County talks levees, funds, vaccines

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The Monroe County Commissioners heard about more levee issues facing the bottoms during their regular meeting Monday morning.   

Speaking for the Columbia Drainage & Levee District, Brian Mehrtens’ comments echoed problems cited two weeks earlier by the Stringtown, Harrisonville and Fort Chartres & Ivy Drainage and Levee Districts at the last county board meeting earlier this month.

In addition to problems potentially affecting Columbia’s 137 relief wells, similar to those shared with the three districts to the south, Mehrtens noted other costly repair and replacement issues.  They include restoring electrical controls for a flood water pumping station and replacing air compressors. He also said he is having trouble finding commercial repair firms to assist in a timely manner, and like the other districts, said work may cost a lot more than Columbia’s annual budget of $100,000.

Monroe County Board Chairman Vicki Koerber urged Mehrtens to compile a report citing these issues and get it to the board by July 1 so it can be submitted for possible Federal Recovery Funds.

Monroe County State’s Attorney Lucas Liefer discussed an issue with the Federal Recovery Funds, noting they must be expended for specifically defined uses or they can potentially be called back even after they are spent.  

He said the process is also changing as it goes forward, and strongly recommended that the county hire a legal firm that specializes in overseeing such programs. Liefer estimated the cost could be as high as $100,000 but said if his office were to assume the burden internally, that would require hiring an additional attorney to help carry out existing work in support of the courts.  

He also said that even that expenditure would be prudent to protect the $6.7 million Monroe County expects to receive. 

Commissioner Dennis Knobloch noted the importance of identifying a firm with specific skills in this area. Liefer said he would conduct the search and come back to the board with a recommendation.

Monroe County Engineer Aaron Metzger said the county has received $210,000 in federal and state funds from the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Fund to complete work on the sidewalk and bike trail loop on Route 3, Country Club Lane and HH Road.

Monroe County Treasurer Kevin Koenigstein updated commissioners with his semi-annual report detailing revenues collected and expenses. A positive highlight was the first-ever receipt of more than $100,000 for a month of quarter of 1 percent countywide sales taxes, with $106,613.42 coming in for April payable in June.

This has typically been $80,000 to 90,000 for a month. 

“It may be prices being up, or people may simply be spending more,” Koenigstein said, adding he saw no “red flags” for 2021. “We should see a positive cash flow for the year.”

The property tax process is currently on a path to see tax bills being determined, printed, and sent by Labor Day, but several steps, including in Springfield, still remain.

He reminded commissioners the budget process for fiscal year 2022 should start in September and urged them to include that in their plans.

Oak Hill Administrator Brian Koontz reported that the last unvaccinated resident at the senior living facility is scheduled for their injections and this will bring the facility’s residents to 100 percent vaccinated.  He also said 70 percent of Oak Hill staff is now vaccinated and there have been no new positive test results in either group since January.

Koontz also cited staffing problems, especially in the CNA area where current pay is being matched by other easier job types.  

Monroe County Health Department Director John Wagner said COVID vaccinations are offered at his office on Jamie Lane in Waterloo on Thursdays, and citizens are also getting free COVID vaccinations at local pharmacies.

He said the county is experiencing reports of only one or two new cases per day – including a couple of the new Brazilian variant. That type appears more contagious, he said, but vaccines also appear to be effective.

Concerning vaccines, Wagner said learning of vaccinated people being found to test positive should not make people refuse to be vaccinated. 

“No vaccine is 100 percent effective, but they can reduce impacts and are in fact at least 95 percent effective. Get vaccinated,” he emphasized.  

An ordinance changing the boundary between election precincts 22 and 23 was passed.  This does not impact any residents.  Other precinct changes will be implemented after final 10-year census numbers are finalized, as there are no elections in the intervening time.

A resolution appointed Mike Kovarik of Columbia to a five-year term to the Board of Appeals starting July 2, replacing Michael G. Conrad, who has resigned. Another resolution reappointed Russell Gregson of Waterloo, also to a five-year term on the Board of Appeals.

Three reappointments to the Monroe County Board of Health were approved.  Barbara Wegner of Waterloo was reappointed for a one-year term.  Polly Muehlberg and Lori R. Trost of Columbia were reappointed for three-year terms.

The Monroe County Board will next meet in regular session at 8:15 a.m., July 5 at the courthouse. 

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