Near the end of a two-hour monthly board meeting, members of the Montgomery County Board voted unanimously to consolidate emergency management services with Christian County.
The two-year agreement will begin on Dec. 1, and current EMA Director Greg Nimmo will be employed as the full-time director for Christian and Montgomery counties. Nimmo has also requested to be appointed as a county representative to the new consolidated 911 Board with Christian and Shelby counties.
In making the proposal, EMA Committee Chairman Bill Bergen said that two counties already share a lot of information and have a strong relationship. He added there is a chance for some financial savings of around $10,000 in merging the two jobs. That includes $6,100 if the EMA Committee is disbanded.
Bergen said that Christian County will be the primary employer, and will cover insurance and IMRF. The county will pay $12,357 per year to Christian County. According to the contract, the EMA director will spend three days in Christian County and two days in Montgomery County one week, and then switch the following week. Finance Committee Chairman Megan Beeler said it was publicly discussed that this was in part due to the closing of the Coffeen power plant, but she said that wasn't true.
"This is not a financial windfall for the county," she said. "It is not a financial decision and is not financially motivated."
She added that financially the proposal mostly breaks even.
"What it does do is provide a full-time EMA director, in a position that has been part-time for about the past five years," she said. "The employee in question will be able to focus on one specific task, at his request. Christian County was looking to hire a full-time director, and this answers that call. This isn't a financial windfall, but an opportunity to consolidate efforts and provide both counties with a strong EMA department."
Board member Jeremy Jones said he's heard residents are worried about losing control of EMA services, and said he felt if it didn't work after the two-year agreement, the county could always back out. Beeler added the county has a 90-day opt out of the contract.
"It's not like we are locked into this for the rest of our lives," Jones said.
"Statutorally, we are not losing control," Beeler said. "They still have to operate by state statute. It will just be a combined effort."
Montgomery County Sheriff Rick Robbins asked who would oversee this position if the county's EMA Commitee were to disband. Board Chairman Evan Young said they have not yet decided to disband that committee, but if they did, the position would be under the watch of the county board chairmen for both counties or a designee of the chairman.
Montgomery County Clerk and Recorder Sandy Leitheiser asked about the delay in getting a 911 address for a new home. Nimmo explained that the process begins in the supervisor of assessor's office, before going to the highway department and then the health department, before going to 911, and there is often lag time between the departments. Jones said he hopes the committee will continue to discuss a way to better streamline that process.
Before the end of the discussion, Jones asked if Montgomery County would lose any positions in the 911 dispatch merger with Christian and Shelby counties. Robbins said yes. Nimmo said there are currently 11 county dispatchers, and that in the past the sheriff has said he needed six dispatchers. Christian County will also likely need four dispatchers, and could hire dispatchers from the county who will be displaced. Nimmo said another Christian County dispatcher is retiring, which might open up another position as well.
"If the sheriff's department does not get six dispatchers, then yes, people will lose jobs," Nimmo said.
"I will be laying people off," Robbins added. "Montgomery County will lose jobs."
Bergen, who also serves on the 911 Board, said he voted against the 911 consolidation at both meetings.
Before the close of the meeting, Young said that the Montgomery County Board has no control over the 911 Board.
"They are their own separate entity," he said. "They have their own revenue source and by-laws. They make all the tough choices on how they proceed."
All board members were present for the November meeting. Young asked board member Dennis McCammack to lead the Pledge of Allegiance, and board members unanimously approved the mileage and per diem requests, as well as the minutes from the previous meeting.
During the consent agenda, Leitheiser said her office has seen an increase in business due to the state mandate for Real ID. County revenues are up as residents seek certified copies of birth certificates and marriage licenses. She expects that to increase as the state mandate requires all residents to have a Real ID by Oct. 1, 2020.
Treasurer Nikki Lohman said the last property tax distribution of $11,950,200.61 will go out next week. She said the tax sale was held on Oct. 28 with nine buyers, and that they had 392 parcels go to tax sale. The county collected over $39 million in property taxes this year, and Lohman reported that more than $1 million was paid online, in a new service offered this year. She said they will continue to make changes to improve that service, but felt residents were utilizing it.
In CEFS news, board member Earlene Robinson said the local office assisted 204 LiHeap clients (low income heating assistance) in October and expected to keep just as busy in November.
Board member Sandy Johnson reported the health department finalized its budget and would meet again in January.
Although Bergen was not able to attend the Illinois Association of County Officials meeting, board member Donna Yeske was there. She reported that she was surprised to learn the permit fee to sell cannabis would be $250,000.
"There will likely not be a cannabis shop on every corner," she said.
In Planning Commission news, board member Ron Deabenderfer discussed the wind ordinance, with a major change from the state to take townships out of the equation for a more streamlined process. Deabenderfer said there were agricultural representatives from Christian County in attendance, who spoke about the negative impact on agriculture, specifically animals. Deabenderfer said he felt the Planning Commission would like to make it more difficult to set up wind farms in Montgomery County.
Deabenderfer also reported on the Senior Citizens, noting that the Hillsboro president, Dave "Tiny" Andrews, had passed away. The Hillsboro group will have to elect a new president at their next meeting.
In UCCI news, Gene Miles said he attended an educational seminar with three attorneys that focused mainly on legal issues with cannabis in the workplace.
Young said the information systems department was hard at work, and still working to fill a vacancy.
Board members would unanimously pass an ordinance to prohibit cannabis business establishments in unincorporated areas of Montgomery County. The ordinance states the county feels it would have an adverse effect on county residents and increased issues for law enforcement. Board member Tim Fogle asked if the county knew how local municipalities were dealing with the issue and if the county would lose out on any money by prohibiting the business. Young said he's not sure what municipalities will do, but the county already passed an ordinance to tax cannabis sales throughout the county, so they won't lose any money that way.
Young reported the next meeting with Vistra about the closing of the Coffeen Power Plant would be Nov. 18.
In a census update, Leitheiser said she met with a local partnership specialist, and they will continue to reach out to organizations like libraries and schools, noting that children are often undercounted in a census. She said her office has been told the addressing is complete. Her office also had a call from the village president in Ohlman that residents had reported people knocking on doors in Ohlman claiming to be with the census. She passed that concern onto the sheriff's department. Robbins said those people had already moved on from Ohlman, but if anyone had any information about it to contact his office.
Road and Bridge
Road and Bridge Committee Chairman Gene Miles said County Engineer Cody Greenwood was handling the sale of surplus equipment, and that they would open bids at their December meeting.
Miles said they had not yet met with representatives from the village of Walshville on fixing or re-routing the main road due to heavy traffic flow.
Greenwood will advertise for this year's bulk fuel purchase, and those bids will also be opened in December.
Miles said the committee received a preliminary engineering report for bridge replacement on Seven Sisters Avenue from Prairie Engineers, but that Greenwood felt it was a little out of line and sought one from Hurst-Rosche as well.
Board members unanimously adopted a resolution for the 2020 motor fuel tax in the amount of $1,126,000, which reflects an increase in allotment from the state, due to the increase in gas tax, which started in July.
In terms of the county engineer's salary, Miles said the state has not released the revised salary figures, but hopes to have it by the next meeting. Under this program, the state pays for half the county engineer's salary if the county pays a minimum of 95 percent of the recommended salary established by the state.
In a final note, Miles said the overhead doors had been installed, but were not yet complete.
"It's going well," he said. "They are secure."
Finance Committee Chairman Megan Beeler said the county received one coal payment of $17,000 in October, which went into the capital improvement fund. She added there is a CD coming due, that they plan to keep liquid at this time to help pay obligations to Smart Watt after the first of the year. It will be reinvested at a later date.
The board unanimously approved renewal for the county's property/casualty insurance from ICRMT. She said it was a fairly flat renewal, up 1.8 percent on property/liability insurance due to an increase of coverage. Rates also went down for workman's compensation. The board approved renewal of $53,390 for workman's compensation and $241,542 for property/liability insurance.
With board member Glenn Bishop voting no, the board approved a budget for the 2020 fiscal year. Beeler went through the change sheets, including increases to the motor fuel tax allotment and zeroing out revenues for EMA. She said the 911 Board will be asked to pay back a $50,000 loan from coal royalty funding before the merger with Christian and Shelby counties.
In expense changes, Beeler thanked board member Connie Beck for noting a legal change, that two salary positions did not meet the state's minimum threshold and were increased. Those include the superintendent of buildings and the animal control warden.
Beeler said they added an expense of $12,357 to the EMA, which will be what the county pays in the merger with Christian County. She noted that she read an editorial in The Journal-News on Monday, which said the merger did not have any financial gain for the county. Beeler said the editorial did not point out other expenses from the general fund, like IMRF, insurance and other benefits, that will be a savings to the county.
Another added expense was an increase to the county engineer's salary. They guessed at 3 percent, but they do not have the final numbers from the state.
Other changes reflect the exact insurance premiums for property/casualty and workman's compensation, as well as part-time clerical staff for the probation department. The county is unable to fund that at this time, but the probation supervisor asked permission from the judge to use probation funds to help pay for that position, and it was granted.
Bergen asked about zeroing out all the expenses for EMA, and wondered if they would still need to pay for fuel and vehicle maintenance. Nimmo said that will all be covered through Christian County. Bishop asked if the county will still provide a vehicle, and Beeler said no. In the consolidation agreement, Christian County has an Impala available for use. The county will keep its truck for use in pulling trailers.
Bishop asked Beeler if the budget showed a deficit of $3 million. She said it's a reflection of spending down of reserves on several projects, noting that departments often save up over several years to fund projects. Beeler said the general fund deficit is just under $800,000, which will be offset by coal money in reserves.
Montgomery County State's Attorney Bryant Hitchings read a list of resolutions for budget appropriations and levies, and all were approved. Bishop voted against the levies for IMRF and Social Security
Included in those was a resolution to pass the general corporate fund levy for $882,900; the County Health Department levy for $580,000; the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund levy for $745,237; the Social Security Fund levy for $515,000; the levy to pay the costs of insurance premiums for $586,040; the County Highway Fund levy for $436,000; the County Highway Federal Aid Matching Fund levy for $218,000; the Special Aid to County Bridge Fund levy for $218,000; five ambulance services levies, including $181,000 for Litchfield, $101,500 for Hillsboro, $274,000 for Nokomis/Witt, $73,000 for Raymond/Harvel, and $72,000 for Farmersville/Waggoner; the levy for the County Extension service for $154,425; the levy for the Senior Citizen Social Services for $109,000; the Community Mental Health Board (708 Board) for $643,000; and the levy for Veterans Assistance for $46,150.
Two other resolutions dealt with salaries, including $64,183 for the Supervisor of Assessments, $71,633 for the probation officer, $206,782 for the assistant probation officers and up to $15,000 to use the State's Attorney appellate prosecutor.
Prior to the passing of the levy resolution, the board voted 20-1 to approve the financial appropriation ordinance of $24,038,131 for the fiscal year 2020. Bishop voted against it.
In IMRF news, Beeler said there is a statute that those collecting an IMRF pension cannot also collect a salary, which affects a couple of county board members. They are continuing to look into that.
Before concluding her report, she asked the board to keep the Panhandle community in their thoughts and prayers, as it had been a rough year.
In elections news, Leitheiser reminded the board that the filing period for the upcoming election ran from Nov. 25 to Dec. 2.
In EPA news, HWE Committee Chairman Chuck Graden said EPA Director Phil Gonet did receive his most recent quarterly payment from the state. The county will have to hire and train Gonet's replacement when he retires in February, and Graden said Gonet will help with the training.
In a recycling update, Graden said Brian Deming of DC Waste and Recycling in Hillsboro gave an update on privatizing the recycling program at a cost of $13 a month.
"I hope he can make it go," said Graden.
He added that Deming said residents in Nokomis and Raymond were interested as well, but at this time, there would be no pick-up for rural customers.
Jones asked about the county's building and equipment in Hillsboro for recycling, and Graden said Deming is looking into the possibility of leasing it. The city of Hillsboro owns the ground the building sits on. The committee will continue to look at the issue.
Jones would also ask where DC Waste is taking its co-mingled recycling, and Graden said to Bloomington.
In Animal Control news, Warden Amanda Daniels said she had nothing to report.
Graden said that the cities of Hillsboro and Litchfield had rejected the updated animal control ordinances, while Nokomis and Witt had signed it.
Hitchings said that if a city has its own animal control ordinance, they can be responsible for issues, but the ultimate responsibility goes to the county. He added that if municipalities abandon their animal control ordinances, the responsibility goes to the county.
"We just have to keep fighting," Graden said. "We have to get reimbursed."
Board member Mark Hughes asked if the county could send a bill to municipalities, and Hitchings said there is a provision for the city's to help, but that could involve a police officer responding to an animal control call. Young said they are currently looking into that clause.
Jones asked what the cities' problems were, and Graden said he wasn't sure. Board member Bob Sneed said that representatives from Litchfield had been to a conference in Chicago, citing that animal control was the county's responsibility.
Buildings and Grounds
Buildings and Grounds Committee Chairman Sneed said that the Smart Watt project is coming to a close. He said they are working out a few bugs at the jail, but that overall it was looking pretty good, adding he hopes to see lower utility bills in the new year.
In maintenance news, he said they fixed a problem with the boiler in the Historic Courthouse, and that it was working.
Sneed said they have one more load to collect for the surplus sale, which will be conducted at the former Wright Automotive property (now the Highway Department).
He said they continue to work on the sound system in the county board meeting room and would be putting bids out for the elevator service contracts soon as well.
In a final note, Sneed said they are looking into replacing sidewalks around the Historic Courthouse and will be talking to the City of Hillsboro to see if they will be willing to help.
Economic Development Chairman Donna Yeske said the next Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation meeting would be Dec. 19, and that the Revolving Loan Fund is going well.
In tourism news, she reported that MCEDC Executive Director Valerie Belusko is finishing up a video on the Half-Witt Winery. Yeske said there are currently about five tourism videos on the county website, and she encouraged board members to watch them.
At last month's meeting, Bill Schroeder asked about the manhours in cleaning up Eagle Zinc. Yeske said as of Oct. 19, there had been 85,619 hours worked cleaning up the site. Cabrerra has four employees from Montgomery County and seven from the state of Illinois, and another four from out of state. She said three other companies had nine employees, and there were also trucking companies being used and that local dirt was sold and hauled for the project. Yeske said a total of 25-30 employees have worked on the project, and Sneed said that amounts to about $2 million in labor.
The board unanimously approved the intergovernmental agreement for the CEDS document with Calhoun, Christian, Greene, Jersey, Macoupin and Montgomery counties. It will be put together by the University of Illinois Extension office, and will allow cities in the county to apply for economic development grants for projects like sidewalks and sewers among other things.
Board members also unanimously appointed former county board member Heather Hampton+Knodle as the county's representative. The next meeting will be Jan. 9. Yeske said that Hampton+Knodle had already gotten the ball rolling and would be a good representative for the county.
In a final note, Glenn Savage said a sign would soon by placed by the weigh station on Interstate 55, noting a roadside habitat for visitors to see prairie grass species. Currently, a walkway is being built, and a parking lot will soon follow with room for two tour buses and cars.
In addition to the EMA merger, Bergen reported the 911 Board met in September, voting 3-3 to keep 911 services in Montgomery County. They met again in October and voted 4-2 to merge with Christian and Shelby counties. He said the county is currently in the process of merging.
Bergen reported that Fillmore and Taylor Springs got new warning sirens, and Graden added that Ohlman got two, with the extra one to be used for parts.
Bergen said all school districts will soon have to provide an active shooter training at the start of the school year, per state mandate.
Personnel Committee Chairman Kirby Furness reported open enrollment was held for employee health insurance, and that it had gone well. He added the county's HRA usage was at 8.53 percent with the end of the fiscal year on Nov. 30.
Board members unanimously passed an employee cyber policy document and an elected officials waiver. Office holders will be asked to encourage their employees to sign the county's cyber security policy, and if they do not, they will be asked to sign a waiver accepting liability if an employee breaches the policy.
Jones asked if the liability stayed with the county or fell on the individual employee, and Furness said it was covered by the county. The policy was mostly for accountability. Beeler said it will eventually be added to the county's employee manual.
Board members would also unanimously pass the holiday schedule for 2020, which includes 13 holidays.
After meeting in closed session for just over ten minutes, the board agreed to offer a separation release package for those employees in the recycling program that will lose their jobs after Nov. 30.
Young announced that Robinson would step down as the county's liaison to the CEFS board and would be replaced by Fogle.
He added that Beeler would be taken off the Personnel Committee and Robinson would be added.
Young said the next coordinating committee meeting would be held on Tuesday, Nov. 26, at 4:30 p.m., as the elected officials have asked to meet with them.
The board unanimously appointed John Speiser to Drainage District 1, which includes Irving, Witt, Nokomis and Rountree townships.
With no public comments, the board approved paying its monthly bills and adjourned at 7:24 p.m. They will meet again on Tuesday, Dec. 10, beginning at 5:30 p.m. in downtown Hillsboro.