It was a bad news kind of morning for members of the Montgomery County Board, who met for their regular monthly board meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 12, at the Historic Courthouse in Hillsboro.
Board member Nikki Bishop was absent from the discussion, which focused on the impending closure of Deer Run Mine in Hillsboro by Foresight Energy.
Chairman Roy Hertel said there was not much good news coming from the mine company, which has been battling an underground fire for several months.
"I don't know exactly what they're gonna do," Hertel said. "I know they are going to seal up the mine to try to put out the fire."
The discussion then shifted to the finances of the county, which would take a hit. At the height of coal production, the county received between $200,000 and $250,000 every month in coal royalties. The last few checks have been around $20,000, and with no coal production at the mine, that money is expected to completely run out in the near future.
Royalties from the coal mine were divided each month into three funds, including a rainy day fund, a capital improvement fund and a day-to-day operations fund. The total of those funds is about $6.2 million.
Finance Committee Chairman Megan Beeler said for the last three to four months none of the royalties money has been set aside in the rainy day fund or the capital improvement fund.
"The money coming in is floating our operations fund, and it's nowhere near close enough to cover it anymore," Beeler said. "It's time to make changes. We have to change our operating model. We cannot kick this can down the road anymore."
Beeler said the budget for 2016 is already in place, based on monthly royalties from the coal company.
"If we don't start taking little bites of this now, we are going to blow through our reserves," she said. "They will not even last us three to five years."
Hertel said the Finance Committee would begin meeting with elected officials and department heads in the coming weeks to start talking about the shortfall. He expects the county will have to cut around $800,000 in expenses in order to balance the budget without coal royalties.
"I would much rather give up things than people," Beeler said. "We've got to start thinking differently across the board."
Board member Evan Young asked if they had a goal of how much to cut, and Hertel said he would like to see all $800,000 cut.
"We can't do it too slowly either," Hertel said. "Otherwise it will just eat through our reserves."
He added that part of that $6.2 million set aside in royalties would have to be used to maintain the county's facilities as well.
Board member Jim Moore asked if the Finance Committee had discussed amending the 2016 budget to reflect the loss of revenue from coal royalties.
"I would feel better if we would operate on a true budget," Beeler said. "Our committee has not talked about amending the budget yet, but I'm not opposed to it. However, I'm just one person."
"Well, now you have two," Moore said, offering his support to amend the budget.
She said that in budget hearings last July, they carefully went through all the line items making budget cuts, which ended up being lost due to salary increases in union contracts.
"We just can't pretend there's enough money to go around if the money is not there," Beeler said. "We're going to have to make big cuts."
During the public comment portion at the end of the meeting, Bill Schroeder, who regularly attends the meetings, asked if the board could return to its budget from before the coal mine.
"I know that's easy for me to say," he said. "But what if there wasn't ever a coal mine? Revenue was an issue then too. Perhaps we could go back to the original budget and find out where did we go wrong. I know it's easy for me to say, but it might be a good starting point."
Hertel said revenues at that time were better than they are now, and they used the coal money to bridge that gap during a time when general revenues were stagnant.
Following the coal royalty discussion, Beeler presented a motion to purchase two new Chevy Tahoes for the sheriff's department. They received a bid from Roger Jennings in Hillsboro for $77,580. The department would be able to trade in three old Crown Victoria vehicles for $6,000, bringing the total cost to the county to $71,580. Of that amount, $60,000 would be spent from the general fund, and the sheriff's department would fund the remaining $11,580 from another of its funds. The bid included all of the lights, sirens and other technology to equip the vehicles.
"It's a good time to stop spending money now," Moore said.
Board member Joe Gasparich said he made the original motion in committee, as the three Crown Victoria cars currently used by the department will likely require quite a bit of maintenance in the near future.
"We're eventually going to have to buy them anyway, so let's just get it done and then next year we will be in better shape," Gasparich said.
Board member Gene Miles asked how many miles the Crown Victoria cars had, and Undersheriff Rick Robbins said the cars had between 81,000 and 90,000 miles. Of those three cars, only one is currently on the road in use by the department. Another is in the shop awaiting repairs, and the third is currently not in use.
Beeler said in addition to the cost, the terms of the warranty have been changed. Instead of covering 100,000 miles, the warranty on the new Tahoes would cover only the first 50,000 miles.
"If we purchase these, are we done?" asked Young.
Robbins said with the purchase of the two Tahoes, all of the sheriff's deputies would have a Tahoe to drive.
Hertel asked if the county could just buy one or if that would violate the bid. Wilson said they could legally just buy one, but it could be upsetting to other bidders, who could claim they might have bid on just one vehicle.
Board member Ron Deabenderfer asked about the life expectancy of the vehicles. Robbins said they are able to use the Crown Victoria cars for about three years or upwards of 80,000 miles before the wear and tear starts to show. He feels like the Tahoes will have a longer life expectancy than that. They have one Tahoe right now with 95,000 miles that has required very little maintenance to this point. Robbins said their main concerns are getting to calls for county residents and making sure the deputies arrive there safely.
"I'm not comfortable purchasing these vehicles," Beeler said. "But it's very difficult to argue with public safety."
Board member Gene Miles said vehicles used to get 140,000 to 150,000 miles, and he wasn't sure what the difference is now. Board member Mike Webb asked if there was any downside to postponing the purchase to see if the county could just buy one vehicle.
"The concern is that they will be gone," Beeler said. "There is a very high demand for these vehicles, and if we wait, we might have to buy the 2017 models, which are even more expensive."
Board member Bob Sneed asked if all the officers had a vehicle since there were two currently not in use. Robbins said the department keeps two older Ford Explorers on hand as spare vehicles. He estimated they have between 98,000 to 120,000 miles on them.
"It might be time to rethink the way we are thinking," Beeler said. "Maybe the days of everyone having a Tahoe are done. I know the argument about the roads, but if we can't afford them, then that's that."
Gasparich said he felt like the time to buy the Tahoes was now.
"Sometimes you have to spend money to save money," he said. "If we only buy one, the dealer might not trade for all three cars."
Board member Chuck Graden called for a vote on his original motion, which was to purchase two Tahoes for the department. It passed by an 11-9 margin. Voting for the purchase were Connie Beck, Bill Bergen, Deabenderfer, Gasparich, Graden, Tim Hopper, Mike Plunkett, Earlene Robinson, Glenn Savage, Richard Wendel and Mary Bathurst. Voting against it were Beeler, Heather Hampton+Knodle, Hertel, Jay Martin, Miles, Moore, Sneed, Mike Webb and Young.
In other Finance Committee news, Beeler said the telephone conversion to New Wave was ongoing, and was expected to be finished the first part of February. She also reported employees in the treasurer's office found the new trainer for the Zobrio software to be helpful, and were interested in sticking with that company. The committee is currently negotiating a maintenance agreement with them. The company will return for training on the human resources model after tax season in March.
Beeler said Betsy Wilson of the state's attorney's office was still working on the draft for the hotel and motel tax ordinance.
Board members unanimously voted to reduce the mileage reimbursement rate for employees and county board members from $.55 per mile to $.54 per mile, as it was revised by the IRS.
The board also unanimously voted to deed two properties, one in Pitman Township to the village of Waggoner and one in Witt Township to Elizabeth Watkins. Hertel said they have deeded more properties than ever in this past year to get them back on the tax rolls.
"It's just an excellent program," he said.
Beeler said she is also working with a representative from Tom Day on a maintenance agreement for the county's copy machines.
In a final note, Beeler said her committee is looking into information from UCCI on a list of properties in the county with no known owners.
Following roll call, Martin led the Pledge of Allegiance. Before passing the minutes of last month's meeting, Hampton+Knodle asked they be amended to include the more information about the Enterprise Zone report from the Economic Development Committee.
Under the consent agenda, Circuit Clerk Holly Lemons reported that cases of all types have been turned over to the state in hopes of collecting unpaid fines and fees. She said they have already collected some, and hope to have more hits as people file their income taxes this spring. They will refile cases in July for the possibility of other matches. She said the state's attorney's office had helped her some, and Hertel thanked them all for their hard work.
Hertel also noted the case load for the public defender is fairly hefty, and they appreciate all she does for the county.
In the treasurer's report, Hertel said Treasurer Ron Jenkins has now included a bank balance for all funds held by the county, though it does not include funds held by office holders.
"I implore you to look at this report very carefully," Hertel said.
Webb reported the county 911 board will meet next week. Hertel said they will have to find a replacement board member for Undersheriff Robbins as county deputies are no longer allowed to serve due to a conflict of interest. They were going to look into the possibility of someone from the sheriff's telecommunications staff serving on the board.
Gasparich asked about the possibility of merging the 911 board with the county's EMA Committee, and Hertel said that would make sense. Webb said they would have to look into it further as the Illinois Commerce Commission has rules and regulations about who can make up the organization.
Hertel said they would have to discuss funding for 911 as well. As of Jan. 1, the state passed a new law, which required phone companies to pay $.85 per landline phone and $.85 per cell phone, but voters in Montgomery County approved $2 per landline. Under the new state law, the state is supposed to make up the difference in the cost.
"I don't see how the state can arbitrarily tell counties they can't collect that fee," Hertel said. "We are in court with the state now, and we could be again."
Gasparich said that the $2 fee was approved by county voters, and he wasn't sure how the state could circumvent local law.
Hertel said by state law the county is liable for the 911 program, so if the funding from the phone companies does not cover all the expenses, the county will have to pay the remainder.
Hampton+Knodle reported that CIEDA has no current projects to report.
In County Officials news, Plunkett reported that there were two state law changes that could affect counties. The first is that the state dropped the amount governing bodies may hold in a capital improvement fund from 5 percent to 3 percent of the equalized assessed value of county property. That means Montgomery County could save around $12 million in that fund. The county currently has around $1.2 million in their fund, and Plunkett said that the cap wouldn't be a problem for them.
The second law change is for meetings when the budget is discussed, and the county will be required to provide a paper copy of the budget to everyone who attends the meeting.
In Montgomery County Economic Development news, Executive Director Will Shalter passed out a graph about local jobs and wages from data from the US census survey in 2013. He also told board members that the county is now part of Tourism South Bureau, and any municipalities or groups interested in being included in the summer publication should turn in their dates by mid-February.
Young reported that the University of Illinois Extension Council met in December. He was pleased to report they did not dip into their reserves at all in the past year, despite cuts from the state. Young also told the board that there is a 100 percent high school graduation rate among students in the 4-H program.
"Money spent by the county on 4-H is definitely money well spent," Young said.
Hertel introduced Nathan Nichols and Kim Adair of the Central Illinois Public Transit program.
Nichols, who serves as the mobility manager said they recently added Christian County to their services, which currently covers Shelby and Montgomery counties. He said his main job is public relations and sharing how CIPT can provide rides for those people who are unable to drive or do not have a vehicle.
In Montgomery County, they offer two full-time drivers and four part-time drivers, and have just added same-day service to its coverage. They are also expanding coverage to include some holidays.
Nichols said that from 2014 to 2015, ridership increased by 800 rides, and he's hopeful they can expand that even more.
He introduced Adair, who is the program's director, and has 18 years of experience in transportation in Kentucky and North Dakota. She was instrumental in helping programs to expand greatly in those two states.
"I'm really big on customer service," she said. "I want to see everyone on our buses, and have a chance to have more mobility within their communities."
She said one thing they are looking at is the make-up of the governing council for CIPT, as she is looking for some regular riders to participate and help identify the program's strengths and weaknesses.
Hampton+Knodle asked about the possibility of trips to St. Louis, MO, and due to insurance issues, CIPT is not allowed to cross state lines. Adair said they would look into it.
Hertel also introduced Kelly Moroney, who serves as the chief executive officer for the Montgomery County Housing Authority, who made her annual report to the board. She said they received approval and financing to tear down older housing units and replace them with 37 new ones, in a project scheduled to begin this spring.
Moroney said they hope to break ground on April 1 and begin construction on units in Hillsboro, Witt and Nokomis shortly thereafter. The units would be one and two-bedroom homes with attached garages for senior citizens ages 55 and older.
"This is just the first phase," Moroney said. "We intend to continue with this project until all of our housing is updated. It may take up to ten years or more."
Graden asked if they would be able to use local labor on the project, and Moroney said a general contractor had already been hired, but they would be able to use local sub-contractors.
Hampton+Knodle asked if they had finished moving current residents to others units for the demolition process, and Moroney said they have 12 single-person households left to move. They are moved to units in other areas. She said it will permanently dislocate about eight to ten households because they will not meet the age requirement of the new housing units.
Hertel asked when the Long Avenue units were built in Hillsboro, and Moroney said in 1952. The projected cost of this housing update is around $6 million, and Moroney expects occupancy to begin in late fall.
Plunkett asked how many units they currently have, and Moroney said they have a total of 235 units and 89 section eight vouchers. She said they are hoping to obtain 172 section eight vouchers from Christian County, and that Montgomery County's waiting list for a section eight voucher is well over 100. She said the program provides housing assistance to those renting a home on the open market.
In other news, Hertel said the county made its first appearance on Friday, Jan. 8, in its lawsuit against the state of Illinois. The county is suing for the state to pay the salaries for the supervisor of assessors, state's attorney and public defender, which they are required to do by law. Hertel said it's moving along.
Board members unanimously approved a motion asking Hertel to write a letter on behalf of the Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation District. Their budget has been cut from $15 million to $6 million, though they are not sure they will be included in the final state budget. By law, the county is required to have a soil and water conservation board, but if they lose the $6 million, they will lose the employees and just keep the board. Hertel will write a letter to the state encouraging them to keep it in the budget.
In a final note, Hertel said county board members had been invited by the Montgomery County Farm Bureau to breakfast on Tuesday, March 8, beginning at 7 a.m., just prior to the board's regular monthly meeting.
Road and Bridge
Board members unanimously approved the 2016 fuel letting bid from M&M Service Company. They provided two options. The first alternative for both gasoline and diesel was M&M's cost plus $.10 per gallon. The second option is a fixed annual price of $2.001 per gallon for gasoline and $1.926 per gallon for diesel, which is what the county uses the most of.
Engineer Kevin Smith felt the fixed price would be the better option. Hampton+Knodle asked if the sheriff's department was still buying gas at the pump, and Hertel said they were as long as it was below $2 per gallon, and it was saving the county money.
Plunkett asked how much diesel is running right now, and Smith said he didn't have an exact quote, but this year's quote is $.15 per gallon less than they are paying now and $.57 per gallon less in diesel costs.
Smith also gave the board an update on the potential North Road tiling project. Some individuals approached the county board about an issue with their tile, which runs under the county's North Road. The tile was installed in the mid-to-late 1930s, and is starting to deteriorate. The individuals asked if the county could help with the cost of the tile since it runs under their North Road.
Smith said at this time they are looking at all the possible options, but does not want the county to get into the tiling business or having others ask the county to pay for their tiling needs.
Miles gave a report on the Simpson Bridge update, and said they are very happy with the progress. He said the county has also started using its above-ground fuel tanks, and Smith said he thinks they finally got all the bugs worked out.
Miles reported that the county received $216,888 in motor fuel tax money in November. He noted that the rock letting bids will be opened at the next committee meeting.
He said the committee also discussed the need for some new equipment, an International tandem, which is approximately $123,000. The county would trade in its single axle truck. Miles said it would be used for snow removal.
"At this time, the money is there, but the way things are going it may not be," Miles said. "We are still getting prices, but we feel like we should trade in this truck."
Board members unanimously voted to ask IDOT (Illinois Department of Transportation) to rehire the county's engineer, Kevin Smith, for a six-year term.
In a final note, Hertel said that he wrote a letter to IDOT asking for funding to fix the frontage roads, but wasn't sure it would help any.
Health, Welfare and Elections Committee Chairman Connie Beck reported a rather large attendance at her monthly committee meeting for discussion about the new animal control ordinance. She said they had a nice discussion and would be completely rewriting the ordinance.
Beck said they would look at the state law and try to mirror that.
"We had some people volunteer to help us work on the ordinance, and we are going to take them up on it," Beck said. "We're going to get it right."
The focus of the discussion on the ordinance was a new section on a breeder's fee.
Hertel said the meeting to discuss the new ordinance would be Jan. 27 or Jan. 28, and that they were hoping to present the new ordinance in March or April.
In a final note, Hertel added that with the new year, all animal owners should update their pets' rabies shots. He said if all pet owners would comply, that it would be enough to fully fund the animal control program.
Building and Grounds
Building and Grounds Committee Chairman Bob Sneed said his committee met with Circuit Clerk Holly Lemons about cleaning at the courthouse. When they switched from a cleaning service to an employee, they allotted 20 hours a week to clean the new courthouse. An additional five hours a week are allowed in the winter to clean up the salt and snow. Lemons was concerned there were areas of the courthouse not being regularly cleaned.
"She's doing a great job," Sneed said. "She's just not there long enough and there are areas she can't get to."
The committee approved a 60-day trial of allowing for 25 hours per week to see if that helps get the cleaning done.
Lemons also suggested new signs on the doors to mark public and employee entrances. Sneed said they were still looking into that as there is already quite a bit of signage around the doors.
In maintenance news, Sneed said the crew was painting and patching areas around the courts complex.
As part of the Annex building renovations, the committee approved hiring McDonough-Whitlow as administrator of the project for a cost not to exceed $3,000. Sneed said he would do the observing himself at no cost to the county.
Sneed reported things are hooked up and ready to go, and that the communications tower should be online in another month or so. He said they are still in the process of negotiating a maintenance contract for the county's elevators. The committee approved a $4,680 agreement with Johnson Controls for maintenance of the HVAC system at the new courthouse for a year. It was about $400 more than last year's bill.
Sneed said he was also working on finding a speaker for the county board room, and thanked County Clerk Sandy Leitheiser for loaning the board hers for the time being.
Economic Development Committee Chairman Heather Hampton+Knodle said one business is nearly two-thirds finished in paying off its revolving loan fund debt. She added that Shalter is working with an existing business on a potential loan as well.
In Enterprise Zone news, Hampton+Knodle thanked Supervisor of Assessors Ray Durston for his help in adding territory. McDonough Whitlow will help in writing the legal description of the zone, and work continues on the application as well.
Board members unanimously agreed to an abatement of taxes for four years for C and C Heating and Cooling in Nokomis, which is putting up a $250,000 building on the site of the former roller rink. They will add at least two jobs as well as a retail side to their business.
Plunkett asked if they were just abating the improvements to the property, and Hampton+Knodle said yes, the lot has been vacant for several years. Other taxing bodies affected are also being asked to abate taxes for four years.
Graden asked if the business would have to pay any taxes for four years, and Hertel said they would pay property taxes for the land, but not the improvements to it. Beeler added the taxes would stay the status quo to what they are now for four years and then increase in the fifth year. Miles said they could lose a little bit in the first year, as a house was torn down on that property.
"It will be a nice addition to that side of town," Hertel said. "His increase will more than make up for the abatement."
Board members unanimously approved the appointment of Anthony Marcolini to the county's Planning Commission. He is a general contractor in Hillsboro, who has also worked as a draftsman for Hurst-Rosche.
In infrastructure news, Hampton+Knodle said the Grain Belt continues to move forward with its project pending the ruling from the ICC.
She said she received a letter about progress at the Eagle Zinc site, and they had discovered actual drainage patters were different than they planned. She said they are still intent on keeping access to the railspur for that property in the future. Hampton+Knodle said she also received a complaint about a smell of burning coal and had passed that along to the Department of Natural Resources.
In an update about the fiber (broadband) project, she said she was continuing to push to get the project funded, despite the "gloom and doom" financial news.
"I think we will find a way," she said.
She reminded board members that the county's CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities) high school seniors were hosting a Brushville concert on Feb. 27, as their class business, and encouraged board members to come and show their support.
The CEO trade show will be held on April 26 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Lincoln Land Community College in Litchfield, where students will be able to showcase their personal businesses. She added that the recruitment interest is high for next year's class.
Emergency Management Committee Chairman Glenn Savage said ambulance collections continue in a routine fashion, and that contracts to ambulance districts were mailed out in mid-December.
He reminded the board of an AED training class on Jan. 14, with two-hour sessions at 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. in the county board room at the Historic Courthouse. There is also a weather spotter class on March 10, from 6 to 9:30 p.m. at the Hillsboro Moose Lodge.
Savage said memorandums of understanding from all governing bodies in the county continue to come in.
He said the biggest part of the committee discussion focused on the rain event earlier this year, and will study the use of social media for public safety in times of natural disaster.
He said the next hazardous mitigation meeting is Jan. 21, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the Montgomery County Health Department.
In a final note, Hertel commended the Nokomis police, fire and emergency responders for their actions in a Jan. 5 house fire. Gasparich talked about the situation and commended all emergency responders.
"It's not just Nokomis," he said. "All these departments who complete all the trainings, and wonder if it's worth it. The answer is yes. This little girl is alive today because of that."
Personnel Committee Chairman Mary Bathurst said a meditation meeting has been set with the Circuit Clerk's union on Feb. 1.
She also reported that a grievance had been dropped from Local 773, which is the telecommunicators and corrections officers union. The pension fund was overpaid in a previous year, and employees will be sent a refund.
Following approval of all eight committee reports, the board adjourned into closed session for less than ten minutes. They reviewed all the closed session minutes from the previous year. One was opened, and the remaining minutes will remain sealed.
The meeting adjourned just after 11 a.m. Members of the Montgomery County Board will meet on Tuesday, Feb. 9, beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the Historic Courthouse in Hillsboro.