County talks protest, COVID-19

The Monroe County Board discussed Saturday’s peaceful protest, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and finances during its Monday meeting. 

Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing told commissioners the county and city made preparations for any contingency, but said the protest on Mill Street near the courthouse was conducted in a peaceful manner. 

Asked if any additional costs were incurred, he said about  $8,000 to $10,000. was used for overtime by city and county and personnel from outside law enforcement agencies.  

Monroe County EMS also had a second emergency response vehicle crewed and ready if it had been needed, EMS director Carla Heise said. 

Retiring Oak Hill Director Kim Keckritz and her successor, Brian Koontz,  updated commissioners on activities at the county-run senior facility. They noted that the entire facility – staff and residents – was tested for COVID-19 on Friday.

Keckritz said 400 tests were conducted. Of 240 staff, all but one was present for the tests. To date, Keckritz said, zero residents have tested positive for the virus, with three staff members having been confirmed as having had before the facility-wide tests and three more after the tests for a total of 6. The three new positives were asymptomatic and two are part-time workers. 

Eight staff persons have resigned due to their virus concerns, she added.

Koontz said a COVID isolation unit is set up at Oak Hill if needed.  

He and Keckritz said they are continuing to see “window visits,” and Magnolia Terrace residents are now able to venture outside, two at a time on schedules, to walk in fresh air, but still not in large groups.

Monroe County Treasurer Kevin Koenigstein provided his semi-annual financial report for the six months of the fiscal year that started Dec. 1.  Koenigstein noted several unpredicted issues arising from the COVID-19 reduction of business activities and personal spending due to the virus. 

He listed $1,432,237.94 in fiscal year 2019 real estate taxes collected between Dec. 1 and May 31, with a total of $2,850,768.95 in revenues coming in for that same period. Despite uncertainties from COVID-19, total revenues to date are running quite close to their pace in 2019.

But uncertainties are clouding the future picture.

Koenigstein said sales tax revenues have fallen during the pandemic.  He explained, for example, food from grocery stores is taxed at a much lower rate than the same food in meals in restaurants.  Gasoline at lower cost per gallon and lower usage rates is also generating lesser amounts.  

He cited figures for the countywide sales tax for the months of March over the last four years as an example of the problem.  March 2017 generated $74,000, March 2018 resulted in $76,000, March 2019 saw $80,000, but this March 2020 saw just $67,000.

He also said it was impossible to know the pandemic’s impact on state income taxes because the tax year has been extended to from April 15 to July 15. 

“And staff reductions in Springfield are making processing those returns difficult to predict as well,” he added.

Staffing issues in Springfield may also hold up issuance of this year’s property tax bills, Koenigstein added.

“Hopefully, we will have property tax bills in the mail by Labor Day (Sept. 7) but we just cannot know for sure now,” he concluded.

Heise received authorization for Monroe County EMS to enter into an agreement with Memorial Hospital to gain use of Memorial’s computer patient record and reporting service at an annual cost of $3,457.38.  The system uses software to help record and share patient information to help ensure better medical outcomes for ill and injured persons transported by ambulance.

Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner gave a COVID-19 update, saying the county recorded no new positive tests for five days until two in the same family on Sunday. 

He said area hospitalizations are up slightly, noting that is a factor in determining how soon the region may be able to transition to Phase 4  of the recovery.  

“We know that as things open up, the numbers of positive tests and hospitalizations will also rise,” he said. “It’s still out there and people will continue to get it.”

If predictions that recent protests are going to cause a spike in illnesses and hospitalizations are right, the region could see that soon, he noted. 

“But more experts are appearing to be  wrong than right,” he said.  

A request for a flood plain variance was approved for Sean Koch of Prairie du Rocher for property at 1229 Bluff Road.  The variance allows him to install a grain bin on this land where he farms.

The following reappointments were approved: Bruce Brinkman, of Valmeyer to the Monroe County Flood Prevention District, and Joy Vogt and Barbara Wagner, both of Waterloo, to the Monroe County Board of Health.

Dennis Rodenberg of Fults was appointed to the Board of Appeals and Chad Grohmann of Waterloo was appointed to the 9-1-1 Emergency Telephone System Board, replacing Timothy Fahey, who has resigned.

The next county board meeting will take place in the old courtroom of the courthouse at 8:15 a.m. Monday, July 6. Meetings are open to the public.  

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Alan Dooley

Alan is a photojournalist -- he both shoots pictures and writes for the R-T. A 31-year Navy vet, he has lived worldwide, but with his wife Sherry, calls a rambling house south of Waterloo home. Alan counts astronomy as a hobby and is fascinated by just about everything scientific.
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