“Every citizen in our county can help to end the silence and the stigma that creates a barrier to individuals seeking help when they are depressed or having suicidal thoughts,” read County Coordinator Chris Daniels, as part of a proclamation marking September as Suicide Awareness Prevention Month.
“We, the citizens of Montgomery County affirm the intrinsic value of every person in our county and desire for each individual to know their true worth and potential, thereby encouraging them to become contributing members of our communities.”
Members of Crossover Ministries joined the regular monthly meeting of the Montgomery County Board on Tuesday evening, Sept. 8, at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hillsboro to help bring awareness to the importance of mental health.
According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, second leading cause of death for people ten to 34 and fourth leading cause of death for people ages 35 to 54.
Board Chairman Evan Young signed the proclamation, which was approved unanimously.
Diane Singler of Irving and Jodi Reynolds of Nokomis, both who have lost children to suicide, spoke to the board the need to decrease the stigma of suicide and that the youth as well as adults need to know where they can go for help.
“It’s an invisible disease that can happen to anyone,” Singler said.
In his building and grounds report, Committee Chairman Bob Sneed said they had been approached about installing a secure ballot box at the Historic Courthouse for the drop off of vote-by-mail ballots.
The committee was worried about the liability of the box being outdoors 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and they recommended installing the box inside the facility near the early voting center. Ultimately the committee told Montgomery County Clerk and Recorder Sandy Leitheiser that the decision was up to her.
Currently, the county has had requests for more than 2,300 vote by mail ballots, the largest by far in the county’s history. To date, the largest number of vote by mail ballots used in a single election in Montgomery County was 685 in November 2018.
Leitheiser said because of the demand and because of concerns about the postal service being overwhelmed, she inquired about the installation of a secure ballot box.
Earlier in the year, the county board installed a drop box outside the Historic Courthouse for use while the county offices were closed this spring during the pandemic outbreak. Leitheiser said the drop box continues to be popular, and Treasurer Nikki Lohman estimates that 90 percent of the drop box usage is after hours.
However, that particular drop box does not meet the security qualifications needed for a drop box for election ballots.
To offer voters another option, Leitheiser has ordered a secure voter drop box from an American company in Minnesota and expects its arrival on Sept. 28. She said these drop boxes are in high demand this election season.
Her hope is to have the box installed near the 15-minute parking spot on the north side of the Historic Courthouse. It will no longer be a parking spot during voting season, and the placement of the box will be approved by Hillsboro Police Chief Randy Leetham and Montgomery County Engineer Cody Greenwood. Leitheiser said voters will be able to pull into the spot, roll down the window of their vehicle and cast their ballot in the secure box.
Leitheiser added that the box will be emptied at least daily, possibly several times a day, and that all activity will be logged, including when the box was emptied, by whom and how many ballots were collected. Both a representative of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party must be present to collect any ballots, and Leitheiser said the box will be checked seven days a week.
For security, Leitheiser said the new courthouse already has two cameras installed that face the Historic Courthouse, and her office will be adding a third camera on the Historic Courthouse to watch the box. The ballot box and the camera will be paid for through special elections funding from the federal CARES Act.
“There is a large need for this kind of drop box on a 24/7 basis,” Leitheiser said. “This is simply another option for voters. We ask the public to help us honor the box and maintain its safety.”
Leitheiser said that on the small chance the box is tampered with, her office will make every effort to ensure any damaged ballots will be able to be re-cast. She added that if the box is tampered with, it will likely not be an option in future elections.
During their discussion board members were concerned about the liability issues of the box, and discussed whether or not it could be moved inside during off hours.
In the public comment portion of the meeting, Patty Whitworth of Hillsboro voiced her concern that the box be able to be used without getting out of one’s vehicle, as many of the voters who choose to vote by mail are elderly.
In calling the meeting to order, Young asked board member Chuck Graden to lead the Pledge of Allegiance, while board members Bill Bergen and Dennis McCammack were absent. The board unanimously passed the mileage and per diem requests, minutes from the previous meeting and the consent agenda.
Board member Earlene Robinson said the 708 Board voted to award $594,497 in funding this year out of more than $833,000 in requests.
This year, they awarded $196,205 to the Montgomery County Health Department, $182,000 to Fayco, $16,500 to the Unified Child Advocacy Network, $15,000 to Litchfield Family Practice Center, $50,000 to the Panhandle School District, $60,484 to the Litchfield School District, $35,000 to the Nokomis School District and $39,308 to the Hillsboro School District.
In CEFS news, board member Tim Fogle said they are still looking for Meals on Wheels volunteers, and there is an opening on the CEFS board for a member from Montgomery County.
Board member Sandra Johnson reported that the Montgomery County Health Department will begin issuing flu shots in the next two weeks. She added that they continue to work with the schools and the prison throughout the pandemic.
In Planning Commission news, board member Ron Deabenderfer said they met to review the wind ordinance and will present a final copy to the Economic Development Committee for their October meeting.
In West Central Development Council news, board member Jeremy Jones said there is funding available for job skills training.
Board member Connie Beck reported that the University of Illinois Extension hopes to re-open its Hillsboro office on Sept. 24.
In addition to the proclamation for Suicide Awareness Prevention Month, the board unanimously extended the declaration of disaster in Montgomery County due to the COVID-19 pandemic until their regular board meeting in October.
Young reported that the information systems department has been busy continuing on the upgrades to the 911 department at the sheriff’s office. In addition, they are working to make sure the early voting center is safe and meeting pandemic guidelines, as early voting starts on Sept. 24.
In a census update, Leitheiser said there is a lawsuit right now to stop the census from winding down at the end of September. Originally, the dates were extended due to the pandemic, but then they were brought back to the end of September. She presented the board with an estimate of the county for Montgomery County, based on a random phone call survey, which shows Montgomery County would have 28,601 residents, down 4.96 percent since 2010. However, she reminded the board that’s purely an estimate and that no final numbers will be available until the census work is complete.
Building and Grounds
In addition to the discussion about the ballot drop box, Sneed said they had no major maintenance issues.
The committee approved use of the Historic Courthouse lawn for a prayer gathering on Sept. 26, as Ingrid Watkins had contacted the county. Her group will also be contacting the city of Hillsboro for use of the Lincoln Plaza. The gathering is not political in nature and the group will follow all pandemic guidelines.
Sneed said the coroner’s office is requesting more storage space in the basement of the new courthouse and they are working on it.
His committee also worked with the county clerk’s office on providing more distance between employees. They have opted for an A team and a B team in order to keep employees as safe as possible and ensure they have plenty of workers to meet the county’s needs.
In a final update, Sneed reported that it was a privilege for the Historic Courthouse to host the women’s suffrage event in August, organized by Imagine Hillsboro. Volunteers lit the courthouse purple and gold in celebration of the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote.
Economic Development Committee Chairman Donna Yeske said the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation will hold its annual meeting via Zoom on Sept. 11.
Yeske added that a new internet service provider, Wisper, will be coming to the county, to provide access to areas CTI has not been able to yet. She said the company got grant funding for the project and is looking to have 300-500 residents sign up.
Yeske reported things were going well with the Revolving Loan Fund.
She also said that all counties except for Christian County have approved the CEDS document. Once it’s approved, they will form a regional group to be able to work together to bring businesses to this area.
Yeske gave special thanks to the highway department for their work on sprucing up the Green Diamond Bike Trail in Farmersville.
She said the next meeting of the Bicentennial Committee would be Sept. 30, beginning at 7 p.m. at Bank of Hillsboro, and that plans were coming along nicely.
In a final note, she said the Montgomery County Mask Makers have made more than 24,000 masks since the middle of March, which have been shipped all over the world. She said Ali Luckett, a school nurse in the Hillsboro School District, said they appreciated the masks and that the students were enjoying having a chance to pick one out at school.
EMA Vice Chairman Chuck Graden gave the report, noting that ambulance billing is going well.
He had high praise for Chris-Mont EMA Director Greg Nimmo and his work throughout the pandemic. Graden said the county is eligible to be reimbursed for up to $316,000 in funding spent during the pandemic.
In 911 news, Bergen said that two of the updated 911 consoles are complete at the sheriff’s office, and two will be completed soon.
Leitheiser reminded board members of the upcoming Nov. 3 general election.
County Coordinator Chris Daniels continues training for her position with the EPA.
In recycling news, Graden said they had one bid for the truck and trailer, and they were unanimously sold to that bidder. The truck was sold for $3,029.
Graden said that animal control has a pending court case. He said they are also still struggling with a reimbursement structure with county municipalities, but are still getting push back from Hillsboro and Litchfield.
In capital improvement fund news, Finance Committee Chairman Megan Beeler said the COVID-relief grants had been paid. The balance in that fund is $3.76 million, and they can’t let it fall below $3.1 million, so they will keep an eye on it.
In Vistra powerplant news, Beeler said that Supervisor of Assessors Ray Durston is working to arrange a meeting with local taxing bodies on Sept. 30.
Beeler added that several years ago, the board reached out to taxing bodies affected by the power plant for help in paying for an appraisal. In the agreement, the county agreed to repay the money if they received more than $250,000 in coal royalty funding in a five-year period. Since they have crossed that threshold, the county will repay those taxing bodies starting on Dec. 1.
Beeler presented a first draft of the county budget to board members. She noted a 12 percent decrease in revenue and a 4 percent increase in expenses, marking a deficit of $780,000 in the general fund. Board members will receive a new draft of the budget in October.
The board approved the adoption of grade promotion and longevity raises for the probation office, which are set by the chief judge. Beeler said it’s a complicated process, but that the state is supposed to pay for it entirely. However, many years the state does not pay at all, and every other year the county picks up the shortfall in state funding.
Beeler applauded Director Amanda Cole and the University of Illinois Extension for once again holding their tax levy to just over $154,000, which they do every year. In addition, next year, they will lower their levy, asking for around $150,000.
The board approved election judge salaries starting in fiscal year 2021, with a base salary of $165, plus $20 additional for training.
Beeler reported that at this time, the county is not pursuing payroll tax deferment and many other counties are not doing that as well.
The board unanimously approved the addition of an associate public defender to help with the current caseload of more than 600. The position is included in the upcoming budget and would pay $51,000 to $55,000. They hope to start that position beginning Dec. 1.
The board unanimously approved a motion to seek bids for property casualty and worker’s compensation insurance as well as an audit. These professional services are bid out every five years.
Beeler said they are holding off on another round of COVID-relief grants to see if there is another shut down.
Beeler said they continue to work with Bellwether on submitting paperwork to be reimbursed for COVID-related expenses soon, from the period of March 30 through June 1. In addition, Beeler said that they originally thought hazard pay would be part of that reimbursement, but they have since learned that’s not eligible.
Treasurer Nikki Lohman reported the second installment of property taxes was due Sept. 4, and the county has currently collected 88 percent.
In a final motion, the board unanimously voted to convey a deed from Pitman Township to the Village of Waggoner.
Personnel Committee Chairman Kirby Furness said employee health insurance representatives brought the committee bids from several health insurance vendors, adding that Health Alliance still came in the lowest with an 8.1 percent increase.
Furness said they are looking to set up dates with Local 773 (dispatchers and jailers) for contract negotiations.
Board members unanimously approved an update to the employee personnel manual about cannabis usage.
In a final note, Furness said that the committee discussed employee drug testing, and would still prefer to have it done by an independent company, outside the county.
Road and Bridge
The board unanimously approved several road projects throughout the county.
They approved $10,000 for a pipe culvert liner on Burg Road, as well as $40,000 for a concrete box culvert on Waggoner Ave.
In a 50/50 split with Witt Township, they approved a pipe culvert on E. 19th Road for $3,250 for the county’s portion. They also approved $9,000 for a storm sewer on Fillmore Trail.
The board approved an intergovernmental agreement with the city of Hillsboro for a bridge project on Seward Street near Central Park. The county will pay $153,000 and the city of Hillsboro will pay $190,000. Federal funds will pay the remainder of the $1.1 million project. The county’s funding will come from the bridge aid.
The county also approved a bid for $226,608.06 to Yamnitz and Associates for a bridge project on Seven Sisters Ave. in Witt Township.
In a few final notes, Road and Bridge Committee Chairman Gene Miles said they approved their committee dates for the year, and also met with representatives from Natural Area Guardians about roadside spraying. County Engineer Cody Greenwood said the meeting went well, and they will continue to work with landowners moving forward.
The board unanimously appointed Heather Hampton+Knodle to a six-year term on the CIEDA board. They also accepted the resignation of Joe Gasparich from the ETSB (911) Board and appointed Donald Huber to replace him.
After paying the monthly bills, the board adjourned at 7:31 p.m. They will meet again on Tuesday evening, Oct. 13, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hillsboro.