County Board Honors Bicentennial

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“The bicentennial is a time to celebrate, not just in the festive sense, but also in a more profound sense of renewal and recommitment; therefore, we dedicate our bicentennial to achievement to move forward.  Montgomery County not only recognizes the significance of the bicentennial, but also looks forward to participating in the commemorative events honoring the history of our county, and encourages the citizens, businesses, schools, and other organizations of the county to participate in these events throughout the year.”

Members of the Montgomery County Board celebrated the upcoming 200th birthday of Montgomery County on Feb. 12, at their regular monthly meeting, held Tuesday evening, Feb. 9, at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hillsboro. They had cupcakes and cider as refreshments, as well as commemorative wooden nickels, reflecting the special milestone. All board members were present for the meeting.

Although the first event, scheduled for this Saturday, had to be postponed, organizers plan to have a celebration for the county on April 10, followed by a festival on June 5, at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Butler.

The Historic Courthouse has a banner hanging in front in celebration of the bicentennial, and Jeff Dunn of the Montgomery County Historical Society is working on a three-tier wooden birthday cake with 138 historic photos. The cake will be on display by Friday.

Board member Doug Donaldson thanked everyone for all their hard work and efforts in celebrating the bicentennial.

COVID Update

Montgomery County Health Department Administrator Hugh Satterlee said the health department staff continues to work on contact tracing those who have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, and is now working hard on vaccination clinics. They held the most recent one on Wednesday, Feb. 10, at the Raymond Knights of Columbus Hall with 354 scheduled appointments and another 30 vaccines to administer at the county jail. 

Satterlee said their vaccine clinics are run solely by appointment only, and residents can call the health department at 217-532-2001 to get added to the waiting list. Montgomery County currently receives about 400 vaccines a week, although Satterlee said that could decrease as the county prepares to administer second doses to local residents as well.

“We will just have to play it by ear,” Satterlee said. “Our policy is, what we get in, we get rid of.”

Teachers in Montgomery County are set to get their second doses on Saturday, Feb. 20, which amounts to about 500 doses of the vaccine.

Board member Patty Whitworth asked if the first and second doses were identical and Satterlee said they were. He said that they are Moderna vaccines, and although they may have a different lot number, the vaccine doses are identical from the first time to the second time.

Board member Bill Bergen asked if there would be a problem getting second doses for residents who already got the first dose, and Satterlee said he did not foresee any problems with that.

Board member David Loucks asked if there was a place online where residents could look to see what number they were on the waiting list and how many people had been given vaccines, and Satterlee said no. He felt that would cause problems, adding they’re doing their best to work through the list. To date, he said he has only offered a vaccine to one person who did not meet all the criteria, a 62-year-old resident with serious health issues.

“And I’m going to stand by that,” Satterlee said.

He gave special thanks to the state’s attorney for his help one weekend, as well as County Board Chairman Evan Young for helping to secure nursing students from Lincoln Land Community College to administer vaccines. Satterlee said they can always use more volunteers to help at the clinics.

Board member Bev McCoy asked if someone had COVID how long they had to wait to be vaccinated. Satterlee said they used to recommend 90 days, but guidance has changed. Now, the vaccine can be administered as long as the patient is asymptomatic. 

Satterlee added that their department has noticed younger people have had more side effects from the vaccine than older residents.

In a final question, board member Bill Bergen asked about a possible 24-day isolation period. Satterlee said it’s not common, but in the case where a parent was caring for a dependent child and could not stay away from them, the parent’s quarantine would not technically start until day ten of the child’s isolation. The parent would then have a 14-day quarantine, making a total of 24 days.

In his update, Chris-Mont EMA Director Greg Nimmo said that Region 3 saw a decrease in positivity from 7.5 percent at the January board meeting to 3.3 percent this month. In addition, there are more hospital beds available. However, Nimmo said the past 30 days also saw an increase of 34 COVID-related deaths in Montgomery County. 

Adding to Satterlee’s report, Nimmo said the demand is much higher than the actual supply for the vaccine. 

“We will catch up, but it will take time and patience,” he said.

Nimmo said CVS, Walgreens and Walmart are all registered providers of the vaccine, and when that program is up and running, the county could see an additional 1,500 doses a week. Nimmo said it would likely be at least the end of February before it’s up and running.

He added that the health department will continue to administer rapid tests at Litchfield Family Practice Center on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the month of February.

In closing, Nimmo said he was glad to see the return of high school sports to this area, calling it “a blessing for all.”

After the report, board members unanimously voted to extend the declaration of disaster in Montgomery County for another month.

Consent Agenda

In calling the meeting to order, Young asked Bruce Sanford of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. Board members unanimously approved the monthly mileage and per diem reports, as well as the minutes from the previous meeting.

In addition to Satterlee’s report, Sanford said the county jail saw its first positive COVID cases a few weeks ago, but currently has zero positive cases. He credited the correctional officers for doing a good job in mitigating the issue, and noted no correctional officers tested positive.

Sanford also said the department is currently fully staffed, although they are busy testing for a telecommunicator position for when Tammy Thompson retires.

In a final note, he said they are beginning the user training for the FLEX software upgrade to the 911 system, noting it should go live in April.

Liaison Reports

Board member Earlene Robinson said the 708 Board is currently working on updating its contract.

In 911 news, Bergen said one of the towers near Panama needs to be repaired. He added they are also in talks with Shoal Creek to be the dispatch for the whole fire department.

Coordinating

Nathan Nichols of Central Illinois Public Transit (CIPT)gave a report to the board. Nichols told the board they did have to lay off some staff last year due to the pandemic, offering reduced services.

“For a while we had to offer only necessity trips, but we are pleased that we never had to shut completely down,” Nichols said.

He added they are still very limited on out-of-county trips, but are looking at more recreational trips. CIPT did lose some contracts during the pandemic, including one from FAYCO.

To help increase revenue, CIPT has started offering advertising on its buses, which is starting off slowly.

Nichols said serving Montgomery County, CIPT currently has two full-time drivers and one substitute driver. 

Due to the pandemic, CIPT lost 40,000 service miles from the first six months of 2019 to the first six months of 2020, but they continue to operate in all seven counties.

Nichols added they hope to work with local health departments to offer free rides to residents to get vaccines. He said they follow all CDC (Center for Disease Control) guidelines to keep people safe and limit the number of riders.

“We are here and we are not going to give up,” Nichols said. “We will continue to be a source to help everyone in the community.”

Board members unanimously approved both the ordinance and intergovernmental agreement with CIPT to keep them operating in Montgomery County for another year.

In an information systems update, Young said CTI hooked up phone service at the animal control facility, but still needs to complete work at the new highway department.

Building and Grounds

In maintenance news, Building and Grounds Committee Chairman Bob Sneed said that Circuit Clerk Holly Lemons approached the committee about needing to re-key the locks at the new courthouse. The committee approved up to $600 for the project.

He added that the maintenance department crew is working on surplus items at the highway department to get them ready for sale.

Sneed reported the Ameren pipeline project will go through the county farm, likely later this year. The tenant of the farm ground has been informed.

The committee also reviewed reports from IPMG on county building inspection and appraisal. Sneed said the appraisals are about $5.5 million higher than last year. He said it shouldn’t be a problem this year, but it could be next year. If it stays that high, the county will have to increase its insurance. Road and Bridge Committee Chairman Gene Miles said they hope to get the old highway department sold, so that should help lower the appraisals.

Sneed said Treasurer Nikki Lohman has agreed to move her parking space to add another handicapped parking space near the Historic Courthouse. 

Sneed reported the committee got an energy audit report from Smart Watt, Now Centrica. In addition to the guaranteed savings of $28,000, the county saw an additional savings of $2,600 last year. Although many of the county buildings were not fully open last year, Sneed said they definitely saw savings on water, sewer, gas, electricity and maintenance. Board member Andy Ritchie had high praise for the county working hard for those savings.

In a final note, Sneed said they discovered a few more repairs for the generators, and the parts had been ordered.

Economic Development

Economic Development Committee Chairman Donna Yeske said the committee received a letter from a Pheasant Valley Farms in Coffeen. The letter said that while they pay the county’s hotel/motel tax for tourism, they don’t feel like the county is helping to promote their business. Yeske said the committee is going to work with them.

In tourism news, the board unanimously approved Great Rivers and Routes as their tourism advocate for the coming year. The county had previously approved $900 for advertising in their most recent magazine, and Yeske said that due to the pandemic, they got a buy one, get one free ad.

Yeske said tourism grant applications will soon be available on the county’s website for local groups trying to host events this year. Applications will be accepted until March 22, and will be reviewed at the committee meeting on April 5. Board member Ron Deabenderfer said they may see a decrease in those grants next year with the closure of the Grand Magnuson Hotel in Raymond this April.

Yeske reported the culvert had been delivered to the Green Diamond Bike Trail near Farmersville. The farmer paid extra for a larger culvert, and the county’s share was $526.66.

Yeske reminded the board that the Litchfield Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center will host an open house for its new veterans room this Friday, Feb. 12, and encouraged board members to visit.

In a final note, McCoy asked about discussing the cupcake ordinance that was discussed in committee. The committee invited a representative from the health department to the meeting, as the county had a request from a home baker to sell baked goods from her home. The health department was not in favor of such licenses, and the motion tied three to three in committee and failed. Whitworth said she hopes to discuss the matter further with the board of health.

Finance

Board members unanimously approved the purchase of a new Chevy Tahoe from Roger Jennings for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office for $36,435, including the trade-in of two older Tahoes with about 150,000 miles each. Finance Committee Chairman Megan Beeler said that price does not include outfitting the vehicle with lights and sirens, but Sheriff Rick Robbins feels he can have that done and still come in under budget for the vehicle. 

Whitworth said animal control is looking to purchase one of those older vehicles back from Roger Jennings.

Beeler said that Robbins also approached the committee about a potential matching grant for tasers, and he will continue to look into that.

In Supervisor of Assessors news, Beeler reported they had 64 complaints and would soon begin property inspections. She added the tentative multiplier came in at 1.0000, which is good news for the county.

In capital improvement funds, Beeler reported the county received two coal royalty payments, one in December for $158,433 and one in January for $115,000.

Board members unanimously approved an amended intergovernmental agreement with the ETSB (911) Board for its centralized dispatch center.

Board members also unanimously approved the conveyance of three deeds from the property tax sale, including one in Nokomis Township to Jeff H. Chenoweth, one in Grisham Township to Shawn and Amanda Elam and one in Witt Township to Charles Harston and Amanda Harston.

In an IMRF update, Beeler said all the accounts grew through 2020, despite ten retirements. Treasurer Nikki Lohman is pleased with the balances in the accounts and the growth of funds, and Beeler added that no balloon payments were needed last year.

Board members unanimously approved allowing Treasurer Lohman to put 120 unknown parcels on the county tax sale, in hopes of bringing them back on the tax rolls. Beeler said the committee reached out to Joe Meyer and Associates, who handles the tax sale, and they felt this was the fairest way to handle the matter.

In addition, the board unanimously approved adding the mobile home privilege tax to the tax sale as well.

Beeler presented a resolution from the county, urging Governor JB Pritzker to veto the pending criminal justice reform legislation. Deabenderfer said he wanted to offer a word of caution that such a letter could cause retribution from the state to the county, and felt there was little to gain from such a move.

“But that’s our job,” Beeler said. “Very seldom is the right thing easy.”

She added the committee met with all office holders of the county that would be impacted by the legislation, and all are against the measure.

“Overall, no one wins in the county,” Beeler said.

Board member Jeremy Jones said he felt it was a very important resolution, as it could be hard to find law enforcement personnel if it passes.

Beeler added that if approved, the measure would cut 56 percent of the revenue used to fund the county’s court system.

“It’s very important for us to stand up,” Jones said.

Board members approved sending a resolution to the governor 19-2, with Deabenderfer and board member Tim Fogle voting no.

Beeler said the sheriff also approached the committee about insurance for its K9 officer for about $800 per year, including mortality and disability coverage. She said the county has never insured its K9 officer before, but will start effective immediately.

The sheriff also informed the committee that one of the newest employees also serves in the military reserves, which Robbins supports. However, that could impact the sheriff’s overtime budget.

Board members unanimously approved an increase in the assistant state’s attorney’s salary of up to $17,000 more, for a total of $75,000. Wes Poggenpohl left his post earlier this year, and the state’s attorney would like to find a new assistant with some experience. Beeler said that amount puts Montgomery County in line with other surrounding counties. She said there is also a vacancy for an assistant public defender, and they have not been able to fill it at a salary of $58,000, so they may have to increase that as well.

Jones said he felt State’s Attorney Andrew Affrunti was doing a great job, and hoped the board would support him.

Fogle asked Affrunti how much experience he was looking for, and Affrunti said Poggenpohl had six years experience, and that’s what he is looking for.

Fogle asked if the advertisement had been posted, and Affrunti said he is still working on it. Fogle would also ask if the board members could see the advertisement, and Affrunti said he would email it to everyone.

Fogle asked Affrunti if additional funds had been offered to Poggenpohl to try and get him to stay. Affrunti said he did offer Poggenpohl that he would come to the county board for additional funding, but Affrunti said Poggenpohl told him he was looking for a change of pace.

Fogle said that he felt offering $17,000 more was a big bump in salary, noting assistants in the attorney general’s office make $70,000 a year. Beeler said that Judge Jim Roberts comes to the board every year in budget hearings and tells them they need to pay their attorneys more.

Fogle asked what will happen to funding if the governor signs the criminal justice reform bill and the county loses funding. Affrunti said his office will still have the opportunity to generate revenue. Beeler added that Affrunti is looking into the possibility of state stipends to help cover the salary of assistants in his office.

In terms of the state’s criminal justice reform bill, Affrunti said he looked at the current jail population, noting the county would only be able to legally hold four of the 30 inmates in custody.

“Why even arrest anyone,” said McCoy.

Beeler added that it would change the way the entire system operates in the county.

Donaldson and Whitworth expressed their support for the increase in salary to help prosecute cases in Montgomery County.

The motion passed unanimously. Beeler did caution the board that they are already running at a deficit this year, so funding will come from coal royalty money.

“If that coal mine shuts down, we will have to start making some very hard decisions,” she said.

“On behalf of Montgomery County law enforcement, we thank you for your support,” Sanford said.

In a final note, Beeler said the county sent reimbursement checks to the taxing bodies that helped pay for an assessment of the Coffeen Power Plant several years ago. She added the county is also expecting a check for $200,000 from Vistra for a shortage of payment this year.

Personnel

Personnel Committee Chairman Bill Bergen said the county ended its year with HRA usage of 16.2 percent, under the 20 percent they had budgeted.

In terms of the pandemic last year, the board voted unanimously to allow employees to roll over up to $500 in their health insurance accounts.

“Because of COVID, some employees were not able to have medical work done, and we don’t want them to lose their flex money,” Bergen said.

The board also unanimously approved extending a one-year grace period on child claims, and raised the age for dependants from 12 to 13 for one year.

Bergen said the committee received the personnel manual and would begin going over it. They would also continue to discuss the possibility of a human relations employee.

Bergen said they were also working on a worker’s compensation claim with the sheriff’s department. First responders who contract COVID are eligible for workman’s comp, because it’s assumed they got it on the job. One employee from the sheriff’s department was compensated, however, another has not been so far. They will continue to work on it.

Road and Bridge

Board members unanimously approved the low bids for the township rock letting for 2021. They also unanimously approved the county’s rock letting bids with the low bidders.

Miles said a quote for furniture for the new highway department came in higher than the budgeted $35,000. Board members unanimously approved a bid from Egyptian Workspace Partners for $39,000.

In a final note, Miles said he plans to meet with Nokomis City Council on problems with the road at East Union Street in Nokomis.

Safety and Elections

Safety and Elections Committee Chairman Mark Hughes reported the ambulance billing department is currently working on the Hillsboro audit.

In elections news, Montgomery County Clerk and Recorder Sandy Leitheiser reminded the board of the consolidated election on April 6. She said the filing deadline for write-in candidates was last week, adding the specimen ballot will appear soon in the newspaper.

Leitheiser added that although legislation to make the election drop-box permanent failed, she reached out to the state’s attorney. He told her they can make the ballot drop box an extension of the Historic Courthouse. Leitheiser said the ballot box was very popular in the November election, used by more than 1,100 voters.

Board member David Loucks asked for a census update, and Leitheiser said they are not advertising any deadlines at this time. She expects the federal government to receive the census data in April, while states will have to wait until July, which is much later than previous years. She added that the county board typically approves the redistricting map in July, but they may not have the information until then.

Jones asked about the change in counting prisoners. Leitheiser said for this census, prisoners were counted as a lot at Graham Correctional Center, but in the future, if pending legislation is approved, inmates will be counted in the county where they resided prior to incarceration. Leitheiser added that in the past, the county board has not included the prison population into the redistricing process because inmates cannot vote.

In EPA news, Coordinator Chris Daniels said there are 960 tires around the county that need to be collected this spring, and she is working on that with the Illinois EPA. They also continue to work on the delegate agreement.

Daniels said they are working on two electronics drives this fall, one on Sept. 18, in Hillsboro, and one on Oct. 16, in Hillsboro and Litchfield.

The county received a safety grant for $6,797, and will apply it for tasers, PPE and body cameras.

In animal control news, Hughes reported the committee changed the animal control administrator to the chairman of the safety and elections committee.

He added that the committee is looking into the possibility of purchasing one of the sheriff’s department trade-in Tahoes from Roger Jennings. The committee approved up to $4,000. 

Beeler reminded the board that the animal control facility runs at a deficit of $120,000, and currently has three vehicles. Hughes said their plan is to upgrade and then sell the vehicles they don’t need. Beeler said that last year, the county used $60,000 to $70,000 from the general fund and $60,000 from the Vanek estate to make up the shortfall.

Whitworth said the issue with the vehicles is that animals cannot be transported in the truck with the camper shell in extreme cold and extreme heat. Hughes said he was going to continue to look into the matter.

Other Business

With no public comment, the board unanimously paid its monthly bills. They also appointed Tonya Flannery of Litchfield to fill the unexpired term of Kenneth Durbin on the Montgomery County Housing Authority Board of Commissioners.

The board voted to adjourn at 7:25 p.m., after meeting nearly two hours. Their next regular meeting will be held Tuesday, March 9, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hillsboro.

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