Members of the Montgomery County Board have decisions to make before 911 services can be consolidated with Christian and Shelby counties, board members learned at their meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 10.
Since the Emergency Telephone System Board (ETSB or 911 board) voted on Oct. 17 to consolidate dispatch services in Taylorville, local officials have been operating under the assumption that the decision has already been made.
"What we learned last night is different than what we heard before," Sheriff Rick Robbins said of a Christian/Shelby 911 board meeting that he attended on Monday.
Each of the three counties in the proposed consolidation–Montgomery, Christian and Shelby–must first vote to abolish their current boards and then approve an intergovernmental agreement. If any one of the three counties does not, consolidation cannot occur.
"It is up to this county board to make this decision," EMA/Ambulance Committee Chairman Bill Bergen told his fellow board members, asking them to review the resolutions before the January board meeting. "The county board needs to abolish the 911 board for this consolidation to go through. Next month, you're going to have to make a critical decision."
Along with Robbins, Bergen, County Clerk Sandy Leitheiser, and Taylor Springs Fire Chief Doug Fenton also attended the Christian/Shelby 911 board meeting on Monday. Bergen said he expressed there that he was opposed to consolidation.
Leitheiser said she had attended the meeting due to "some real concerns I've heard from the public. The partnership Shelby has with Christian is less than ideal."
Robbins' opinion? "Stay in Montgomery County, 100 percent," the sheriff said in response to a question from county board member Mark Hughes. He pointed out a 911 dispatcher present at the county board meeting, Tammy Thompson, who has held the job for 30 years. "That experience cannot be gained anywhere else."
Robbins, however, recognized other forces at play besides local experience.
"As I say that, this is a financial issue, and that comes back to you," Robbins told board members. "Two or three years from now we could be broke."
Board member Kirby Furness said the fiscal issue is the defining one.
"No one wants this to leave; it's all about finance," Furness said, referencing $1.2 million in required equipment and tech upgrades required by the 911 service. "This decision was made based on finance only. I don't know how else you're going to pay for it."
"There are some issues with some of those numbers," Robbins said, suggesting there may be ways to shave that cost. "We can do things differently."
Near the end of the meeting during the "public comment" portion of the agenda, T.S. Chief Fenton expressed concerns about dropped pages and bad directions from those in crisis who call 911.
"When we responded to the fatal accident on Route 185, the caller said it was in front of the prison," Fenton said, "but it was almost in Coffeen. We just kept going until we found it."
Bergen promised to provide board members with as much information as possible as soon as possible before they consider action next month on the resolutions to abolish the county 911 board and sign an intergovernmental agreement with Christian and Shelby.
A vote by the board to not approve a consolidation intergovernmental agreement does not guarantee those services will remain in Montgomery County, Sheriff Robbins pointed out during the discussion. The 911 board still could contract dispatch services with another entity.
During his report, Bergen said his committee had been researching enhanced ambulance billing software requested by Litchfield, but he was notified Friday that Litchfield is going to a private billing company.
"There is a cost factor here," Bergen said of the repercussion from that decision. "The remaining ambulance services are going to have to pay a little bit more now." Cost for the ambulance billing office housed at the courthouse are split by the five–soon to be four–ambulance districts using it.
During the Coordinating Committee report, Chairman Evan Young reported that the county information services department is still searching for a third employee, and Leitheiser reported that local outreach work in support of a complete county census will begin in earnest in January.
"We would appreciate everyone spreading the word about how important the census will be," the county clerk said.
At the recommendation of Road and Bridge Committee Chairman Gene Miles, the board approved a bid from Farmers Oil in Nokomis, the lowest of two bidders for bulk fuel next year. The cost will be nine cents a gallon above wholesale for clear diesel, red diesel and unleaded gasoline, and two cents above wholesale for diesel additive and winter additive.
Miles also reported that his committee approved a $9,600 purchase of a new diesel diagnostic laptop, and recommended a proposal from Hurst-Rosche Engineers for preliminary engineering work on replacing a bridge in Witt Township on Seven Sisters Avenue. The board approved the $42,400 expense.
Filling in for Finance Committee Chair Megan Beeler who was not present, committee Vice Chairman Jim Moore reported an $18,800 coal royalty check deposited in November, and received board approval to add the 708 board to the county insurance policy at no additional premium cost.
Board members also approved conveying 20 property deeds, the result of the county trustee sale. A property in Nokomis Township was sold to Randy Brockmeyer, two properties in Butler Grove Township were sold, one to Rickey Lane and the other to Robert Bellm Rives, and a Witt Township parcel was sold to Merle Clayton. Three Hillsboro Township properties were sold, one to Franklin and Teresa Altevogt, one to Adam and Amy Jeffers, and one to Robert and Lora Watson. Five properties were transferred in East Fork Township, one to Thomas A. and Thomas F. Justison, one to Kent and Kathy Stewart, one to Terri Theresa Romero, one to Logan Renfro, and one to Jose Perez. A Fillmore Township property sold to David Haslett, one in Irving Township to Amanda Hockett, and one in North Litchfield Township to Claude E. and Carolyn Riley.
"Amanda rounded up seven horses near Butler," HWE Committee Chairman Chuck Graden reported about county animal control warden Amanda Daniels. "That was quite a deal." The animals were sent for boarding.
Graden also said that Brian Deming of DC Waste and Recycling reported 300 curbside recycling customers in Hillsboro, Litchfield and Schram City. Deming is still interested in using the county baler, but the recycling building in which it is housed became city property when the recycling center closed. The county will work on a lease agreement for the equipment, but the Hillsboro City Council will also need to be in on the solution.
"Mr. Gonet is getting close to the end of his career," Graden said of landfill and open dumping inspector Bill Gonet, who does so through an Illinois EPA delegation agreement. Gonet is retiring at the end of February, and the county is looking for his replacement.
Building and Grounds Committee Chairman Bob Sneed reported the Smart Watt energy project is "99.9 percent complete," and the final invoice for $268,276 was among bills paid by the county at the end of the meeting.
Sneed also told board members a surplus auction will be scheduled in January, a new county farm lease will be advertised for bids in January, and he will talk to the city of Hillsboro about replacing deteriorating sidewalk around the courthouse.
Economic Development Committee Chair Donna Yeske invited board members to a strategic planning meeting and dinner beginning at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 19, at the extension office, and also told the board that she and Pitman Township Road Commissioner Tony Krager had walked the Green Diamond Bike Trail to review the oil and chip job this past fall, and to examine drainage issues that need addressed.
Near the end of the meeting, board Chairman Evan Young added board member Tim Fogle to the Economic Development Committee.
Personnel Committee Chairman Kirby Furness told board members that county employees had until Dec. 13 to review the county cyber security policy and returned signed documentation. He also reported good news on county employee health insurance costs: health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) expenses for the past year were $57,423–that's down from about $70,000 last year.
Near the end of the meeting, the board approved Chairman Young's appointments of Maria Clark and Lyle Polus, and re-appointment of Kenny Ryker, all to the 708 board. The meeting began with Brad Ozee leading the pledge of allegiance to the flag at the request of Chairman Young.
In addition to raising questions about possible 911 consolidation, Bill Schroeder thanked Yeske for answering his question last month about the man hours worked at the Eagle Picher site clean-up.
"This month, it's up to 87,000 man hours," Schroeder said, asking the board to insist the federal EPA use a local work force in the future if the Asarco site clean-up in Taylor Springs is ever funded. "There's a lot of work that took place there, and a lot of revenue that could have been in our community."