Budget, Oak Hill topics for county

Monroe County Treasurer Kevin Koenigstein presented a positive report Monday morning about the state of county finances and a progress update for the upcoming budget.

During the Monroe County Board meeting, Koenigstein reported the county should expect to exceed projected revenues for the current fiscal year. based on “very strong” receipts from September and the first half of October. 

He said that revenue from income and sales taxes as well as investment income continue to outperform expectations.

Koenigstein also offered an update on tax bills, which were mailed out last week. 

He said he had hoped Monroe County residents would receive tax bills in the mail last weekend, but it is more likely the bills would arrive in mailboxes during the early part of this week.

Koenigstein thanked the Monroe County Clerk’s Office for its work in this effort.

Koenigstein also said progress on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Dec. 1, are “moving along quite well.”

He said salary adjustments need to be approved and other considerations still need to be finalized, but added commissioners have plenty of time to finalize the budget before approval.

Koenigstein also reminded commissioners the tentative budget must be posted 15 days prior to adoption to allow public review and comment.

One budget proposal still to be reviewed is that of Oak Hill, the county-owned senior living and rehabilitation facility located at 623 Hamacher Street in Waterloo.

Oak Hill Administrator Shari Kruep gave commissioners a brief run-down of the budget for the facility, which she expects to turn a profit in the next fiscal year despite being over $1 million in the red currently.

Kruep said Oak Hill should make about $300,000 next year if the census stays at its current higher levels, even with increasing the expense line 3 percent from the current year and allowing $1.9 million for use of temporary staffing agencies.    

“The goal is zero,” Kruep said of using staff from the more expensive agencies, “but realistically we have to put in that number” because of a nationwide shortage in the skilled nursing industry. 

On a positive note, Kruep reported Oak Hill hired a registered nurse, a licensed practical nurse and five certified nursing assistants in September.

Kruep also noted the COVID-19 surge at Oak Hill seems to be over, for now. During its peak earlier this month, 53 residents and 16 employees tested positive for the virus.

As of Monday, Kruep said four residents were still positive, and no employees currently had COVID.

Kruep said there were two strains – one with virtually no symptoms and one which causes gastrointestinal issues. 

She also reported four residents who had tested positive for COVID-19 in the recent outbreak have died.

“We are still at the point where anybody who has had COVID in the past 30 days and passes away is still considered a COVID death,” Kruep said. 

Commissioner Vicki Koerber commented that “even though there are outlying circumstances,” regarding labeling the deaths as COVID-related fatalities, to which Kruep responded, “Unfortunately, (COVID) exacerbates other situations.”

Kruep said Oak Hill residents are being asked if they would like to receive COVID-19, flu and RSV shots, but some residents are choosing not to take them as COVID doses are no longer free of charge. 

In other business, the board passed a resolution to change the direction of an update to the county’s comprehensive plan.

Monroe County Board Chairman Dennis Knobloch said those involved in the process are “not satisfied with the response” from the Southwestern Illinois Metropolitan And Regional Planning Commission, which was in charge of the update.

Knobloch said the state-operated group is undergoing organizational realignment due to the resignation of its executive director this spring, and the commission has not been able to meet the needs of Monroe County. 

The process to revamp the comprehensive plan began in June, but little progress has been made thus far.

Koerber said she was “very disappointed” with the lack of progress, and Knobloch added several members of the Monroe County Planning Commission said they would resign if SIMPAC continued to be the lead for this project. 

The board voted to hire Moran Economic Development LLC as the new project managers at a cost of $26,000 – the same amount it was to pay SIMPAC.

Knobloch said the Moran agency already has “base information” because of its work with the regional enterprise zone in Monroe and Randolph counties.

With Moran at the helm, Knobloch expects the comprehensive plan to be updated by next October rather than the original completion date of summer 2024.

Monroe County State’s Attorney Ryan Webb said he would review the contract with SIMPAC and request “reimbursement for work not performed.”

Webb will also be looking at a contract with Zoll Medical Corporation to provide equipment for Monroe County EMS ambulances. 

Monroe County Ambulance Director Carla Heise proposed a 10-year agreement with Zoll for equipment updates and maintenance during the Oct. 2 meeting, but commissioners were wary of taking on a long contract at the price she described.

On Monday, Heise gave commissioners a cost comparison for a five-year plan which included an interest-free payment plan. 

The board tabled the item to give Webb time to work with Zoll to clarify some of the contract language for a five-year agreement.

Commissioners did approve a resolution to support application for a business resiliency grant through the Illinois branch of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

Monroe County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Edie Koch explained the grant is for businesses which had eligible COVID-related expenses.

Those expenses include “environmentally exempt” items such as non-permanent structures to provide outdoor seating or purchase of cashless payment systems, among others. 

Permanent structures and supplies such as hand sanitizer or face masks are not eligible, Koch said.

She explained seven Monroe County businesses applied for a total of just over $85,000. 

Koch said she needed county approval to apply since the grants could not be paid to the businesses individually. Monroe County would act as a pass-through to disburse funds should the grants be awarded.

Koch said awards should be announced by Dec. 31.

The next meeting of the Monroe County Board will be Nov. 6 at the Monroe County Courthouse. The meeting will be at 1 p.m., instead of the usual 8:15 a.m. start time.

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Scott Woodsmall

HTC web