"This is not something new," said Health, Welfare and Elections Committee Chairman Chuck Graden. "The county can't afford to do this (recycling) any more. That's what changed my mind. I wanted it to continue."
Members of the Montgomery County Board voted 12-8 to cut the county's recycling program, effective Dec. 1, at their regular monthly meeting, held Tuesday evening, Oct. 8, at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hillsboro.
Those voting in favor of closing recycling were Kirby Furness, Chuck Graden, David Loucks, Dennis McCammack, Gene Miles, Jim Moore, Earlene Robinson, Bob Sneed, Donna Yeske, Evan Young, Megan Beeler and Bill Bergen. Voting against closing recycling were Tim Fogle, Mark Hughes, Sandy Johnson, Jeremy Jones, Richard Wendel, Connie Beck, Glenn Bishop and Ron Deabenderfer. Board member Glenn Savage abstained from the vote.
The discussion, which started during the HWE Committee report, lasted more than half of the two-hour meeting. In giving the HWE Committee report, Sandy Johnson said that Brian Deming, owner of DC Waste in Hillsboro, had visited their committee and was interested in privatizing the county's recycling program. Although Deming is still researching the various aspects of the recycling business, he is looking at a subscription-based service to county municipalities for around $10 per month. He would offer curbside pick-up for recycled materials that would not have to be sorted in a tote. There would be no drop-off service available anywhere in the county.
"He gave a very good presentation," Johnson said. "We are always in the hole on recycling."
Board member Jeremy Jones asked about the property the county owns, and Chairman Evan Young said he is negotiating with a private business for the purchase or lease of the property and equipment. Jones said he hopes the county can get some of the taxpayers' money back in selling the equipment.
The discussion continued in the report of the Finance Committee with Committee Chairman Megan Beeler, who made the motion to cease the county's recycling program on Dec. 1. Graden asked how long the county would employ the two and a half workers in the recycling program, and Young said through the end of November. Employees had already been notified the county was looking at discontinuing the program.
Jones asked if the county had a contingency plan if a private business did not pick up the recycling program, and Beeler said they did not. Deabenderfer asked about the timeline in starting up the private recycling business. He wondered if the county could continue to collect recyclable items until the business was able to take it over, as he felt it would be easier to continue a program rather than start over. Beeler said she felt the program would look much different in the private sector.
Hughes asked about the cost of running the recycling program, and Beeler said it costs around $300,000. The county receives tipping fees from the landfill at about $40,000 to help offset the cost, but even with the sale of the recyclable materials, the program continuously runs about $100,000 in the red every year. Young added the county loses about $2,000 on every truckload of recyclable materials they ship out.
Johnson asked about rural county residents who may not be able to participate in a private recycling business, and Beeler said that at this point, they just aren't sure what the privatization will look like.
In his first full board meeting, Tim Fogle of Litchfield said that even though he was new to the county board, he had already received seven calls at his home from residents about closing recycling. He asked if the county had looked into the possibility of EPA grants. Beeler said they had, but grants were mostly available to start recycling programs, not sustain them. Several years ago, Jones looked into picking up recycling from area businesses on a subscription-based service for the county to help offset the costs, but would have needed an additional two trucks and workers to make it feasible.
"We are the last government-run recycling program anywhere around us," Beeler said.
Hughes asked about how much money the county saved by closing all the drop sheds but Hillsboro, and Beeler said that was not a funding issue. It was a manpower issue, as they were down two employees and could not physically get to all the drop sheds to pick up materials.
Jones asked if the cities and towns had any interest in bringing their recycling to Hillsboro, and Young reported that at the last mayors' meeting, only Nokomis spoke about it and they hadn't figured out a way it was feasible for them.
Hughes said he felt like using the coal money was a way that city residents benefitted from coal funding. Beeler said that if coal money was still coming into the county at this time, it might be a different discussion. Young added that coal funding has been used to offset the county's budget for many years, meaning that all county residents have benefitted from it.
Young said the private business already interested in recycling already has stops in all county municipalities except Donnellson. Beeler added that she knows of another private trash business in the county that already offers curbside pick-up for recycling in the north part of the county, including some rural areas.
"Here's what I know," said Furness. "No one wants to get rid of recycling. If we continue to take $100,000 from the reserve account, it's that much less time we can operate county business. Two to three years down the road, where are we going to cut? We are losing almost $1 million in sales tax from the power plant. We are gonna need all the reserves we can get. If we continue to fund recycling, then there's going to be even more hard choices. We have no way to build our reserves back up. We will have to make it up with cuts because we can't grow that much. Montgomery County government has to shrink down."
Furness added he's glad there is a private business interested in trying to provide a recycling service to the county.
Hughes asked why they needed to decide this right now, and Beeler said mostly for the employees' sake, adding that the county has to pass a budget at the November meeting and would need to budget for the program.
Miles asked if there was a way for the county to start a subscription-based program, and Beeler said they weren't sure of the legality of that.
Bergen said he felt the board should look at some of the positives, that residents now would be able to utilize curbside pick up for their recycling and wouldn't have to sort it anymore.
During the public comment portion at the end of the meeting, resident Bill Schroeder said he felt the townships would see more trash in the road with the end of the recycling program. Karyl Dressen said she was disappointed the board didn't vote to keep one site open. She felt county residents would drive to one site to take recycling, and felt that utilizing a private business would exclude those county residents from recycling who couldn't pay a subscription-based fee.
"This is cutting out a lot of people from being able to do it," he said.
Furness encouraged the county to give the private business some time to get up and going. He said he felt like at least the county was lucky to have this option. Other counties, like Macoupin and Christian, didn't have any recycling options when their counties shuttered their programs.
In calling the meeting to order, Young asked Deabenderfer to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. Beeler was absent for roll call, but arrived later in the meeting to deliver the Finance Committee report. Board members would unanimously pass the monthly mileage and per diem requests, as well as the minutes from the last meeting. They also welcomed Tim Fogle to his first full board meeting after being appointed to fill Dillon Clark's spot at the September meeting. Fogle said he was glad to be there.
During the consent agenda, Montgomery County Clerk and Recorder Sandy Leitheiser reminded local residents the county still needs more census workers, having filled about half the slots needed for the 2020 census. She said they will host another job fair on Monday, Oct. 21, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Historic Courthouse in Hillsboro.
Young thanked Health Department Administrator Hugh Satterlee for bringing flu vaccinations to county employees and elected officials.
Robinson reported the 708 Board had not met for the previous two months, but said CrossOver Ministries was awarded $30,000 in funding this year, and has given it back to the board.
In CEFS news, Robinson said LiHeap opened Oct. 1 for seniors and the disabled, and would open Nov. 1 for families with children under six and Dec. 1 for the general public, for help with winter heating costs.
Deabenderfer reported the Senior Citizens only got one bid for roof work from Todd Bergman and that it would cost around $13,480. He added that they voted not to have a senior Christmas party this year because of many reasons, like inclement weather and transportation issues. It will be replaced by two events next year, one in the spring and one in the fall.
Miles reported he attended a UCCI meeting in September with the president of the Illinois Energy Association, who spoke on the closing of power plants around the state. Miles said he talked about many bills in state legislature against coal-fired gas plants, and talked about the potential of solar, as wind energy gets lots of noise complaints.
Wendel reported he attended a West Central Development Council meeting in August, and that the organization got all its funding for the year. They will be able to fund a youth program for those looking for jobs ages 16 to 24. Anyone interested should contact the WCDC.
Young said the committee heard from Curt Watkins of information systems, and that they are staying. Their newest hire found another job, so the county is currently looking to hire one more IT person.
Young presented an ordinance to prohibit the sale of cannabis in unincorporated areas of Montgomery County, and said Sheriff Rick Robbins is in agreement. The board will have 30 days to review the ordinance and plans to vote in November.
In a power plant update, Young said he sat in on a phone call with several others, including representatives from three other counties about working together to negotiate with Vistra. He said they are still working on the possibility of pooling resources together.
Board members unanimously approved committee meeting dates for the 2020 year.
Road and Bridge
Road and Bridge Chairman Miles said the committee felt the first estimate to renovate the former Wright Automotive collision center into office space for the new Highway Department was too high, so they have asked Hurst-Rosche to prepare new bidding documents not to exceed $28,000. Initially, the estimate for renovations came in at over $300,000. After lengthy discussion about the project, the board approved the contract with Hurst-Rosche.
Hughes asked how many employees needed offices, and Miles said four, maybe five. Graden asked where the funding for this project was coming from, and Miles said the Highway Department. Jones asked if there would be any space in any of the other buildings on the property for the coroner to have some space.
County Engineer Cody Greenwood said they are still working on exactly how things will look when they move to the former Wright Automotive property in Hillsboro. As they look to remodel the collision center into office space, they will lose some storage space, and will use the former showroom and other shed for storage.
"At this time, we are planning to use all that square footage," Greenwood said. "But we won't know for sure until we get physically out there."
Miles added they know they have a lot of square-footage, but aren't sure how they will use all of it yet. Hughes said that when he voted to approve this project, he did so for the whole county, and felt that if another office needed some space, it should be available. He added that he felt $328,000 was a little excessive for four workers. Miles said he felt the same way.
Greenwood said this was only an estimate for the project, and said there is some office space in the collision center now, but not enough.
Jones asked if the county highway department sprays weeds and if the county would be required to provide showers as the state does. Greenwood said they have eyewash stations, but are not required to provide showers at this time.
"This is just an estimate on the project," Greenwood said. "Until you put it out on the street, we don't know how much it will cost."
"I can't vote to spent $328,000 for four office workers," Hughes said.
Young reminded the board they were not voting on the actual renovation project at this time, simply a request for Hurst-Rosche to create a full design and begin the bidding process, for an amount not to exceed $28,000. Bishop said if they felt like it would come in closer to $26,000, he wondered why they were allowing up to $28,000, and Greenwood said he rounded up to be safe, but felt it would come in around $26,000.
Jones asked about cleaning up the old Highway Department property to sell it, and Miles said they are working on that as well.
Before the final vote, Greenwood said that when they first looked into moving the Highway Department to the county farm, it was going to be $3.5 million. Even with the renovations, this project will come in at under $1 million.
In other road and bridge news, Miles said they will be selling several surplus items, including an old roller, a V grade blade, lighted collision signs and aluminum overhead doors. He hopes to open bids for these items at the next committee meeting.
The committee is also working with the Village of Walshville to help with some of their road problems.
Earlier this year, the county's fuel system repair pump was hit by lightning and cost just over $5,000 to repair. Since the county also uses the pumps, the county will split the repair bill with the Highway Department.
Miles reported that the new overhead doors at the collision center were in motion and he hopes the work will be done as soon as possible.
He added that the guardrail repair in Nokomis had been done and that county crews would be striping several areas in mid- October. Johnson told the board she'd heard several compliments on their work on the Oconee Trail.
In addition to the recycling discussion, Johnson presented other items in the HWE report. She said Leitheiser reminded them that the filing period for the March 17 primary was Nov. 25 through Dec. 2.
Johnson said the board was presented with the monthly EPA report, and reminded county residents of an electronics recycling drive in Litchfield on Saturday, Oct. 26.
The board also unanimously approved the updated municipal contracts for animal control. Moore asked how the contracts were received at the mayors' meeting, and Young said there was some discussion and pushback.
"Some seemed okay with it," Young said. "We really won't know how much push back until we see if they pass it with their boards."
Moore asked if the state's attorney had looked into whose responsibility animal control was, and Young said if a city has an ordinance on the books about stray animals, they are responsible for it. Young said the Nokomis mayor was in favor of it, saying the county does all the dirty work and then the municipalities just pay for it. Jones said he felt this is the most fair system, and felt the mayors liked this version better.
Building and Grounds
In his report, Sneed said that Smart Watt continues to work on lights at the new courthouse, and he expects they will be done with that in October. He said there were no maintenance issues to report.
In a final note, he said they are still working on the county's surplus sale. They have one more load to take to Wright Automotive, and then will get it scheduled. Jones asked if the sheriff's department would have its items in the surplus sale, and Sneed said no. They are working on their own, and it's already online.
In economic development news, Yeske said the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation will meet Thursday, and that the Revolving Loan Fund is going great.
She presented the board with a travel guide from Rivers and Routes, noting the organization does four a year, along with a tourism magazine. The committee approved a one-sixth page ad in the upcoming magazine to promote county tourism.
Yeske said they are still doing clean-up work on the Eagle Zinc project. Later in the meeting, Schroeder asked the board how he could find out how much local labor has been used on this monumental clean-up project, and how much local economic impact it had.
Yeske added they continue to wait on the CEDS (Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy), but hope to start soon with a graduate student from the University of Illinois. Young said the Macoupin County Board is scheduled to vote soon on whether or not they will participate in the five-year document.
Yeske reminded the board that the county Planning Commission will meet on Wednesday, Oct. 23, at 5:30 p.m. to discuss changes to the wind ordinance.
The EMA Committee welcomed new member Tim Fogle. Bergen said the committee reviewed the monthly ambulance reports, including a letter from Litchfield, and approved the annual EMA budget.
During their committee meeting, Bergen said EMA Coordinator Greg Nimmo highlighted many of the county's volunteer EMA programs, and the number of great volunteers they have to staff them. Nimmo is also working on several upcoming training events.
Bergen said the county will receive a check for $10,000 to $15,000 from the Dakota Access Pipeline in their latest upgrades, and that funding must be used for emergency management.
Furness said they received a report on HRA usage for county employee's health insurance plans, noting it was at 7.15 percent to-date this year, which is better than where they were last year.
He said they are still working on the employee manual, and hoping to have something later this month.
Furness presented the board with an employee cyber-security policy to review for the next 30 days. Future hires and existing employees will be asked to sign the document, which came from the state board of elections. Leitheiser said the policy is designed to give teeth to county rules that employees must take cyber security training to minimize the impact of cyber-security events.
"We are in a day and age where we can't afford any cyber security incidents, intentional or unintentional," Leitheiser said.
Elected officials are excluded from the policy, in hopes they will make sure their employees adhere to the policy.
In addition to the recycling discussion, the budget was the topic of discussion for most of the finance report.
Beeler said the county has received no coal royalty payments since July, reporting there is $4.1 million of total funds available in reserves. She said that number will go down as some items that have been approved in the current year budget have not yet been paid for.
With one no in a voice vote, the county approved the estimated aggregate levy of $5. 8 million, an increase of .3748 percent. Beeler said she expects this to change before the November meeting because she didn't have final numbers for the property/liability insurance, but she said it should be close.
Bishop questioned why the county was levying more for IMRF and Social Security than it was spending, and Beeler said she was hesitant to speak in the absence of Treasurer Nikki Lohman.
"I don't see any reason to tax property owners when there is an excess," Bishop said.
Beeler said Lohman pulled estimated numbers from IMRF in April, but would not have final numbers until November.
In budget hearings, Beeler said they still face a lot of unknowns with the power plant in Coffeen closing, but that they have done their best to project an accurate budget. She presented it to board members for a 30-day review before approval at the November board meeting. Beeler is anticipating an $800,000 deficit, which will be filled by using coal funding reserves.
Speaking of reserves, at one time, the county passed an ordinance that they could not go below $3.1 million in their reserve fund, which is enough funding to operate the county for six months. Beeler said they will likely go below that number in fiscal year 2020. She was unsure if they should change this ordinance when they pass the budget or when they actually spend the money that puts them below $3.1 million in reserves. The motion has been tabled for now.
Deabenderfer asked if the board could hear again from the auditor about why it's important to save six months of operating expenses.
"I'm thankful that we have the money set aside in reserves," Beeler said. "If we hadn't had a balanced budget the last two years, I'm not sure where we would be."
In 911 news, Beeler reported that the ETSB (911 Board) presented a counter-offer for keeping services at the sheriff's department. They agreed to pay 41 percent of salaries, but only offered to pay $27,787 of operating expenses, when the county asked for $67,000. Beeler said the county has decided to accept their offer. But one problem remains in paying for the communications upgrade. The ETSB board asked for half the funding, which is $380,000, and the county feels they can't afford that. They are offering $160,000. Beeler said they chose that number because it would allow them to keep three months of operating expenses in reserves. Bergen said the ETSB board has not met yet to discuss this.
Before adjourning, the county unanimously voted to convey three deeds in Hillsboro Township to the Village of Taylor Springs.
After meeting for nearly two hours, the board voted to adjourn until Tuesday evening, Nov. 12, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the Historic Courthouse in Hillsboro.