It was a busy night for members of the Montgomery County Board, who heard a housing update, tabled a vote to lease recycling equipment, approved a change in the coal mine contract and approved a proposal from the 911 Board to keep those services in the county.
Four members of the board were absent from the meeting, including Chairman Evan Young, Ron Deabenderfer, Glen Bishop and Chuck Graden. Vice Chairman Megan Beeler led the meeting, and asked board members to keep those absent in their thoughts and prayers.
Montgomery County Housing Authority CEO Kelly Moroney visited the board for an annual update on projects. She said that when she came last year, she talked about two upcoming projects, the demolition of the Long Avenue housing in Hillsboro and the renovation of the Brown Shoe Apartments in Litchfield. Moroney said they closed on both projects last fall and work is now underway.
In Hillsboro, the complex will now be known as The Hills, and will be 50 units replacing the 50 units they are tearing down. Moroney said they are starting to turn some over to residents, noting the new homes are beautiful. She added that the construction project brought 60 jobs as well as $3 million in the local economy. The Hills will also include five units targeting veterans.
In Litchfield, the MCHA purchased the Brown Shoe Apartment complex for $3.7 million. They have started work on the fourth floor apartments, and there are currently 20 residents inside the Brown Shoe facility.
That project has also generated around 60 jobs and brought $4 million into the local economy. The MCHA will be spending around $3.9 million to renovate the facility, which has 47 apartments.
She expects both projects to be completed by the end of the year, adding that in 2021, they will submit an application to demolish the Kirk Terrace housing in Litchfield and replace it.
Beeler asked about the waiting list, and Moroney said it depends on the location in the county, but sometimes there is as much as a two-year wait.
“We’re pretty full, but it shows the need for affordable housing in this area,” Moroney said.
Following the Pledge of Allegiance, led by board member Donna Yeske, the board unanimously approved the monthly per diem and mileage payments, as well as the minutes from the previous meeting.
They also unanimously approved the consent agenda, including reports from department heads. Montgomery County Clerk and Recorder Sandy Leitheiser had high praise for her employees. During down time, the employees are scanning old land records, and recently completed the year 1981. Those documents can now be searched for and printed out, creating additional revenue for the county. Now that 1981 is finished, Leitheiser said her office would begin work on 1980 and continue to work backwards.
Board member Earlene Robinson said the 708 Board met in Feburary. This year’s applications are online and the deadline for submission is March 31. She said they have already received two applications and will meet again in April to look at this year’s applicants.
Board member Tim Fogle said CEFS is beginning new promotions to showcase the services they provide throughout the county.
In health department news, board member Sandy Johnson said they will be opening up office space on Front Street in Nokomis, with the capability to serve 90 behavioral cases and 50 maternal/child cases. The facility is currently under renovation, and when finished will help to serve the Witt/Nokomis area.
In addition to the report from Moroney, Beeler told the board that Curt Watkins had filled the information systems position. Craig Roach has been hired to do some of the work.
Leitheiser reported the county had received a $6,000 cybersecurity grant through the State Board of Elections and would continue to seek out similar grant funding for the county.
She added that Montgomery County has hired nearly 98 percent of its census workers, which is the highest in the 13th Congressional District. Letters will be mailed out on March 12, inviting residents to participate in the census, although they will not be delivered to post office boxes.
“Stay tuned because it’s coming up,” she told the board. “And we are hoping for a good count.”
In a final note, Beeler presented an annual ordinance from Central Illinois Public Transit for a 30-day review. She said there were no changes from last year, and the board will vote on it in March.
Road and Bridge
Board members unanimously approved $300,000 in Federal Aid matching funds for a resurfacing project on the Nokomis Taylorville Road, from Nokomis to the county line. They also unanimously approved $250,000 in Federal Aid matching funds for guardrail improvement along county highways to bring them up to the current standard.
The board would unanimously approve a proposal from Prairie Engineers for $19,650 for right of way acquisition for the Whitetown Bridge project. Funding will come from the Federal Aid matching funds.
Road and Bridge Committee Chairman Gene Miles said his committee will be meeting with trustees from Walshville about the proposed road re-routing. One official said some residents are hesitant to give up ground for the new road.
In a final note, he said Engineer Cody Greenwood would look into the county’s bike trail for some potential drainage and signage issues
Board members unanimously approved updating the mileage reimbursement to $.575 per the IRS. Beeler gave a shout out to County Coordinator Chris Daniels for preparing new forms.
Beeler reported the county will continue to watch for updates from IMRF. She said she was pleased to see the estimates from last April did not change throughout the year, adding the market was good to the county in 2019.
Beeler also reported the county received $18,000 in coal royalty for the capital improvement fund.
The board unanimously approved a reduction in coal royalty payments from Foresight Energy from 2 percent to 1.5 percent through Dec. 31. After that, it reverts back to 2 percent. Beeler said the county was approached by the company in January asking for a reduction in royalty payments.
“We want them to mine,” Beeler said. “If we can free up some cash to help them get started, it will be a rising tide.”
She said the company is looking to start mining in April with hopes of being up to full production by August, possibly producing up to three million tons by the end of the year. Beeler said that even with the royalty reduction that it could help the county with its $800,000 budget shortfall this year.
Board member Mark Hughes asked about the money the company owes to local vendors, and Beeler said they do not know that information. He asked if the reduction in royalty could be tied to the company paying local vendors first. Montgomery County State’s Attorney said that while it was possible, it would be difficult to enforce as they would have to know all the debts owed by the company.
Beeler said the committee is still waiting for information on the circuit clerk’s audit, as well as the resolution to commits certain revenues to specified expenditures. She added that board member Tim Fogle reached out and offered to help with the financial control policy and procedures.
The board would unanimously approve a one-year budget with the ETSB/911 Board to keep 911 dispatching services in Montgomery County. The new proposal from the ETSB is just over $1 million, and does not include the $50,000 loan or administrative fees.
Beeler said they asked for a six-year budget, but the county cannot do that. They approved a one-year budget, and will send it back to the ETSB members for approval.
Beeler thanked board member Bill Bergen for his diligence on the project. Board member Bob Sneed added his thanks as well, noting that 911 would not be in the county if not for his efforts.
Board member Kirby Furness told the board he would vote to approve the one-year contract, but that he felt the three-county merger was a better idea. He felt that a bigger pool of money would provide better 911 services, adding that the state has not fairly distributed funds collected from landlines and cell phones for 911.
“If we were getting what we should, this would not be a problem,” Furness said, noting that when the state began collecting fees for cell phones, counties did not see much of that funding.
Sheriff Rick Robbins asked about an item to authorize the chairman to sign the agreement if it’s approved by the 911 Board to keep the ball rolling on the upgrade project. Beeler said she felt she couldn’t ask the board to authorize something they hadn’t seen, and Robbins said since the contract is with the sheriff’s office that he could sign for it to keep things going.
Beeler said her committee is also working on a proposal from the Highway Department to purchase the former Wright Automotive property from the county. Using coal royalty funds, the county purchased it for $600,000. The Road and Bridge committee suggested paying back $300,000 over ten years. The Highway Department would then use the other $300,000 budgeted for the Irving Road project.
Board member Mark Hughes questioned why the committee met in closed session to discuss that, since he felt it was a transfer of funds rather than a purchase. Beeler said that at the January committee meeting they met in closed session to discuss the appraisal of the property. State’s Attorney Hitchings said he would look into the closed session at the December committee meeting.
Leitheiser added that she and Daniels had prepared a list of exemptions to the Open Meetings Act, showing appropriate reasons board members may go into closed session. Beeler said her committee always states the reason they leave public session.
In a final note, board members unanimously approved updates and changes to the county’s pre-paid vendor list.
Leitheiser said that early voting is underway for the March primary election. The county already had 28 early voters and 106 requests for absentee voting forms.
“We expect to have a brisk early voting season,” she said.
In EPA news, board member Sandy Johnson reported the county would be hosting a retirement party for Phil Gonet on Feb. 28, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Johnson said the county has received animal control contracts from Coalton, Waggoner, Witt, Nokomis, Fillmore, Butler and Harvel. She said they are planning an upcoming mayors’ meeting to get other communities to sign the contracts.
Johnson added that the county has a bank of 20,000 pets who have received rabies tags in the past, but 16,000 of those have expired tags. While some have moved away or died, the county is still seeing a loss of $40,000 to $50,000 in revenue each year because tags are not being renewed.
Johnson reminded the board the next county electronics recycling drive will be Oct. 17, at a location to be determined in Hillsboro.
The board met for nearly 45 minutes in closed session to discuss a proposal from DC Waste and Recycling in Hillsboro for the sale and lease of the county’s recycling equipment. Following the closed session, the board voted to table the motion until next month.
Building and Grounds
Building and Grounds Committee Chairman Bob Sneed said they had been working on several maintenance issues. They are spending $1,600 to replace lighting in the lobby of the jail and $2,000 for a new generator for the jail.
The board unanimously approved a three-year lease for the county farm from Jason Anderson of Hillsboro for $281 per acre. Sneed said they got a total of seven bids. The other top two bidders were Austin Bertolino with $261 per acre and Nic White with $252 per acre.
Board members also unanimously approved a three-year maintenance contract with Johnson Controls for $5,753 the first year, $5,926 for the second year and $6,104 for the third year.
In a final note, Sneed said they were still working on the surplus auction, which will be held when it warms up in April.
Economic Development Committee Chairman Donna Yeske reported the Revolving Loan Fund is being paid.
She added that Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation Program Coordinator Valerie Belusko is working to complete the final three tourism videos for the county.
Yeske said the grant application deadline for round two of the tourism grants will be March 27. Events happening from April 15 through Nov. 30 are eligible.
The committee continues to work on the CEDS document, as well as the wind ordinance with the Planning Commission. She said there is a memorandum of understanding for a potential wind farm in the northern part of the county.
EMA Committee Chairman Bill Bergen said he participated in a webinar on Feb. 4 for some new ambulance billing software, but the county will not be using this particular vendor.
He added that Sherry Greenwood will be attending the ambulance district meetings in the coming weeks to collect the ambulance contracts. They want to have them all by March.
Bergen also introduced the board to the new Interim 911 Director, Ed Boyd, who was present at the meeting. Up next, they will be ordering about $1 million in equipment upgrades. They have $183,000 in grant funding that has to be used by June.
Bergen also thanked the Finance Committee for working to keep 911 dispatch in the county.
“I really think this is for the best, and I appreciate everything everyone has done to keep it here,” he said.
Personnel Committee Chairman Kirby Furness said the county had used $7,000 in HRA funds through January.
He added they are continuing to work on the personnel manual and hope to have it reviewed by the state’s attorney by the next meeting. They are also working on an update to the sexual harassment policy.
Furness said they worked out a grievance with Local 148 in the circuit clerk’s office.
In a final note, he told the board they have been installing time cards and time clocks in various offices, as new state law requires additional employee time keeping.
The board unanimously appointed James Holiday and Michael Smalley to a three-year term on the ETSB/911 Board and re-appointed Dave Beal to a three-year term. They also appointed Daniel Fenton to a three-year term on the Shoal Creek Fire Prevention District.
Dr. Patty Whitworth of Hillsboro, representing the Montgomery County Historical Society, DAR and the Hillsboro Rotary Club, addressed the board about the upcoming bicentennial of Montgomery County on Feb. 12, 2021. She asked for help from board members in establishing contacts from all areas of the county to help with events.
“We do not want one part of our county to be excluded from this,” she said.
Yeske added that her committee is also working on some preliminary plans.
After paying the bills, the board adjourned at 7:40 p.m. Their next full board meeting will be Tuesday evening, March 10, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hillsboro.