County talks COVID funds

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Monroe County Treasurer Kevin Koenigstein updated commissioners on the status of American Rescue Plan Funds that have reached the county to date during Tuesday’s meeting of the Monroe County Board.

The federal funds are targeted at several challenges, including responding to COVID, racial and other equity issues and restoring  utilities such as providing clean water and sewage treatment.  

The current balance of funds held by Monroe County for these and related purposes is $2,363,000. A second installment of an additional $6,727,000 is slated to arrive in June 2022.

In a related matter, Regional Superintendent of Schools Kelton Davis came to the board to seek money from ARPF to support a short-fused state decree that school’s staffs and students must be vaccinated or tested for COVID on a weekly basis.

The Regional Office of Education watches over education systems in Randolph and Monroe counties. Davis said COVID tests can be administered at schools or a centralized facility and must be sent to Springfield for test results.  

Local schools are electing to do necessary testing at each school.

Davis said the ROE has concluded it will have to hire medical personnel and have a way to send test samples to Springfield on an almost daily basis to meet the mandate. It has identified a Chrysler minivan with removable seats to move people and materials as needed at less cost than hiring transportation to do this. 

In addition, Davis asked for improved air filtration systems for the two ROE offices to help keep employees safer.

The total cost of these moves are slated to be $219,825, of which $70,016 was requested from Monroe County. This request was approved, and the county share will be drawn from an ARPF balance currently held by the county.

Also at the meeting, the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council annual report was presented to commissioners by Chief Supervisor Chuck Etwert and Monroe County Flood Prevention District officers John Conrad, Bruce Brinkmann and Aaron Metzger. The regional district was formed in July 2009 after FEMA threatened to deaccredit the 74-mile levee system protecting Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties from the Mississippi River.  This would have driven property insurances to extremely high, possibly prohibitive rates.  

Etwert noted that, to date, four of five levee systems in the region have been certified by FEMA and the rest of the system is moving ahead to complete necessary certification more than 20 years ahead of initial estimates.  

He said that due to business and sales tax losses, the three-county district had reduced its projected budget from sales taxes from $14 million to $12 million.  But improvement across the region has restored that loss, and in fact, and tax receipts are now projected to exceed the $14 million level this year.

Conrad and Brinkmann focused on Monroe County, with Brinkmann noting possible changes by Congress that could increase flood insurance costs, and efforts to head off any such higher charges.

After hearing the annual reports, the commissioners approved them and noted they stood ready to speak out in support of the groups if asked.  

It is noted that while Monroe County contributes only about 5 percent of the sales taxes that go to the three-county district, it receives some 30 percent of the funds due to the lengthy system of levees in the county.

Monroe County Emergency Management Agency Director Kevin Scheibe received approval for the recently completed Monroe County Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan.  This plan sets in place ways for the county and municipalities to take hazard mitigation steps before natural disasters occur, reducing potential harm and costs to people and property and saving taxpayer dollars.  

Scheibe and his staff started working on the plan in January 2019. Its approval means the plan will now go to the Illinois Emergency Management and FEMA for final approval.

Ed Weilbacher, who heads up the Kaskaskia Regional Port District, received board support for his group’s work to have the Kaskaskia River’s 36 miles from Fayetteville to the Mississippi River designated as a Marine Highway System. It would be designated as the M-3 Marine Highway and promote industrial expansion on the river by enhancing more efficient movement of bulk commodities to and from businesses, such as coiled steel and fly ash and gypsum. 

The commissioners agreed to sign a letter supporting the change to be sent to the U.S. Maritime Administration. 

Weilbacher said he estimates the resulting federal funding share could be as much as $700,000 for development.

The commissioners approved a $30,000 grant for the Monroe County Economic Development Corporation’s annual operating costs. The corporation, headed by Edie Koch, noted the Community Development Block Grant for Route 3 Bar and Grill of Waterloo has been finished, with the business meeting all requirements to continue to remain open and employ people during the pandemic.

The business was assisted by a grant of $24,800 overseen by the county.

Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner updated commissioners on COVID matters, noting the county is seeing a steady number of 20-25 new cases per day. He said, however, there have been zero children currently needing long-term hospital care.  

Schools remain a challenge, he said, with changes to guidance from the state coming with little notice and no thought or plans for consequences.  Wagner said planning for possible third dose vaccine administration is similarly lacking.

Wagner added that the department is currently planning installation of a generator destined to supply emergency power solely to the refrigerators being used to store and preserve COVID vaccines.

The next county board will be at 8:15 a.m. Monday, Sept. 20, in the courthouse.  

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