It was a long night for members of the Montgomery County Board who voted to close all the recycling drop-off centers in the county, except the center in Hillsboro, effective Oct. 1.
Board members met for their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday evening, Sept. 10, at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hillsboro, with Earlene Robinson and Richard Wendel absent from the meeting.
Just after the consent agenda, board members unanimously approved the appointment of Tim Fogle of Litchfield to the vacant board seat left when Dillon Clark resigned in July. Fogle was on vacation, so he was not present at the meeting, and will be sworn in at a later date.
The discussion about the county's recycling program spanned several of its committee reports. Finance Committee Chairman Megan Beeler said her committee discussed it at length, as Supervisor Mike Hand recently resigned his post.
"It's kind of the perfect storm," Beeler said. "We are short on manpower and recycling routinely runs about $100,000 in the red."
Her committee recommended the county close all the drop-off centers in municipalities outside Hillsboro as they don't have enough staff members to collect it at this time. One employee is currently off on workman's comp, leaving them with not enough workers.
"This is not a long-term solution," Beeler said. "But we have to deal with our current situation and then address the long-term problem."
During the HWE report, Chairman Chuck Graden said his committee had selected a few drop-off sites to close, but not all of them.
"We need to decide if we are committed to recycling or not," said board member Glenn Bishop.
He said he was against creating a special services district for recycling, paid for by property tax owners. Bishop said he was in favor of using $100,000 of coal money in reserves each year to fund the county's recycling program.
Beeler said that Montgomery County Clerk and Recorder Sandy Leitheiser had done a lot of research on putting such a question on the ballot, and that it would likely cost the county $50,000 to create a special services district, and even then the referendum may not pass by the voters.
Board member Jeremy Jones said if they weren't going to replace Hand as supervisor, then they should just shut down the recycling program.
"I think we should fill the position," he said. "Not everything the county does makes money. This is a service we provide."
Beeler said one of the problems in filling the position is that the recycling union filed a grievance against the county for hiring a working supervisor position, as well as a temporary worker, making it a challenge to keep it staffed.
Personnel Committee Chairman Kirby Furness suggested privatizing the county's recycling program, and had already talked to someone who might be interested.
"The county shouldn't be in the recycling business," Furness said. "We're up against the wall and we don't have a lot of choices."
Jones said he was all for privatizing the program if that was a viable option.
Board member Bob Sneed asked if they closed all the centers except Hillsboro if they would have enough manpower to make it to the end of the fiscal year. County Board Chairman Evan Young said most of the time is spent traveling to drop-off sheds around the county and collecting materials. Sneed also asked if the county had talked to the municipalities and mayors to ask them for help. Young said they were planning a mayors' meeting later this month.
Board member Mark Hughes asked about the cost to run the recycling program if they closed the drop-off centers, and Beeler said it's not a huge cost savings at this time. She said they would save some salary cost as they have not replaced the supervisor and they would save some on fuel.
"At this time, it's really more of a personnel issue," Beeler said.
Bishop asked if the county would have enough volume of recycling if they close all the drop-off sheds except Hillsboro. People from other communities would be able to bring their recycling to Hillsboro. Sneed asked if municipalities were willing to bring the materials over to Hillsboro, could the sheds stay open. That option was part of the final motion. Any municipality may decide to bring their recyclable materials to the Hillsboro location and still use the county sheds.
Young said that several years ago the University of Illinois did a feasibility study about the recycling program, and said for it to be viable, all the recycling would have to be brought to Hillsboro.
After lengthy discussion, the board approved a motion to close all the recycling drop-off sheds except for Hillsboro, as of Oct. 1. Voting against the measure were Jones, Connie Beck and Bishop.
In other HWE news, Graden brought forth some changes to the animal control municipal contracts, which were approved by the county board last month. The new contract created a formula for municipalities to pay for animal control services, based on their usage the previous year. When that contract was presented to the county mayors, it was met with a negative reception.
Instead of that contract, the committee drew up a new one with charges for services the county offers. Those include $100 pick-up for dogs and cats or a $50 fee if the animal is brought to the facility in Hillsboro, a $250 fee for bite cases and humane investigations and a $200 fee for calls on nights, weekends and holidays. Beeler said the fees would be based on actual usage of the services and billed quarterly. She added that calls in unincorporated areas would be billed to the county.
Board member Bill Bergen asked if they should vote on this new contract tonight or wait until it's presented to the mayors. Graden said one thing this new contract was trying to accomplish was stemming the number of 3 a.m. calls the animal control warden responds to.
Jones asked if this contract was cost-effective, and Young said he felt like it was, based on the average number of calls each year. Jones also asked Litchfield Mayor Steve Dougherty, who was in attendance, how he felt, and Dougherty said he couldn't speak for his council. But he wondered what would happen to the numbers if Hillsboro and Litchfield opted out of such a contract.
In the end, Graden would rescind his motion, and the board will take contracts to the mayors for further input.
Young asked Veterans Assistance Commission Superintendent Dave Strowmatt to lead the Pledge of Allegiance to open the meeting.
Board members would unanimously pass both the mileage and per diem reports as well as the minutes from the previous meeting.
During the consent agenda, Circuit Clerk Holly Lemons reminded the board she would be hosting the state's circuit clerk conference next week, and that her office would be short-staffed in helping her.
Montgomery County Clerk and Recorder Sandy Leitheiser passed out a newsletter highlighting programs in other counties and said she was proud they were doing some of the same work in Montgomery County. One of the programs is underway with Strowmatt and volunteer Jean Strausbaugh, along with employees in Leitheiser's office, as they are reviewing older military discharge papers recently made public. Those older than 62 years, which dates back to 1957, have been made public, and her office is collecting information to honor local veterans who have been awarded medals. Leitheiser said military discharge papers were first recorded in Montgomery County during World War I. They are working on compiling a list of medal winners.
In addition, another county was featured for digitizing its records, and Leitheiser said they are using some automation funds to digitize land records and marriage licenses at this time.
In health department news, Administrator Hugh Satterlee said they would be administering flu shots for county employees and board members
Sheriff Rick Robbins said they had three vacancies at the county jail, which led to additional expenses since they have been so full these last few months.
State's Attorney Bryant Hitchings provided a report from his office during the month of August. They opened 39 criminal felony cases, 48 criminal misdemeanor cases and 408 traffic violations.
County Treasurer Nikki Lohman said they just passed the due date for the second installment of property taxes, and said the new option to pay online this year had gone over very well.
In VAC news, Strowmatt said he would be attending continuing education later this month.
Board member Ron Deabenderfer said the Planning Commission would be meeting in October to discuss wind ordinance changes.
Deabenderfer added that the Senior Citizens met, and the insurance company told them they would be required to have two bids before they could fix the roof. He said they had one bid and were in the process of seeking another.
University of Illinois Extension Director Amanda Cole made her annual levy presentation to the board. She also provided an update on some of their programs this past year. Cole said the levy they requested went up $500 to account for the money they would lose in the Coffeen power plant closing. Cole also told the board they have two open seats for Montgomery County on the Extension Council and were looking for volunteers to serve.
Board members approved a resolution to send a letter to state legislators, letting them know county residents were overwhelmingly in favor of no additional second amendment legislation. A non-binding question was put on the November ballot, and voters were not in favor of any new legislation about the second amendment. Board member Jim Moore said he objected to a portion of the resolution that said the county considered any such legislation to be unconstitutional, as he felt the courts decide what is or is not constitutional. Young said he felt it was okay to keep it that way, as it was just the county's opinion that it was unconstitutional. Jones added he felt it sent a clear message to state legislators that they will not put up with any shenanigans. The resolution passed, and Moore voted present.
In census news, Leitheiser reported the first meeting was well attended, and they were planning another meeting to make preparations for the 2020 census.
"We have a lot at stake, and we welcome any help you can provide," she told the board.
Road and Bridge
In Road and Bridge Committee news, Chairman Gene Miles said they sold the remaining paint booth equipment to Justin Rister for $4,252. It included the spray booth, mixing room and prep station.
Miles said the committee had a lengthy discussion with representatives from Walshville, who need help with maintenance of their roads. He said they have about 600 cars come through the village every day, and don't receive enough in motor fuel tax dollars to cover maintenance. The committee is looking at ways they can help.
Board members unanimously approved funding for a pipe culvert project on Possum Lane in Fillmore Township, and the county's half to pay is $4,750.
The board also unanimously approved the purchase of a double drum vibratory roller to use on county roads. County Engineer Cody Greenwood suggested they rent one first to see how they liked it. The board gave approval for up to $96,000 to purchase the one they are currently renting, and funding came from pipeline money.
Miles said the committee approved two new overhead doors at the collision center for $26,244. They will go alongside the doors already there and will be big enough for the trucks to be stored there with the snow plows already on them.
In a few final notes, Miles said they continue to work on the office remodel for the highway department at the collision center. The committee also discussed a damaged guard rail on E. Union in Nokomis, and Miles said they hope to have it repaired in the next 30 days.
Banee Ulrici of the probation office attended the meeting to discuss a potential new pre-trial position. Finance Committee Chairman Megan Beeler said the courts have approved the position, and will pay the salary if the county will pay for the benefits. Ulrici estimates that will be no more than $12,500 a year. The position would benefit both the probation department and the sheriff's office.
Ulrici said they applied for the grant-funded position in July, but probably will not know if they were selected until Dec. 1.
Board member Bill Bergen asked if the benefits for the position would be any different than other county employees, and Ulrici said they would be the same. The board approved paying benefits if the grant is awarded to the county for the position.
In capital improvement fund news, Beeler said they did not receive any coal royalty payments during the month of August.
In budget news, Beeler said that although she presented a good picture of next year's budget at the last county board meeting, news had changed quickly. The closing of the power plant in Coffeen will change the picture of the budget.
Beeler said Vistra has contacted the county about negotiating a step-down in property taxes gradually, and the other counties affected by closures have contacted Montgomery County about negotiating together. The company will pay all its property taxes in 2020 and then step down the year after that.
"From a county standpoint, it's not just the property tax dollars, though," Beeler told the board. "It's the supplemental sales tax that we will lose."
She projects that will be $675,000 the first year the plant is retired.
She said that this news makes the county's budget far from balanced, and that they are still waiting on a couple of things before looking at the overall final picture. One of the things they are waiting on is the 911 Board to decide if they will stay at the sheriff's office or move somewhere else. At this point, they have not accepted the county's offer, but the board does meet later this week.
Jones asked if the company has plans for the power plant property, and Beeler said they are talking about transforming it into a solar /battery installation plant. She said they are seeking supplemental funding to help with that process.
Deabenderfer asked if the plant switches to solar if the county will still receive supplemental sales tax, and Beeler said she isn't sure, and they will continue to look into that possibility.
In other Finance Committee news, Beeler said they are still working with the Information Systems department on a fee schedule for the county's IT services for other taxing bodies, like the 708 Board, VAC, health department and highway department among others.
Beeler said that Treasurer Nikki Lohman is working on an IMRF update, and board members affected should check in with her.
The board unanimously approved the maximum tax on the resale of cannabis as that becomes available in Illinois.
"It's coming, and we can't stop it," Beeler said. "Our recommendation is to tax it."
She recommended a 3 percent tax on sales inside municipalities and 3.75 percent in unincorporated areas, which is the maximum. Proceeds from the tax are required by state law to be used by law enforcement on drug programs.
Deabenderfer asked if this was uniform across the state or if a vendor might choose another county that taxed less. Beeler said she wasn't sure, but that she assumed most counties would issue the maximum tax.
To date, the state has not awarded any cannabis licenses in Montgomery County, and they have to be issued by the state.
Sheriff Rick Robbins said based on the meetings he has attended, the portion of taxes the county will get from the sale will be divided up after the state takes its share, and he expects the county will not receive much.
Beeler said they are working on a resolution committing certain county revenues to specified expenditures and would continue to work with KEB.
The board unanimously conveyed several deeds, including one in North Litchfield Township and two in South Litchfield Township to the city of Litchfield and one in Fillmore Township to Michael Wilkerson.
Lohman also reminded the board that the next tax sale is coming up on Oct. 28, and the tax sale surplus auction will be Oct. 18. Contact the treasurer's office for more information.
Leitheiser reminded the board that the circulation period has begun for those seeking election in March. She has packets available.
In EPA news, Bill Gonet is planning to retire on Feb. 28, 2020, and the county will have to train someone to replace him. They are hoping to hire someone to start at the beginning of next year to train some with Gonet.
In addition, the county received a $3,142.90 grant from the state, and Gonet was hoping they would award it to him as a bonus. The HWE Committee made that recommendation to the full board, but after nearly 20 minutes in closed session, the motion was rescinded.
Building and Grounds
Building and Grounds Committee Chairman Bob Sneed said the HVAC system at the jail had been inspected and they have been pleased with the work done by Smart Watt. The committee is working on a few issues with the kitchen at the jail at this time.
In maintenance and cleaning issues, Sneed said the exterior lights at the back of the courthouse were working again. He added that the carpets had been cleaned at the new courthouse and he expects to clean the carpets in the Historic Courthouse next year.
They had a problem with the chiller on the HVAC unit at the new courthouse, but it turned out to be the compressor, which is being fixed.
In other news, Sneed said they are working to coordinate the county's surplus sale date and will bid out the lease for the county farm in November. The committee is also working on bidding out service contracts for the elevators and fixing lights in the lobby of the jail building.
Economic Development Committee Chairman Donna Yeske said the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation met in August, and things were going well. The Revolving Loan Fund was working well, and this year's class of CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities) students was hard at work. She said they are hoping to hear an update from CTI on expanding broadband in Montgomery County within the next month.
In tourism news, Yeske said the county provided some funding for Circuit Clerk Holly Lemons to create Montgomery County bags for the circuit clerk conference she's hosting later this month. Lemons said the bags are very nice, and several municipalities and businesses also provided items.
Yeske reported that to-date, workers at the former Eagle Zinc site have moved 323,000 cubic yards of residue and placed it in a containment cell.
She said that the county has been notified it was awarded an Enterprise Zone status, effective Jan. 1, 2020.
Yeske said the county qualifies for disaster status under the CEDS program, due to the closure of the power plant. The state is currently working with counties on flood damage, but they are hoping to be next in line.
In a final note, Yeske said that the capital improvement fund for economic development will be zeroed out in next year's budget due to the shortage of funds.
In EMA news, Chairman Bill Bergen said they had fielded some questions about changes to the ambulance contracts and were continuing to work on that. Bergen said the committee is also suggesting that all requests for reports be submitted in writing, as each report costs the county $100-$200.
The committee approved writing off $50,000 in unpaid reimbursement from Medicare that the county will likely never see. He said that the state would never pay more than $25,000 of that anyway. Beeler suggested he discuss writing it off with the county's auditor.
Bergen said that although the board had approved a part-time person for EMA, they have decided they cannot support that with the closure of the power plant.
Bergen added that he attended a GIS meeting with Kevin Brink, and the county could get an $85,000 to $150,000 grant for updating its GIS system. He said it's likely the county will receive something as the state wants to update all counties.
Before concluding his report, Bergen noted the county has 56 active team volunteers, and is very proud of how many people help out in their communities.
Board members approved a switch in employee dental, vision and life insurance to Met Life. The county does not pay any for employee vision or dental insurance, but does offer a plan. The Met Life policy is a 4.4 percent decrease for dental and a 9.5 decrease in vision, as well as a decrease in life insurance.
The board also unanimously approved the employee health insurance renewal with Health Alliance. It is a 2 percent increase in the coming year.
Personnel Committee Chairman Kirby Furness said the Local 773 contracts, which is the recycling union, come due Nov. 30, so the county needs to make some decisions about recycling.
He said the committee is still working on an employee manual, as well as drug policy, as cannabis becomes legal in Illinois.
The board unanimously appointed John Speiser to Drainage District #1, which covers Irving, Witt, Nokomis and Rountree.
With no public comments, the board voted to adjourn at 7:50, after meeting for nearly two and a half hours. The next full board meeting of the Montgomery County Board will be Tuesday, Oct. 8, at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hillsboro, beginning at 5:30 p.m.