Members of the Montgomery County Board voted to reduce the size of their membership from 21 to 14 members as part of their regular board meeting on Tuesday evening, May 11, at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hillsboro.
Board members Megan Beeler, Ron Deabenderfer, David Loucks and Bev McCoy were absent from the meeting.
During the April meeting, the board appointed an Ad Hoc committee including Megan Beeler, County Board Chairman Evan Young, David Loucks, Montgomery County Clerk and Recorder Sandy Leitheiser and Montgomery County State’s Attorney Andrew Affrunti. The group was tasked with looking at reapportionment following the 2020 census, and making a recommendation to the board about number of county board districts and number of county board members, among other items.
Young said the committee took its recommendations to the Coordinating Committee meeting on April 27.
The full board voted vote unanimously to keep the district boundaries the same. With no discussion, the board voted to reduce the size of the board from 21 to 14 members. Board member Gene Miles voted against the measure.
According to Leitheiser, all seats will be open in the Nov. 8, 2022 election, and county residents will elect 14 members at that time, instead of 21. They will set a resolution in place where a tie vote will result in a failure of a motion.
Board members unanimously approved a motion to keep the same seven county board districts, with two board members from each district.
The board approved keeping compensation for board members the same at $60 per diem, rather than a monthly salary. Board members Tim Fogle and Jeremy Jones voted against the motion.
In terms of mileage, the board held quite a bit of discussion about whether or not to allow board members to be reimbursed for mileage to and from county meetings in Hillsboro. The motion was made to keep paying mileage to board members.
Board member Connie Beck asked if that was the recommendation of the Ad Hoc committee. Young said the committee’s recommendation was to do away with mileage, but that was overturned by the Coordinating Committee. Board member Mark Hughes asked if the Ad Hoc committee was reporting to the full board or the Coordinating Committee. State’s Attorney Andrew Affrunti, who was a member of the Ad Hoc committee, said he expected to report to the full board that night, and was unable to attend the Coordinating Committee’s meeting.
“I get mileage,” said Beck. “But I come to the meetings whether I get mileage or not. That’s why I was elected. I’m here for the people of Montgomery County, not to put money in my pocket.”
Young said the Coordinating Committee felt it should be left in place for someone to collect it if they felt like they needed it.
“Some board members drive quite a few miles,” Young said. “It’s only fair to compensate them.”
Hughes asked what other counties do, and board member Bill Bergen said that Macoupin County pays $237.50 per month with $38 for each additional meeting.
Hughes asked Affrunti how he felt about mileage, and he said he felt it could be removed and those board members who wanted to could claim it on their taxes.
“I would vote to get rid of mileage,” said board member Jeremy Jones. “I drive 50 miles, but I’m not here for the money.”
Board member Donna Yeske said that in two years some of those board members would not be sitting there, noting they may have trouble getting people to run without compensation.
“If you don’t want to turn in your mileage, don’t,” Yeske said. “I think everyone in this room is doing a great service, but I don’t think we should sit here for nothing.”
Bergen asked if they were considering eliminating mileage to and from meetings, were they also considering it for all board member trips.
Board member Doug Donaldson said that members have the choice not to claim mileage to and from meetings, noting he didn’t even know county board members got paid when he ran for election.
Hughes asked the board if anyone would have considered not running if mileage was not paid.
“If you’re adament, just don’t take it,” Donaldson said.
Board member Bob Sneed said some board members take trips to meetings in Chicago on county business, and they should be compensated for mileage.
Board member Patty Whitworth said the board does not want to continue to dip into coal money.
“We need to save any way we can,” she said. “It’s the smart thing to do and it demonstrates to our constituents that we’re willing to help.”
Miles said he felt board members would have more miles to and from county meetings with only 14 board members, noting he also had no idea board members got paid when he was elected.
Whitworth said they could look at other options, like combining committees.
“There are other things we can do without having people come to so many meetings,” Whitworth said.
Board member Earlene Robinson asked how many board members submit mileage, and Young said all but seven board members submit mileage.
In a roll call vote, the motion to keep paying mileage to board members was approved. Voting against the measure were Jones, Andy Ritchie, Whitworth, Beck, Fogle and Hughes.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, local resident Bill Schroeder said he has no problem with board members being compensated for their time serving the community.
“I wouldn’t expect anyone to take that kind of abuse without some kind of reward,” he said.
In a final few reapportionment items, the board unanimously approved compensating the county board chairman at $7,500 per year, which is in addition to per diem payments. Young abstained from the vote, and said he only collects $6,000 a year. He added that the chairman’s compensation as well as per diem for board members can be changed every two years.
The board also unanimously voted to continue selecting the chairman by board members and not at large. Young also abstained from that vote.
In calling the meeting to order, Young asked Randy Singler of Cross Over Ministries to lead the Pledge of Allegiance.
Board members unanimously approved the monthly mileage and per diem payments as well as the minutes from the previous meeting.
Leitheiser reported to the board she’s been keeping an eye on House Bill 3878, which is currently in the Senate. It will raise land recording fees $9 to support rental housing support programs. She said that the bulk of that money goes outside Montgomery County. Since the program’s inception in 2005, the county has collected $626,859. Leitheiser said the CEFS organization does get some funding, and is currently able to help eight households in the county. She asked board members and residents to contact Senator Doris Turner about voting against the fee increase.
Montgomery County Health Department Administrator Hugh Satterlee said he expects the Pfizer vaccine will soon be approved for students ages 12 to 15. His department will begin to work with school districts on offering the vaccine to those who qualify with written parental consent.
In addition, Satterlee said they are working with all school districts to ensure as many as possible can attend graduation. The health department will offer nasal swabs to those in quarantine, and if it comes back negative, they can attend graduation.
Young asked about vaccine distribution in the county, and Satterlee said it’s going well.
“But the unfortunate thing is that fewer people want it,” Satterlee said.
He said the health department is planning walk-in clinics in each of the county’s municipalities. He added the state is allowing for more wasted doses currently.
Young asked about positive cases in the county, and Satterlee said they are still seeing positive tests, and it is still affecting school districts.
“Number-wise through the community, they aren’t that high by any means,” Satterlee said. “But some people who are positive are getting very, very sick.”
In CEFS news, Fogle said the Meals on Wheels program is still in need of volunteers. He added that Ameren will be releasing $750,000 to the regional CEFS program, and those who need assistance with heating and cooling their homes are encouraged to apply.
In 911 news, Bergen reported the group made its second big payment of $183,000 to Motorola for the radio upgrades. He added that as fewer and fewer homes have landlines, 911 revenue is down another 4 percent this year. Bergen said the Pana Tower will be ready in June and the Fillmore Tower is getting a new repeater. He said they looked into the possibility of adding fiber to the Cress Hill Tower, which is also used by the sheriff’s department, but it’s cost prohibitive at this time. In a final note, Bergen said the county’s 911 service may start dispatching for Shoal Creek as well.
In West Central Development Council news, board member Richard Wendel said he provided board members with a packet of information about services provided at the Job Center in Litchfield. He added the WCDC has about $3,000 in its economic development fund, and will be deciding how to disperse it.
In addition to the reapportionment discussion, board members unanimously approved a proclamation for May as Mental Health Awareness Month with several members of Cross Over Ministries in attendance.
“Whereas every citizen can make a difference in helping to end the silence and stigma that far too long has surrounded mental health conditions and substance use disorders and has contributed to discouraging people from seeking help and recovery.
Whereas, we the Montgomery County Board affirm the intrinsic value of every person in our communities which we represent and desire for each individual to live a full and abundant life so that the true worth of each person’s contribution to our county is recognized.”
Young presented a plaque to Cross Over Ministries President Linda Liebscher. She thanked the board members who attended their open house earlier in May at their new home, located just above the Montgomery County Farm Bureau in downtown Hillsboro. She also invited the communities to participate in their Destroy the Darkness Walk this Saturday, May 15, in Hillsboro, Litchfield and Witt, beginning at 9 a.m.
In other news, Young said he was working with the information systems department on Chromebook training for board members.
The county will change oversight of the EMA Director position from the Safety and Elections Committee to the Coordinating Committee. Young introduced Kevin Schott, who is serving as the interim EMA director. Schott said the county’s EMA program was able to help with a missing persons case in Gillespie last week, and that they are always happy to help their neighbors. Schott added that he met with all Region 8 coordinators and the emergency operations plan has been submitted.
Leitheiser said there was no update on the 2020 census.
Young said that he and Yeske met with the pending regional development group. The University of Illinois Extension has done the bulk of the work, helping to start the by-laws and presented ways to finance it. Young said they will meet again in June.
In a final note, Satterlee said the health department will be working with the sheriff’s department as the state of Illinois makes changes to its crisis services. He is in the process of writing a grant, where the county would send two mental health professionals to the scene of a mental health crisis situation in preparation for when the 988 (what residents would dial for a mental health situation instead of 911) system is ready. Satterlee said those people would have to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and that it would not be a cheap endeavor.
Jones asked if the county had policies and protocols in place. He worried residents would try to make up mental health issues during disputes with neighbors or family. Satterlee said they are only just beginning the process and the state will likely take a year of planning to implement it.
Donaldson asked if this would take the place of law enforcement in some situations, and Satterlee said it’s designed to keep law enforcement from returning to the same place six or seven times, when it’s truly a mental health issue.
“Just because someone is having a crisis doesn’t mean they belong in jail,” Satterlee said.
Robbins added that much of this legislation is coming from the judicial reform act, noting it was passed at 4 a.m. earlier this year.
“We don’t have any answers because this was passed so quickly,” Robbins said. “There could be some great pros to get people some help, but also some cons.”
Robbins added that most mental health hospitals won’t take patients until they are sober, but many times when law enforcement arrives on scene, many times the cases involves alcohol and illegal drugs.
Satterlee said this program is only in the baby stages and more information will be yet to come.
Building And Grounds
Building and Grounds Chairman Bob Sneed said they had been busy with several maintenance issues. There was a bearing that went out on the HVAC unit at the new courthouse.
In addition, the board unanimously approved a contract from Luby Equipment for $4,453.42, for a new transfer switch for one of the county’s generators.
Sneed said the county will host a surplus sale of items Thursday, May 20, at the Highway Department. They will accept silent bids on Thursday and items need to be picked up on Friday.
Sheriff Robbins asked if they had any success on concrete replacement on county grounds. Sneed said they have been in contact with the city of Hillsboro about sidewalk and curb replacement around the Historic Courthouse. The city would like to have an intergovernmental agreement with the county for sharing the responsibility of the grounds at the Historic Courthouse for events. Sneed said they are still discussing it, noting that the county does not own the curbing or the sidewalks on the grounds.
Robbins said they have tried looking into concrete vendors on their own but without much luck.
Jones said that if the sidewalks are a safety issue, the county could consider putting cold patch on some rough spots. Sneed replied that “we don’t put black patch on sidewalks.”
Leitheiser said she appreciated the discussion as tax bills will soon be mailed out, and many senior citizens arrive in person to pay their bills.
“We worry about them,” Leitheiser said.
In the absence of Finance Committee Chairman Beeler, board member Robinson gave the report. Supervisor of Assessors Ray Durston mailed the county’s abstract packet on April 19 to the Department of Revenue, but as of April 29, it had not been received so he drove it to Springfield. Robinson also noted that Durston said the county has received 2,400 of the 3,000 senior homestead exemption renewals for 2021.
Robinson said the coal mine is not currently operational. During the public comment portion of the meeting Schroeder asked for an update. Young said the mine has a hot spot and carbon monoxide levels are slightly elevated. Mine officials are pumping nitrogen into the mine to try and eliminate the hot spot, but there is no timeline on when it will be operational again.
The board unanimously approved a part-time intern for Public Defender Erin Mattson. She requested the intern at $11.25 per hour for 35 hours a week for a total of 58 days. The county put $55,000 in the budget to hire her an assistant, but had not been successful yet. The part-time position will run May 17 through Aug. 6.
Board members also unanimously approved the audit presented at the April meeting by Scheffel Boyle.
Robinson reminded the board of budget hearings coming up on Aug. 12 and Aug. 13, beginning at 8:30 a.m. Worksheets will be sent to office holders and department heads mid-June. They will include information about recommended salary increases for non-union employees, which takes into account union raises and the Consumer Price Index.
Robinson reported that Sheriff Robbins applied for two ICRMT grants and spent $2,000 on latex gloves and $10,000 on tasers. He will use drug fund money to pay for the other half of the tasers.
In IMRF news, Robinson said Treasurer Nikki Lohman reported the county is 100 percent funded.
Lohman also talked about a sale in error fund she would like to create. By state statute, the county can charge up to $60 for each item purchased at tax sale. It goes into a fund for sale in error (when a buyer purchases a property and later returns it). The county pays costs and interests, and they could pay it from the sale in error fund. That fund caps at $100,000 and any money collected above that goes into the general fund.
The committee continues to review potential financial and budget control policies.
The board unanimously approved a bid for electrical services. Homefield Energy had the lowest bid of .04529 for the three-year contract.
Robinson said the county paid one $157,000 fee to the 911 board. They still need to pay their annual maintenance fee of $11,000 to the group.
The board unanimously approved some changes to the pre-paid vendor list. They added GTSI up to $300,000, changed NewWave to Sparklight, deleted KEB and RICHOH USA, Inc., and added Great American Financial Services and Hillsboro Advanced Vet Care (which was formerly Countryside Vet Service).
Robinson said the red EMA truck hit a deer while on COVID response, so they will turn it into the FEMA grant for possible reimbursement on the repairs.
Lohman has submitted $155,000 in vouchers to FEMA as part of COVID-19 expenses from March to June 2020.
In a final note, the committee is working with the city of Litchfield on their ambulance levy. The county asked for a list of ambulance district appointees, and Affrunti said it came Tuesday afternoon. They will continue to work on it.
Although the Development Committee didn’t meet in May, Chairman Donna Yeske reminded the board of the upcoming Bicentennial on Saturday, June 5, at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Butler. Yeske said they will have vendors, lots of food, kids’ games, live entertainment, a tractor show, a car show and more. Emergency equipment will also be on display.
Yeske said several communities have already finished their cakes and they are being displayed. She encouraged people to stop in all the communities to see them.
Vendor space is still available for free.
Whitworth asked Young if they could put a key to the Historic Courthouse in a 50-year time capsule, and he said he would look into it.
In a final note, Yeske said that Senate Bill 1602, which takes local control of the wind ordinance and gives control to the state, has now been placed in the governor’s 900-page energy bill. She said she would continue to update the board.
In the Personnel Committee report, Chairman Bill Bergen said the county is at 2 percent usage for employee health insurance four months in, and is on track and doing good.
His committee continues to fine tune the personnel manual and he hopes to present it to the full board in the near future.
In worker’s compensation news, Sheriff Robbins said he’s still working on a case with one of his employees who contracted COVID and was off for quite some time. Robbins said first responders were supposed to automatically qualify for worker’s compensation because it was assumed they got COVID while on duty. He’s still working on the case.
Sheriff Robbins said he had two corrections officers resign. He has filled one spot with a part-time intern, who can be full time when he finishes training. He has started testing for the other position.
The Personnel Committee looked at several job descriptions for the EMA director position, and decided to stick with the ChrisMont EMA director job description. They are looking for a part-time person, although hours can be added as needed. The Finance Committee set the salary range at $24,000 to $28,000 depending on experience. Applications are due Friday, May 21, at 4 p.m. The committee will have a special meeting to look at them on May 25 and will interview candidates at the next Personnel Committee meeting. Miles asked how many hours, and Bergen said the part-time position was 20 hours. At this time, they are looking at overtime as comp time.
Road And Bridge
Road and Bridge Committee Chairman Miles said they met for the first time at the new Highway Department. He said they are pleased and nearly finished moving things in. Miles said they hope to be all moved in by summer.
In an update on the Nokomis Road project, Miles said County Engineer Cody Greenwood found an old agreement from 1979 between then County Board Chairman Hamrock and the city of Nokomis. State’s Attorney Affrunti said that as long as the conditions are met, he feels the contract is still valid.
“I’m not saying we are gonna push it, but we are still looking,” Miles said.
The county would like to fix the road and turn the responsibility over to the city of Nokomis, but they have no interest in that project.
Board members unanimously approved three projects. They approved $11,000 for a pipe culvert at Hill Circle, which is a 50-50 split with Fillmore Township. They approved $5,500 for a pipe culvert on Meisenheimer Avenue, which is a 50-50 split with Butler Grove Township. They also approved $10,000 for a pipe culvert on Ohlman Road, which is 100 percent county funded.
Safety And Elections
The board unanimously approved ambulance contracts with Farmersville-Waggoner, Hillsboro Area, Nokomis-Witt and Raymond-Harvel ambulance districts.
In elections news, Leitheiser reported the canvas from the April election is now complete, and many local officials are being sworn in. All township officials will be sworn in on May 17.
In EPA news, County Coordinator Chris Daniels said they checked into a complaint in the north part of the county. She’s also still waiting to hear about a date for a spring tire collection.
In animal control news, Hughes said they have 15 dogs and five cats. He added they have met with the state’s attorney and continue to work on the animal control ordinance for the county.
The board unanimously appointed Dennis Held to the Harvel Drainage District #2 for a three-year term, Richard Lyons to the Harvel Drainage District #1 for a three-year term and Kent Aumann to the Montgomery County Board of Review for the 2021 and 2022 sessions.
After paying the bills, the board voted to adjourn at 7:17 p.m. They will meet again on Tuesday, June 8, beginning at 5:30 p.m. in Hillsboro.