reimbursement was federal funding that would flow through the state, but the county has not yet seen an application to apply for reimbursement of funds.

Board member Jeremy Jones asked if there were other counties that had not extended their disaster declaration. Montgomery County Clerk and Recorder Sandy Leitheiser said she knew that Greene County had extended its declaration, while Jersey, Warren and McDonough counties did not plan to extend theirs. Calhoun County, which had only one positive case, had not declared the pandemic a disaster.

Board member Connie Beck asked if they could extend the declaration indefinitely and Beeler said she felt that was an unnecessary and dangerous precedent. Other board members said they were willing to revisit the disaster declaration each month, and the board voted to extend the county’s declaration until the July board meeting on July 14.

Other Business

In calling the meeting to order, Sheriff Rick Robbins led the board in the Pledge of Allegiance. Board members would unanimously approve the consent agenda, including an update from Leitheiser about rental housing surcharge proposal. She said that Senator Andy Manar is very interested in it, but that time ran out in the last legislative session.

Liaison Reports

Board member Earlene Robinson said the 708 Board would soon be interviewing applicants for this year’s round of funding.

In CEFS news, Fogle said that the demand for the Meals on Wheels program had increased due to the pandemic and that volunteers were needed to help.

Deabenderfer said the county’s Planning Commission had not met during the pandemic, but that they were continuing to work on a wind ordinance.

Coordinating

In addition to the disaster declaration, Young said the information systems office continues to work on updating the technology in the data room.

In a census update, Leitheiser said that one of her employees was visited by a census worker, as some have been given the go ahead for person-to-person visits. She said the state’s district census offices are not yet open. Although Leitheiser said some of the census workers may not be local, they should all be properly identified. She said the sheriff’s department has also been made aware that visits have started.

“Keep talking it up, we have a long way to go,” Leitheiser said.

Building and Grounds

Building and Grounds Committee Chairman Bob Sneed reported that County Coordinator Chris Daniels created a spreadsheet for work orders on maintenance and cleaning at the buildings. In maintenance issues over the last month, Sneed said the elevator in the Historic Courthouse was down about a week, and the HVAC was down in the new courthouse for about a week. Both are now back up and running.

Sneed said they suspect lightning was the cause of the HVAC problems, and Deabenderfer asked if they could submit that to insurance. Sneed said they would have to prove it was lightning, adding that the county also has a high deductible.

The county continues to get buildings ready to reopen to the public, and had a cleaning company come in, as well as the county’s cleaning crew. He added that all search computers and plat books have been moved to the third floor of the Historic Courthouse so the public will have some separation from employees. Deabenderfer asked about the security of that, and Sneed said they had cameras up there. Leitheiser added that the records being searched have also been digitized.

The board voted to approve an invoice for $12,356.61 for installation of the screens at each office window.

Sneed said they continue to work with the city of Hillsboro on sidewalk repair at the Historic Courthouse.

He also announced they would be moving their committee meeting each month to the first Wednesday of each month at 8:30 a.m. The Finance Committee has requested to meet as the last committee before the full board meeting, and they will now meet on the first Friday of each month at 8:30 a.m.

The board would also approve up to $25,000 for electrical work in the county’s data room. They need a panel to control the circuits, and are in the process of moving all the servers there where there is air conditioning. The county is in talks with the ETSB 911 board on sharing expenses in this project, since they will utilize half of it. Young said the ETSB board is open to that.

Economic Development

In economic development news, Committee Chairman Donna Yeske said the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation had plans to meet on Thursday evening, June 11, for their annual meeting.

She encouraged board members to check out the county’s tourism videos on the website, and said she was very pleased with how they have turned out.

Yeske said they are wrapping up data for the CEDS document to be submitted.

She also reminded the board a committee making plans to celebrate the county’s Bicentennial had met on June 10, at Bank of Hillsboro.

In a final note, she thanked the Mask Makers of Montgomery County, who have made more than 20,000 masks, sending them to 33 states and eight countries. Yeske, who made 500 masks herself, said there was participation from all over the county.

EMA

In ambulance billing news, Committee Chairman Bill Bergen said that collections had been down some, but he expected invoices to increase soon.

Bergen added that the county remains on target to enter Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan on June 26. He said the county continues to work to secure PPE (personal protective equipment).

In a final update, Bergen said the 911 board met to approve bids for console equipment at about $250,000. He praised new director Ed Boyd for his hard work and being frugal as the updates continue.

Finance

In addition to approving the business grant program, Beeler said her committee had a good report from the Supervisor of Assessors office. They also made the last payment for the flyover, which was done a couple of years ago for the GIS website.

Beeler said the county did receive $30,000 in royalty payments from the coal company in April, and added they have requested to receive additional reports from the coal company with those payments.

Sheriff Rick Robbins was happy to report his office secured a $300,000 grant to update their radios. Robbins said they would be upgrading to what Hillsboro has, adding that part of the funding would be used to help Litchfield upgrade as well.

The board unanimously approved the 2019 audit from KEB, which was presented at the May meeting. Beeler said the auditor made two notes in response to questions asked at the previous meeting.

Board members also approved salary updates, including an increase in starting salary from $12.25 to $12.75 for full-time employees starting Dec. 1, an increase in $.30 per hour for non-union employees and an increase to $11.75 per hour for part-time employees.

Beeler said she did not have an update from the Vistra power plant, but they were working to secure a meeting with other taxing bodies in the county to present a counter-offer to the company.

The board approved adding Casey’s Business Mastercard to the pre-paid vendor list to avoid late fees.

Board members also voided taxes on two parcels of property, which is home to the new county highway department.

Beeler reminded the board that this year’s budget hearings will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 18, at 8 a.m. and Thursday, Aug. 20, at 8 a.m. She said that memos and worksheets would go out soon to department heads and office holders.

Beeler said they would once again put up for bid surplus property in Pitman Township at the north end of the bike trail. She said they put it up for bid in January 2019, and did not get any bids, so they were trying again.

In a final note, Beeler said that the board will have to amend the budget due to extra expenses from the COVID-19 pandemic, but will not do so until November when they have a better picture of actual expenses. In addition to increased expenses, Beeler said the county’s revenues were down 22 percent in April due to the pandemic as well.

HWE

In elections news, Leitheiser said they continue to watch the omnibus elections bill in the state legislature, and will begin assigning election judges in June for the November election. Beeler asked if the county can seek COVID-19 reimbursement for the additional expense of mailing ballots to all voters under the omnibus bill. Leitheiser said there may be grant funding available to help offset the cost.

County Coordinator Chris Daniels has begun taking over for EPA Coordinator Bill Gonet, who retired in February, but she has not actually begun the training due to the pandemic.

In recycling news, the committee approved three bids to sell surplus equipment and rejected four others. They sold the 2000 Ford XL Super Duty with bad transmission for $1,200 and the 2002 Chevy Silverado 1500 truck that doesn’t run for $1,501. They also sold the tandem trailer for $550. All three were sold to Julio Crispin.

They put back out to bid a 2005 Ford XL Super Duty F-650, another tandem trailer and a Caterpillar Forklift.

In Animal Control news, Chairman Chuck Graden said that Warden Amanda Daniels has trouble keeping enough help. She currently has one part-time employee working about 28 hours. The county has budgeted part-time work for up to 62 hours. Daniels can advertise for the position and assign hours as long as they stay within the parameters.

In a final note, Graden talked about a motion to waive the per diem fee to board members for the May 28 special meeting. Deabenderfer said he was against that, noting he felt the board members’ time was valuable. He said that any board member who so chose not to accept per diem could do so without making a motion to include the whole board.

Personnel

Personnel Committee Chairman Kirby Furness said they have used about 4 percent of the HRA for employee health insurance, which is about $23,000. He said that’s a little higher than last year.

His committee continues to work on updates to the personnel manual on drug use. They also sent a memo to department heads on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and it will be used on a case by case basis for employee leave.

His committee also discussed the possibility of buying back vacation time from employees. Some department heads and office holders worry they will not be able to grant vacation time to employees due to the pandemic. Beeler said she felt that was very expensive and the county doesn’t have that much money in the budget. Leitheiser said she has been encouraging her employees to take their vacation time soon, ahead of the busy election season, and said granting vacation had not yet been a problem in her office. No action was taken.

Road and Bridge

In Road and Bridge news, Chairman Gene Miles said the committee met with representatives from the village of Walshville. They came to the county asking for help in maintaining heavily traveled roads through their village. The county came up with a plan to divert the road around the village, and then the county would maintain the road. However, the village says landowners are unlikely to sell property to build the road. 

They brought an alternative plan, and Engineer Cody Greenwood said acquisition of land will still likely be a problem. Their proposal still runs the road through the village, and he said the county can’t set a precedent to maintain a road within village limits because other communities will ask as well. Greenwood said they do patch holes occasionally on the road.

“We want to help,” Miles said. “But we don’t know how.”

The board approved several upcoming road projects, including a pipe culvert in Nokomis Township for $4,250, a pipe culvert in Rountree Township for $2,500, a pipe culvert in Witt Township for $4,250 and a pipe culvert in Irving Township for $4,000. All of those projects are a 50/50 split between the county and the township.

They also approved a pipe culvert liner on Burg Road for $20,000, which is a 100 percent county-funded project.

The board approved engineering services with Prairie Engineers for $109,658 for a resurfacing project on Taylorville Road.

Miles said they are also posting for bid surplus equipment from the Highway Department, including two overhead glass doors and a Detroit Diesel sign.

Board members approved the Highway Department Property Agreement, which allows the highway department to buy back the former Wright Automotive property from the county. Money collected will go back into the coal royalty fund. The highway department will also take on all maintenance and improvements of the property.

Miles said the highway department is back up to running at full staff after the pandemic.

Appointments

The board appointed Ann Frailey, Carl Fesser, Steven Brookshire, Cody West and J.C. Marley to the Fillmore Glendale Cemetery Board. They also appointed Joyce Matthews to the Montgomery County Housing Authority Board.

There was no public comment at the meeting.

In paying the bills, the board voted to approve a communications voucher upgrade for $157,146 and a highway department voucher for $101,067.25.

After approving the board’s own mileage and per diem requests, the meeting adjourned at 8:02 p.m. They met for just over two and a half hours.

The next full board meeting of the Montgomery County Board will be Tuesday evening, July 14.

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