Members of the Montgomery County Board unanimously hired Kevin Schott as the county’s EMA (emergency management) director as part of their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday evening, June 8, at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hillsboro.
Board member Megan Beeler was absent from the meeting.
Schott has been serving the county as interim EMA director since Greg Nimmo resigned as the Chris-Mont EMA director in March. Following his resignation, the board split from the joint position in Christian County.
Board member Earlene Robinson said it was a very tough decision between two very good candidates.
Currently, the position has been set at part-time of 20 hours per week, although additional hours can be added as necessary. A salary range of $24,000 to $28,000 was set in May, depending on experience.
Prior to working with EMA, Schott served as fire chief in Litchfield for several years.
In calling the meeting to order, Chairman Evan Young asked board member Doug Donaldson to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. Young also asked for a moment of silence for nine-year-old Grace Herschelman of Hillsboro, who died on May 19.
“I consider her to be part of the county board family since her mom covers our meetings,” Young said.
During the coordinating committee report, Young said he’s planning to put together a resolution in memory of Herschelman and her fight against INAD (infantile neuroaxonal dystrophy).
Robinson addressed the board, offering comments to Grace’s family.
“Thank you for taking us on Grace’s amazing journey,” Robinson said. “Thank you for being an example, too, when life gives you a bucket full of lemons, you take those lemons and make the sweetest lemonade one can only imagine. And instead of keeping that lemonade to yourself, you share it with the world.”
Robinson added that she hoped the Herschelman family knew they were not walking this journey alone.
“My hope and prayer for you is that in spite of your sorrow, you will always have forever happy days and that you will continue to share them in years to come,” Robins said. “To my fellow board members and those in attendance tonight, I challenge you, in the words of Grace’s dad, to always ‘Choose joy. Choose kindness. Choose Grace.’”
The board unanimously approved the monthly mileage and per diem stipends as well as minutes from the previous meeting.
As part of the consent agenda, Coroner Randy Leetham said his office reported 23 natural deaths in April, as well as four accidents and one suicide. In May, they had 21 natural deaths, one accident and one suicide.
In his report, Health Department Administrator Hugh Satterlee said they are now taking vaccination clinics into the small communities of Montgomery County with clinics this week in Raymond and Donnellson. They also gave ten vaccinations at the Bicentennial celebration on June 5.
Satterlee said there are over 10,000 fully vaccinated residents in Montgomery County, which is over 35 percent of the population. In noting there are about 6,000 children in Montgomery County who cannot yet receive the vaccine, Satterlee said about 45 percent of the eligible population has been vaccinated. The county has administered over 20,000 vaccines, and still has plenty of doses available for anyone interested.
Young asked if the drug companies had started testing it on children as young as five, and Satterlee said they are just beginning such testing with no update on when the vaccine will be available to children.
Board member David Loucks asked about the longevity of the shots, and Satterlee said they do have doses about ready to expire, including over 100 Johnson and Johnson vaccines that expire at the end of June.
In 911 news, board member Bill Bergen said the county had been approved for a $109,000 grant for a 911 mapping flyover, which will also help to update the county’s GIS maps.
In Senior Citizens news, board member Ron Deabenderfer said the group met with the new CEFS coordinator, who was very friendly and accommodating and will help fix a few problems at the senior center.
In information systems news, Young said Curt Watkins is working on updating the phones in the circuit clerk’s office, and he attended a webinar on election equipment.
Young said that Schott received an email stating Montgomery County was one of ten Illinois counties selected to test wastewater samples for coronavirus. No other information has been provided to the county on how the samples will be taken or who will cover the cost, but Young said it will affect every wastewater plant in the county.
Donaldson asked about the selection process of counties and the expense, and Young said none of that had been determined yet. He said the samples had to be collected twice a week and mailed overnight to a lab. Deabenderfer asked if it would be the responsibility of municipalities since they operate the plants and not the county, and Young said he would bring it up at the next mayors’ meeting.
Schott added that he was interviewed by WSMI Radio and News Channel 20 about community risk reduction for COVID. He said he would also be taking part in a forum on June 22 with local medical professionals to talk about the safety of the COVID vaccine and to increase awareness and education.
In a census update, Montgomery County Clerk and Recorder Sandy Leitheiser said they are now hearing final census data will be released on Sept. 30. She said the Illinois House and Senate have already approved redistricting maps based on statewide estimates. The new map for the House of Representatives will split Montgomery County in half, noting the west half of the county will be in the 108th district, currently served by Avery Bourne and Mike Murphy, while the east half would be in the 107th district, served by Brad Holbrook and Dan Caulkins.
Leitheiser said if those lines are upheld, her office will be busy explaining new district numbers to constituents. The maps have been signed by Governor JB Pritzker, but Leitheiser said the governor noted he would consider changing them after the final census data is revealed.
At the federal level, officials will have to wait for final census data to do any redistricting.
Based on the state estimates, Leitheiser said Montgomery County shows a decrease of about 4 percent in population. In 2010, the county had 30,104 residents, while the estimate shows 28,828 for 2020, although she noted there could be a large margin of error.
Board members approved a resolution for redistricting in Montgomery County. They will be keeping the districts the same, although the resolution changes the number of board members from 21 to 14, with two from each district. The resolution also sets per diem for board members as $60 a day plus mileage, as well as a $7,500 stipend for the chairman. Board member Ron Deabenderfer voted against the motion.
Loucks asked about the election rotation, and Young said there would still be a rotation following the 2022 election. State’s Attorney Andrew Affrunti said the newly elected board members after the November 2022 election would draw straws to determine the rotation.
Building and Grounds
Building and Grounds Committee Chairman Bob Sneed said they had a few typical maintenance issues, but no big problems. He added the committee was finally able to complete the surplus sale and empty out the highway department shed.
Sneed reported the county finished the IPMG insurance building appraisal and inspection, including a re-appraisal of some highway department buildings. He thanked Eric Braash of Dimond Insurance for all his help.
Sneed added the committee received an intergovernmental agreement with the city of Hillsboro about fixing the sidewalks around the Historic Courthouse.
“We were not really pleased with it, so we’re still going to work on it,” Sneed said.
Young said he had an update from Hillsboro Mayor Don Downs. The mayor would like to meet with Sneed and Young to walk around the building and re-write the agreement to get the needed work done. They will talk more at the mayors’ meeting. Board member Mark Hughes asked about the particular specs of the sidewalk and who would set them, and Sneed said it’s likely the county would.
In a final note, Sneed said they had some tuckpointing issues at the Annex building and hired Seward Masonry to redo a parapet wall.
Sneed also thanked Leitheiser for her assistance in getting some ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) braille signs for outside the courthouse using voter funds. Leitheiser added that Jorn Signs is working on the signs and the labor.
Development Committee Chairman Donna Yeske reported Katie Wilson of the Montgomery County Farm Bureau is the new president of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation and will have her first meeting on June 10.
In CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities) news, Yeske said next year’s class of students has been selected and is ready for school this fall.
The MCEDC has helped to write grants for Schram City for a work truck, as well as Panama for a back hoe and Witt for a police car.
Yeske said there is a balance of $93,056 in the Revolving Loan Fund, and current clients are up-to-date on their accounts.
In tourism news, Yeske said the MCEDC has a full page ad in the Illinois Rivers and Route Go Guide, with lots of information about the county.
She added that the Mid Illinois Regional Planning group, which continues to work on the CEDS document with other central Illinois counties, will meet again soon.
Yeske reported the governor has not yet signed an energy package, but the county opposed it because it took away local control of wind and solar ordinances. Young added that the governor was also looking to add eminent domain for the Great Plains company, further taking away local control.
Young said he has now met with two wind farm companies interested in Montgomery County, but both have asked for a variance for taller towers. Young said the current ordinance does not allow for such a variance. The companies are interested in larger towers that would produce more power, so they would need fewer of them. Young said he has been told such projects are at least three to five years away.
Yeske reported on the county Bicentennial celebration, noting all 20 communities in the county created birthday cake displays, as well as the county and the county fair for a total of 22 cakes around Montgomery County. Organizers estimate around 1,500 people participated in the Bicentennial festival on June 5 in Butler, and were pleased by the success. Board member Russ Beason added his kudos to all who helped with the celebration.
In the absence of Finance Committee Chairman Megan Beeler, David Loucks provided the monthly committee report.
From the supervisor of assessors office, Loucks reported the multiplier stayed at 1.0, which was good news for the county. He added that South Litchfield Township would be without an assessor starting next year, and the county would likely have to pick that up as well.
Loucks reported that property tax bills had been mailed and would soon be arriving to area residents.
He also reported that the county received $186,000 in coal royalty money last month as part of the capital improvement plan report.
Board members unanimously approved the purchase of a new vehicle for the sheriff’s department. Only one bid was submitted from Victory Lane for a 2021 Ford Explorer. With the trade-in allowance, the county approved to spend $22,228 on the purchase.
Loucks reminded the board of budget hearings, which will be held on Aug. 12 and Aug. 13, beginning at 8:30 a.m. each day.
The board unanimously approved a raise of $.35 per hour for non-union employees. Loucks said the average union raise was $.33 per hour. This affects 36 employees who work 35 and 40 hour weeks for the county, and would be an increase in spending of $26,000 from the general fund
Board members also unanimously approved an increase in the starting salary for employees from $12.75 per hour to $13.25 per hour. By 2025, minimum wage will be $15 per hour, and board members agreed to do it gradually instead of all at once. They also unanimously approved a motion to increase the salary of current non-union employees to $13.25 per hour or an additional $.35 per hour, whichever is more.
The board unanimously approved to convey a deed in Irving Township to George Elam.
Treasurer Nikki Lohman is still working on the sale in error ordinance, and the committee continues to work on finance control policies and procedures.
The board approved adding Homefield Energy to the pre-paid vendor list and deleting Direct Energy.
Board members also approved hosting two roundtable discussions on how to spend $2.7 million in federal American Recovery Plan Act funds awarded to the county. They are also discussing the possibility of a project manager to oversee the funds.
Lohman reported the FEMA grant had been submitted for reimbursement of COVID-related expenses. Her office just learned they are requesting more information on every voucher, and her office would be working on it.
Sheriff Rick Robbins gave an update on dispatch services. The city of Nokomis has decided possibly not to use the new system everyone else in the county is using. Robbins said that to add an additional frequency for Nokomis would mean he would need an additional telecommunicator position. Robbins attended a Nokomis City Council meeting and tried to help answer some of their questions. Their city attorney sent a seven-page questionnaire, and he was working on it.
Board member Jeremy Jones asked what the issue was, control or finances, and Robbins said he would leave it to Nokomis to discuss.
Donaldson asked if they hired another employee would it just be to listen to that frequency, and Robbins said that employee would have to help with everything. He said their employees currently actively listen to five frequencies and monitor an additional six more.
“It’s an amazing job what they do,” Robbins said.
He added that an additional problem with Nokomis not moving to the new system would be they could not communicate vehicle to vehicle with law enforcement. He is trying to get all of the county on the same program.
In a final note, Loucks said they continue to work with the city of Litchfield on their ambulance levy.
In addition to hiring Schott, Personnel Committee Chairman Bill Bergen said he would have a quarterly report on employee health insurance next month. The committee was also looking at Medcor Workplace Injury and Triage Reporting, but Bergen said he felt like that was more of a workman’s comp issue.
Board members unanimously approved a 30-day review of the updated employee personnel manual. Among the final changes was a line about vacation compensation for terminated employees, and the committee removed the formula from the end of the line. Terminated employees will receive payment for unused vacation time.
Bergen reminded the board that sheriff’s department (FOP) negotiations were coming up. Robbins added that they will receive a response from the COVID worker’s compensation claim this week.
Road and Bridge
Road and Bridge Committee Chairman Gene Miles reported they held their first meeting at the new highway department, and they were working on moving stuff from a shed now that the surplus sale was done. Another committee also hosted a meeting at the new building and was very pleased.
Miles said he had no update on the Nokomis Road project.
The board unanimously approved several upcoming projects. They approved $5,000 (county portion) for a pipe culvert on Butler Ave., which is split with Butler Township. They also approved $4,000 (county portion) for a road pipe culvert on East 19th Road, which is split with Nokomis Township.
The county will also split a pipe culvert project with Nokomis Township on North 20th Ave., and the county’s portion is $4,000. In a final motion, they approved $17,500 (county portion) for a road pipe culvert on East 17th Ave., which is split with Irving Township.
County Engineer Cody Greenwood reported they had an OHSA inspector visit the new highway department, and they have six or seven issues to fix by July 16. Miles said he’s been part of the road and bridge committee for years, and they have never seen an OHSA inspector before.
Safety and Elections
In his safety and elections committee report, Chairman Mark Hughes noted that Joletta Hill retired from the Nokomis Ambulance District.
Leitheiser told the board it was time to update the county’s voting equipment after 16 years. Initially, they were only supposed to last eight, but have made it 16 years. She said that Windows 7 is no longer supported, so the county will need to purchase new software and hardware, but will be able to use some of the federal ARPA money to help pay for it.
Leitheiser suggests an Illinois-based company, Liberty, from Tremont, and their Unisyn system. It is currently used in 25 other Illinois counties, including Christian, Macoupin, Shelby and Bond.
She said it will still feature a paper ballot vote with a scanner, which is a seamless transition for voters. Leitheiser added that it’s not connected to the internet, and ballots may still be hand-counted in the event of a technology failure.
She hopes to have the new equipment installed by the next June 28, 2022, primary.
Board member Patty Whitworth said she was very impressed by the presentation from Liberty, and Leitheiser added that many of her colleagues are pleased with their service as well.
Leitheiser said the county’s current vendor is very accurate in terms of vote counting, but they do not always meet deadlines.
“My goal is to keep us moving forward and keep us in good hands,” said Leitheiser.
Miles asked about the old equipment, and Leitheiser said the state has procedures about destruction of information, and then the machines would be part of an electronics recycling drive.
Hughes said they are still awaiting a date for the spring tire collection from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). They have set fall dates for the electronics recycling drive of Sept. 18 in Hillsboro and Oct. 23 in Litchfield.
In animal control news, Hughes said they have 12 dogs and six cats. He added the animal control contracts have been checked over by the state’s attorney’s office, and will be presented at the next mayors’ meeting for feedback. Yeske asked if the board had copies, and Hughes said they are waiting for feedback from the mayors’ meeting before they present it to the board.
Donaldson asked about a dog bite case in Irving. He said he was approached about a pitbull that had bitten a child, and residents were concerned it would be returned to the owner. Affrunti said an investigation into the case was pending.
The county will host a mayors’ meeting on Thursday evening, June 10, at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hillsboro, beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Board members unanimously appointed Matt Blankenship to the Green Hill Cemetery Association to replace Maurice Wilson.
Before adjourning, the board voted to pay monthly bills, including $134,817.90 to Yamnitz and Associates for the Witt Township bridge project.
The meeting adjourned at 7:10 p.m. Board members will meet again on Tuesday evening, July 13, at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hillsboro at 5:30 p.m.