County board discusses Route 3, enterprise zone

Tina Charron of House of Neighborly Service accepts a check for $450 from the Illinois County Association presented by commissioners Vicki Koerber, Bob Elmore and Delbert Wittenauer. (Alan Dooley photo)
Tina Charron of House of Neighborly Service accepts a check for $450 from the Illinois County Association presented by commissioners Vicki Koerber, Bob Elmore and Delbert Wittenauer. (Alan Dooley photo)

Obey the traffic laws, or else. That was the message Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing sent during Monday’s meeting of the Monroe County Board.

These words came as the county and its citizens are still reeling from a fatal crash Feb. 27 on Route 3 in Columbia that killed a mother and injured her six children.

The Facebook group “Citizens Demanding Change on Illinois Route 3, Columbia, Illinois” has accumulated nearly 3,900 members, which Waterloo resident Norah Baker pointed out in a letter to commissioners. Baker called in person for enhancements of Route 3 safety at the start of the March 5 county board meeting, and her husband, Chris, delivered her hard copy letter Monday.

Of particular concerns to Baker are the Route 3 intersections of Caring Way near the YMCA and also Hanover Road.

“Anyone who has kids with activities at the YMCA or on Hanover Road knows just how dangerous it is to have to turn left onto Route 3,” Baker’s letter states. “I believe a stoplight installed at the YMCA would not only increase the safety of YMCA patrons, but would also help decrease congestion and increase the safety of the Hanover Road intersection as well.”

While some have noted Route 3 is a state highway and the Illinois Department of Transportation is reluctant to do anything that slows traffic flows, commissioner Vicki Koerber assured Baker, “IDOT is not an enemy. They are partners in a collaborative effort.”

Rohlfing and commissioners noted that lights are timed along Route 3 in Columbia and Waterloo to allow drivers moving 45 miles per hour to efficiently pass through with a series of green lights at that speed. And they will do so safely if all pay attention and follow laws.

Rohlfing said Illinois State Police, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department and Columbia police are patrolling the stretch of Route 3 between Columbia and Waterloo with much greater intensity, and their presence will continue to grow in the coming days and weeks.

The county is going after a state grant to help defray costs of added overtime for deputies.

“We are focusing on blocks of time during heavy use hours — there are some 30,000 vehicles traveling that stretch every weekday,” Rohlfing said, “and around holidays.”

“We are watching for speeders, drivers ignoring or running arterials, those failing to wear seat belts, those texting, others who may be inebriated, or who are just simply driving inattentively,” he said. “And we are also watching for drivers who are not following all rules around school buses.”

In another MCSD operations, Rohlfing said his department has recently received $44,000 from DEA drug stops, ringing the total for the past 18 months to about $100,000.

“And there are some more large amounts in the pipeline,” he added.

This money must be focused on drug enforcement and can pay for salaries or equipment.

Also at the meeting, Monroe County State’s Attorney Chris Hitzemann accompanied Angela Berry and Traci James from Call for Help.  Berry and James introduced the group, which focuses on support for victims of sexual assault and other crimes, during the March 5 meeting.

They returned Monday to advance their group’s message that victims have a hard time getting people to listen to them.  They noted that sexual assaults and related crimes are some of the only kind in which it is the victims who are questioned intensively first. Victims often have difficulty gaining belief. This is especially true for juvenile victims, who may be told by adults that nothing really happened, they said.

To support this issue, the women reported a planned event requesting the community to take a pledge to “Start By Believing.” The event tales place 2 p.m. Sunday, April 15, at the courthouse.

Hitzemann came to show his solidarity with the effort. He will present a proclamation during the event.

Call For Help has a new office at 219A W. Mill Street in Waterloo.

Tina Charron, who heads daily operations at House of Neighborly Service, accepted a check for $450 from the Illinois County Association, presented via the commissioners. Charron amazed commissioners with the broad sweep of services provided by HONS, including providing 400 food baskets last Christmas and helping disabled and elderly citizens with minor home repairs.

She noted HONS has no paid employees but depends instead on volunteers for all it does.

Monroe County EMS Director Carla Heise received authorization to draft a check for $145,975 to pay for a soon-to-arrive four-wheel drive ambulance that will offer added capability in rural areas. 

Monroe County Emergency Management Agency Director Ryan Weber provided an inventory of equipment provided for emergency operations by the St. Louis Area Regional Response System.  The organization provides equipment useful in emergency situations like flooding and large fires, such as generators, sandbagging machinery and trucks.

Commissioners told Weber to carefully scrutinize each item requested, because maintenance costs are borne by the county.  Weber said the value of items obtained through STARRS totaled some $757,000.

University of Illinois Extension Director Pam Jacobs presented a detailed lease agreement for the year, which continues to house the extension in the county annex building. The agreed terms are the same for the new year, at $32,122 per annum. Jacobs was assured by Monroe County Board Chairman Bob Elmore that remodeling and rehabilitation of the facilities will move forward shortly.

Monroe County Engineer Aaron Metzger received approval to enter into an agreement with the engineering firm, Thouvenaut, Wade & Moerchen, to conduct a study of traffic congestion and air quality at the Route 3/Hanover Road intersection.

The study will examine the feasibility of adding a right turn lane on Hanover Road entering Route 3 southbound.  The study is limited to a cost of not more than $10,000.

Monroe County Economic Development Corporation executive director Edie Koch and Keith Moran, President of Moran Economic Development, came to seek board concurrence with plans to seek state approval for an economic enterprise zone that would span across Monroe and Randolph counties.

Enterprise zones are areas in which policies are implemented to encourage economic growth and development. These policies generally include tax concessions for a time period, infrastructure incentives, and reduced regulations to attract investments and private companies into the zones, Koch and Moran explained.

They are not, Moran assured, tax increment financing areas, although they can overlay such areas.

The commissioners learned that the zones are limited to 15 square miles, and that plans for this one would stretch it from Columbia to Chester along Route 3.

St. Clair County has five such zones.

Koch and Moran are talking to local mayors to secure community support, which will be essential to the plan, and the commissioners said they would pledge support for Monroe County.

Potential participating applicants might include the two counties, Columbia, Waterloo, Valmeyer, Chester, Sparta, Evansville and Red Bud. Thirteen zones are slated to be added in 2019, and eight more in 2020, to the existing 97 in Illinois, commissioners learned.

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