County talks disaster relief, prevention

Monroe County Farm Bureau Manager Erin Dierkes was on hand at Monday’s County Board meeting to present a plaque of thanks to commissioners for approving a “pro-agriculture” resolution last month. Pictured, from left, are Commissioner George Green, Dierkes, Commissioner Dennis Knobloch and Commissioner Vicki Koerber.

The Monroe County Board had an agenda full of updates Monday morning, and the most potentially impactful in the near future for residents may have been the briefest.

Monroe County Public Safety Director Kevin Scheibe reported Monroe County, along with 18 other Illinois counties, were approved at the state level for public assistance in the amount of $968,142 per a submitted preliminary damage assessment related to the June 30 storm which affected Columbia and surrounding area.   

Scheibe said state and federal funds are not officially secured as a result of Gov. JB Pritzker approving the requests, but he is optimistic the recovery funds will be approved by President Joe Biden. 

“We were approved for the next step,” Scheibe explained. “There are several steps, but this is the biggest step.”

If approved at the federal level, business and private property owners affected by the storm are then eligible to receive reimbursement for storm related damages.

Another group to address the board has the goal of preventing disasters in the county.

Monroe County Engineer Aaron Metzger and John Conrad, Bruce Brinkman and Chuck Etwert of the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District were on hand to deliver an annual report.

The regional district was formed in 2009 and is responsible for flood mitigation efforts in Madison, St. Clair and northern Monroe County.

While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for levees in Illinois, Conrad explained the local flood prevention district is tasked with controlling seepage, primarily through use of pump stations, relief wells and berms. 

Etwert said the passage of Illinois’ “Level the Playing Field Act” in 2021 has given the district a budget boost, leading to the first authorized project for the Monroe County branch of the district, a project near Fish Lake in Columbia which he expects to begin next year.

Shari Kruep, administor of county-owned senior care and rehabilitation center Oak Hill, also presented  her monthly report Monday morning.

Kruep reported that a recent COVID-19 outbreak among several residents is over, with no current residents testing positive for the virus.

She added a small number of employees either currently have or recently tested positive, although severity for all residents and employees were mild, similar to seasonal allergy symptoms.

She also reported there are minimal vacancies in the facility, although she noted turnover has been greater recently.

Kruep also told commissioners Oak Hill is working on a new logo which will include the words “Monroe County Nursing Home.”

She explained the move is designed to clear up any confusion about the nature of the facility.

Monroe County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Edie Koch was next on the agenda.

Koch gave commissioners a roundup of recent and upcoming projects, including work with the Southwestern Illinois Development Authority and Monroe-Randolph County Enterprise Zone and work on an economic recovery plan. 

The main priority of the corporation in the near future will be development related to the upcoming I-255 interchange near Dupo, Koch said.

A late amendment to the agenda involved the county’s probation department.

Managing probation officer Courtney Schweickhardt was joined by 24th Circuit Chief Judge Daniel Emge and Assistant Chief Judge Chris Hitzemann to discuss commissioner approval of state-required administrative paperwork for the department. 

Emge explained the process had been handled in St. Clair County when it was in the same judicial circuit as Monroe County, and the requirements were waived last year due to the recent creation of this new 24th Circuit.

Monday’s meeting also marked the first use of an audio/visual system in the courthouse meeting room. The upgrade had been planned for some time, but was not implemented due to a delay in equipment delivery.

The next meeting of the Monroe County Board is Tuesday, Sept. 5, beginning at 8:15 a.m.

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Scott Woodsmall

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