County Board Continues Looking At Broadband
Members of the Montgomery County Board continued to discuss broadband and fiber issues during their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday morning, May 9, at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Hillsboro.
Three board members were absent from the meeting, including Chairman Roy Hertel, Richard Wendel and Joe Gasparich. In the absence of Hertel, Vice Chairman Evan Young led the meeting.
Agenda items about increased broadband services in the county were discussed in both the finance and economic development committee reports. Economic Development Committee Chairman Tim Hopper said the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation has been keeping busy on the fiber front, working to bring faster internet services to the county. Several county board members and other representatives toured CTI Technology in Taylorville on April 28 to learn more about the company, which has an interest in expanding to Montgomery County.
“We have to look at the bigger picture on this whole project,” Hopper said. “I see posts almost daily about individuals who are looking for other internet service providers in this area. We have businesses that are considering moving from this area because of the poor internet service.”
MCEDC Executive Director Valerie Belusko said if there is enough interest in services from CTI Technology, they would expand here at a fraction of the cost it would be for the county to invest in fiber services on its own. The company is looking for 20 percent interest in one of the four largest communities in the county (Hillsboro, Litchfield, Raymond and Nokomis) to begin the project. Anyone interested in helping to support the project may sign up on the website for MCEDC at www.montgomerycountyillinois.org1 and click on Fiber Optic Project in the top bar. There is no commitment at this time.
“We have to continue work on this regardless of what happens with CTI,” Hopper said. “We need younger people and businesses here to sustain this county.”
During the Finance Committee report, board members approved giving $6,000 in coal royalty money to the MCEDC for advertising purposes about the fiber optic project. Board member Mike Plunkett abstained from the vote. After board member Glenn Bishop led the Pledge of Allegiance, Young expressed the board’s sorrow for board member Connie Beck, who recently lost her husband.
Board members unanimously passed the mileage and per diem reports as well as the consent agenda. In liaison reports, board member Earlene Robinson said she just met with the 708 Board, who got a briefing from Montgomery County Clerk and Recorder Sandy Leitheiser on the open meetings act. Robinson added that applications for funding from the 708 Board are due June 1, and interviews will be held in July. In other MCEDC news, Hopper said that John Galer stepped down as board chairman, and Dr.
Bob Mulch was named as his successor at this year’s annual meeting. Other officers include Hopper as vice chairman and Shelly Herman as secretary. Hopper added that he was excited to add Tim Brookshire to the board of directors, representing the community of Nokomis. Belusko said the Planning Commission is working to bump up its next meeting as it continues work on a solar ordinance, to regulate the installation of solar farms. Board member Ron Deabenderfer said the Senior Citizens organization is waiting for better weather for its parking lot expansion.
He added that Loretta Tyszko has stepped down as director of the meals program, but Becky Texier is now in charge. And Deabenderfer thanked the Masons for a $200 donation to the Meals on Wheels program. In University of Illinois Extension news, Young said they are still working on a summer schedule of programming and events. And in CEFS news, Robinson said that Director Paul White is retiring at the end of the month and asked if the county could send a card.
In a brief Personnel Committee report, Chairman Jay Martin said the committee is still listening to health insurance proposals. He said they have one more month of proposals and hope to bring something to the full board in June.
Martin added they will soon begin negotiations with the Highway Department union, as well as some others. Deabenderfer asked about the strategy in trying to get all the unions to negotiate at the same time.
“It might be a good idea,” he said. “But it’s a big job.”
Martin said it was just something they were looking at, but is unsure if it will work. Deabenderfer also asked about the possibility of consolidating some of the unions, since some only have two or three members. Martin said he isn’t sure that would work, but that it would help the county.
Young did not have a new update on the coal mine in the Coordinating Committee report. He added that the changing of the ambulance line problem had been resolved as well. Deabenderfer asked what the resolution was, and Beeler said she had talked to the farmer who was interested in changing the line. He was served by the Raymond Fire District and the Nokomis Ambulance Service, and wondered why he was not covered by the same community for both. After their discussion, Beeler said he was fine with the way the coverage was, and was considering hosting an emergency management meeting at his farm.
Road and Bridge
It was a busy morning for the Road and Bridge Committee who are working on several upcoming projects. The board unanimously approved $5,500 to repair Burg Road in the consolidated Fillmore Township. It is a project funded 100 percent by the county. They also unanimously approved $35,000 for a 100 percent county project on North 13th Ave.
Board members unanimously approved engineering work for two bridge projects. They approved $21,300 with McDonough Whitlow for a bridge over Fawn Creek in Irving Township and $43,200 for a bridge over Hurricane Creek in Witt Township. County Engineer Cody Greenwood said the funding for these projects was in this year’s budget, and also that the state pays 80 percent of the bridge work projects, with the remaining 20 percent split between the county and the township. He added the county receives $200,000 a year in the township bridge fund. It has been building up for several years, and if they don’t use it, the funds will lapse and return to the state.
The board unanimously approved the low bid of $3,500 from McDonough Whitlow for engineering services for HSIP grant and guardrail inventory. Greenwood also gave a report on the road repairs from the Dakota Access Pipeline project. He said he continues to work on cost estimates for county roads and gather information from townships. Once the estimates are submitted, Dakota Access will provide funding for the road repairs.
Greenwood said he’s working with the state’s attorney’s office to see if the projects will have to go out for competitive bid since they are not being funded by taxpayer dollars. Most of the road repair work will then be done by the Highway Department or townships. Young encouraged Greenwood to start a separate account to keep track of the money spent on the projects. Board member Jeremy Jones asked how many miles were affected. Greenwood said at least eight in Walshville Township, as well as roads in South Litchfield and East Fork townships. In a few final notes, Miles said the committee is discussing the possibility of extending Nokomis Road to Route 16.
They continue to talk about how to finance the project. He added that the Illinois Department of Transportation is interested in the abandoned railroad property, owned by the county, just north of Litchfield by the weigh station. Bishop asked if the county was trying to get rid of it, and Miles said that at one time, they tried to make it into bike trails, but it hadn’t worked. IDOT is interested in filling in the property and eliminating the bridge over Interstate 55.
Board members unanimously approved the 2016 audit report, which was presented at the April board meeting. Beeler said that Gene Stuard and the Forrestal Group continue work on the assessment of the power plant in Coffeen.
Supervisor of Assessors Ray Durston said a meeting is scheduled on May 24 for inspection of the plant. Board members discussed an amendment to Senate Bill 2199, sponsored by Kyle McCarter of Vandalia. It would reduce the local government distributive fund by 25 percent. Beeler said it would mean $538,000 in lost revenue annually for the county.
“Taxpayers would see no change, the state would just keep that money, and we rely on it,” Beeler said. The board unanimously approved sending a letter to local state representatives in opposition of the amendment, and also approved a resolution against it.
Beeler encouraged board members to call those on the Senate’s revenue committee as well. Bishop asked if it would affect local municipalities and townships too, and Beeler said yes, and that it would affect all those who collect funding from the local government distributive fund. Beeler reminded the board of budget hearings on Monday, July 10, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Monday, July 17, from 8:30 a.m.
to 12:30 p.m. She said that memos and worksheets will go out to office holders and department heads this week. In other budget news, board members unanimously approved a $.30 per hour raise for non-union county employees for 2018. Beeler said the committee looked at a variety of things, including other union contracts, cost of living and inflation, among other things. She also reminded the board that the county still does not have a balanced budget and that the health insurance premiums for employees were expected to go up 10 percent next year.
Board members unanimously approved the IMRF resolution to recertify elected officials, including the county’s clerk, circuit clerk, sheriff, coroner, treasurer and state’s attorney. The board also unanimously approved the low bid for electric rates from Dynegy (Homefield Energy) for $.04373 per kilowatt hour for one year. Beeler said that is down from last year. She added that the county received an invoice from FAYCO for $24,000, but they are holding off on paying it until they get some more information.
In a few final notes, Beeler said IT Manager Curt Watkins is working on creating Gmail accounts for the county. She also said that the county has collected more than $63,000 from Credit Collection Partners, and she was pleased with the progress so far, noting that the county would not have been able to collect those funds without it. Beeler reminded all county board members and employees of the new state law regarding travel reimbursement and what can be claimed. She said the treasurer’s office cannot police the vouchers, but the county is liable if people turn in more than is allowed by state law.
Health, Welfare and Elections Vice Chairman Chuck Graden provided the monthly committee report to the board. He reminded board members there will be an open house at the landfill on Wednesday, June 7 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. In other landfill news, Graden said that the county’s EPA Director Bill Gonet has received payment from the state, which is now currently up-to-date. The county provides 30 percent of his salary, and the remaining 70 percent is made up by the state.
Graden reported that the April electronics recycling drive brought in 20,000 pounds of electronics. Board member Jeremy Jones is working with the West Central Development Council on a grant to expand and upgrade the county’s recycling facilities. Jones said they hope to pick up cardboard from local vendors to help with some of the costs and make the services self-sustaining. In addition to helping with the costs, recycling that cardboard will increase the life of the landfill as well. Other communities outside the county have asked also about recycling, and the committee is looking into the possibility of accepting the materials, provided the other communities can deliver them.
Graden and Recycling Director Ben Bishop will be attending a conference on recycling in Minnesota Aug.
28 through Aug.
30, and it is recognized as one of the top recycling conferences in the nation. In a final recycling note, Graden said University of Illinois students made a presentation at the Extension office on a study they did to make recycling more cost effective in the county. In animal control news, Graden said the department participated in the Extension’s annual safety day program at the 4-H Park in Butler. They provided goodie bags to 320 fourth graders.
Graden reported that the county was finally going to begin cleaning up the property for the old Ohlman school. He said it would take some time and work with the Illinois State Police to remove and record all the abandoned vehicles on the property. They plan eventually to tear down the building as well, and are still looking for grants to help fund the clean-up work.
Building and Grounds
Building and Grounds Committee Chairman Bob Sneed said Circuit Clerk Holly Lemons had approached the committee about the installation of a helping hands food box to provide free non-perishable food items to those in need. Sneed said she will take care of the installation and filling of the box, as well as the maintenance. Board member Glenn Savage asked about the county’s liability if someone put poisoned food in the box, and Sneed said Lemons is working with the state’s attorney’s office on that. Sneed reported there were not many maintenance issues this month, and that the committee is still working on cleaning issues at the new courthouse.
The committee also discussed battery issues with the county’s four AED units. Some are not working at this time, and the batteries cost around $300 to replace. Sneed said the lifespan of the batteries is around five years, and the committee is looking into the most cost effective way to solve the problem, as well as adding a few more units. Sneed said there will be a pre-bid meeting for a new roof on the county’s jail building on June 9, beginning at 9:30 a.m. They are looking for bids for both shingles and metal roofs at this time.
In a final note, he reminded board members of a flag ceremony at the Historic Courthouse in Hillsboro on June 10, hosted by the Sons of the American Revolution.
In addition to discussion about the fiber optic possibilities, Economic Development Committee Chairman Tim Hopper also updated the board on several other things. Hopper said the next meeting of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation would be held on May 25. In tourism news, Hopper said the county has submitted information to IllinoiSouth for upcoming events in the fall publication.
They are also still working on branding in the county, and Hopper said he liked, “Montgomery County: Where Your Treasure Awaits You,” for things like the county’s lakes, Route 66 and the pickers market events. Hopper said they were working with the banks on a discrepancy with the Revolving Loan Fund, but that Belusko was looking into it. He also presented the board with an incentives document for a 30-day review. The document will be a tool Belusko can use when courting businesses in the county. It only applies to county properties, and not those inside municipalities.
Hopper said the county got great news in finding out their application for the Enterprise Zone had been approved. Plunkett asked about the square miles in the zone, and County Coordinator Chris Daniels said it is 11.3 miles. The limit is 15 miles. In other news, Hopper said work has started on phase two of the clean-up at Eagle Zinc in Hillsboro, and they hope to be completed by fall of next year.
He said the committee is also working to mend its relationship with the West Central Development Council, and recently paid that invoice. In another bright spot, Hopper said the second annual CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities) trade show was a success for local senior students. They grossed $10,000 in sales that night from their own start up businesses.
“There were some very cool ideas,” Hopper said. “And we have already accepted 17 students into next year’s program.”
Hopper also attended the annual legislative breakfast in Litchfield on May 8, and provided an update from Senator Andy Manar and Bourne. In a final note, Leitheiser provided an update on the school facilities one percent sales tax that was approved in April.
She said the county’s part is complete, and that businesses will be expected to begin collecting that tax in July. It will be sent to the Illinois Department of Revenue, where it will be given to the Regional Office of Education and then provided to the four county school districts based on student population.
Emergency Management Committee Chairman Glenn Savage said that he and Beeler were working with Sheriff Jim Vazzi on the emergency fund budget. He also reported that ambulance billing continues in a routine fashion. Savage asked Leitheiser if all the ambulance contracts had been submitted, and she said not yet. He said they will work on getting the last few in.
The board unanimously appointed Danielle Fenton to a three-year term as a trustee for the Shoal Creek Fire Department. Another appointment was turned in too late, and will be approved in June. Following paying the bills, the board adjourned after a two-hour meeting.