County set to OK budget

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The Monroe County Board held a special meeting Nov. 9 at the courthouse to review a tentative budget for the coming fiscal year that begins Dec. 1.

Specific items and questions were presented by personnel from Bellwether Advantage, a Bloomington firm hired to assist the county in the budget process.

The 2021 budget approved by the board is projected to be balanced, with total revenues of $8,895,024 dollars exceeding anticipated expenses of $8,794,025. Soon-to-retire Monroe County Board Chairman Bob Elmore said he was pleased to be finishing his term with a balanced budget.

Revenues will come from a combination of property taxes for private and commercial property across the county, fees, state and federal grants, and shared segments of state sales and income taxes. Expenses will include salaries for county employees and operating expenses and equipment purchases in the coming year.

For the coming fiscal year, Monroe County is estimating it will have $407,565 more in revenue and $442,383 more in expenses compared to fiscal year 2020. That comes after projected revenues and expenses were down, the latter by almost $1 million, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The budget document actually makes it appear that the 2020 budget – which was slated to be in the black by $135,821 – is now predicted to be in the red by $1,381,190.

That is not the case, though, because Bellwether Advantage simply did not have access to the county’s property tax revenue yet, which is over $2.5 million.

“Those numbers will be there, they’re just not done yet,” Monroe County Treasurer Kevin Koenigstein said. “Once that gets out the door, it should turn it back positive.”

For next year, the largest expense is once again the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, which is requesting $195,955 more this year compared to last. That increase will help pay for about $60,000 in increases to deputy salaries and almost $37,000 more in full-time clerk salaries, according to the budget numbers.

The MCSD is also cutting costs in some areas, lowering its expected maintenance costs by approximately $10,000 and eliminating nearly $16,000 for part-time clerks.

The budget for the courthouse and jail – which the sheriff’s department maintains – are going up $19,000 to $383,000.

Another notable increase is the county commissioners budget rising a little over $100,000 because Oak Hill Senior Living & Rehabilitation Administrator Brian Koontz’s salary is included in that fund. The salary was previously paid from the county’s Oak Hill budget. 

A related matter discussed at the special meeting was the process of property assessments and making sure they are completed in a timely manner so that revenues from real estate taxes can be received to efficiently finance expenses for the coming fiscal year.

A copy of the 46-page budget is posted on the bulletin board outside the county clerk’s office in the courthouse for public review before a final vote for approval is taken at 9:30 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 24. The budget can also be viewed online at republictimes.net.

During the regular county board meeting Monday morning, commissioners heard updates from Oak Hill and multiple department heads.

Koontz summarized to-date numbers, noting 66 Oak Hill residents have tested positive for COVID in total and 14 have died.  Noting that even one death is too many, Koontz said the casualty rate of 21 percent is very low for a nursing facility with many residents with pre-existing issues, including age. 

Koontz added that Oak Hill has been contacted by several St. Louis area hospitals asking them to take in some of their increasing load of non-critical COVID patients.

“I am weighing those requests,” he said, “but as of now, I am reluctant to do so. We have not been able to bring in new persons from the county, and barring a regional crisis, I think our first duty is to our own citizens. That is what we are here for.”

Oak Hill is planning to build an indoor-outdoor visiting area at a sliding door in the facility. Family members would be isolated in a weather protected, plexiglass booth outside while residents could be seated inside but close to their visitors. It would not allow physical contact, but would be better than viewing each other through a closed window, Koontz said.

“We are doing everything in our power to help ensure that as much of the joy, warmth and happiness that is so important still comes to our residents,” he concluded.

Monroe County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Edie Koch, Multi-Modal Enterprises Vice President Mary Lamie and East-West Gateway Council of Governments Executive Director Jim Wild updated commissioners on multiple efforts to upgrade business infrastructure and to market sites identified for industrial development.  

Regional interstate freight handling and movement sites noted include the Fish Lake interchange at I-255 and Ramsey Road near Dupo and the Kaskaskia Regional Port District.

Non-interstate corridors being studied include Bluff Road between Route 156 and Hanover Road; Route 3 between the Monroe-Randolph county line and I-255; and Route 156 between Bluff Road and Route 3. 

Within that non-interstate area, the following were identified as featured sites for industrial development: 124 acres on the west side of Route 3 north of Hanover Road, 56.65 acres on the east side of Route 3 north of Hanover Road, 41 acres on Bixby Road at I-255 near Columbia, 122 acres west of Route 3 at Gall Road in Waterloo and 13 acres on Westgate Drive near Route 3 in Columbia.

The commissioners agreed to meet with representatives of the group to discuss possible county funding support.

Commissioners also approved two flood plain variances presented by Chris Voelker. They are to replace a pole barn destroyed in an August storm on Kerry Krueger’s property at 2505 Bottom Road, and to add a pole barn on Kurt Killy’s property at 1525 Herbst Road.

Finally, the board appointed Jason Embrich, Columbia to the Fish Lake Drainage and Levee District #8 to replace Gary Stumpf, who has resigned.

The next regular county board meeting is 8:15 a.m. Monday, Dec. 7 at the courthouse.

To view the proposed budget, click here.

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