The Monroe County Board conducted its first-ever “virtual meeting” Monday in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Board chairman Bob Elmore met from his home, Commissioner Vicki Koerber and several county employees met in the Emergency Management Agency office in the courthouse, while still more, including media, remained at home.
All were connected by computers or telephones. While minor challenges emerged as the meeting began, it went forward on schedule.
Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner called in and updated virus numbers, saying an 11th county resident – a woman in her 50s – had been diagnosed with the disease Sunday.
He said his office was tracking contacts with people testing positive, a number he cited as about 100 at this time. Wagner urged people with any symptoms pointing to a possible infection to wear masks. He urged residents to go alone to necessary businesses to limit exposures and to maintain safe distances.
Monroe County Emergency Management Agency Director Ryan Weber addressed how the county is meeting needs of nursing homes and first responders for personal protective equipment – masks, gloves and protective clothing covers. He noted that this responsibility is now being focused through county government offices such as this county’s EMA.
In a related matter, a Proclamation of Disaster for Monroe County was extended to ensure available resources continue to flow as necessary into the future.
When Wagner and Weber finished their parts in the meeting, Koerber praised Kevin Scheibe, Wagner, Weber, all first responders as well as dispatchers, who are often the first people to deal with calls for information and advice. Her praise was immediately seconded by Elmore.
Monroe County Clerk Jonathan McLean added praise for his staff for their work that is keeping up with all the documentation of items such as real estate and financing transactions. He said they are pushing attorneys, realtors and banks to make swift changes to digital document submission versus the former paper-based system. Many, he reported, have expressed amazement at how quickly his staff is handling these matters.
Edie Koch, Executive Director of the Monroe County Illinois Economic Development Corporation, briefed commissioners on a swiftly emerging program by the Illinois Department of Commerce to assist small businesses impacted by COVID-19. Funds are being made available under what is termed the Downstate Small Business Stabilization Grant. She reported amounts of up to $25,000 are being made available to businesses being distressed by the pandemic. In return for the support, employers must retain employees and remain in business or reopen if they have been declared non-essential and closed temporarily.
Applications would be subject to public hearings in a to-be-determined manner. After approval at that level, money would have to flow from the state through the county and then to the businesses.
“This is not a single answer” to challenges small businesses are facing, Koch said. Other grants and loan forgiveness programs are moving forward on parallel paths.
In other business, Monroe County Engineer Aaron Metzger said a contractor had been selected to conduct asphalt pavement overlay work on Country Club Lane and Rogers Street. Three bids were received for the work, estimated at costing $285,456.40, with the winning bid being submitted by Christ Brothers Asphalt of Lebanon. Metzger said the work could begin as early as next week. Motor fuel tax funds would be used to pay for the project, he said.
He noted work in his area is going forward, with precautions to limit potential exposure to the virus, including limiting the number of people working in the courthouse office and limiting engineering department vehicles to occupancy by one person at a time.
Metzger also stood in for the zoning office to discuss a request by the village of Prairie du Rocher to erect a sign at the intersection of Kaskaskia Hill and Bluff Road inviting people to visit the historic community.
The request, to erect a 4-by-4-foot sign, was discussed with respect to regulations about such signage before it was approved.
Finally, the growth of the human resources office from one to two persons was discussed and it was decided to move that office to the courthouse ground floor near the circular drive door into the space currently occupied by the economic development office.
The office’s current occupant, Edie Koch, will move to the current HR space on the second floor.
The next county board meeting will be conducted Monday, April 20 at 8:15 a.m. It is slated to be conducted virtually again.