County talks zoning, UTVs, CNAs

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A rezoning request for a proposed wedding venue in rural Columbia that was set to go before the Monroe County Board on Monday was put off for now. 

The commissioners were scheduled to decide whether to allow rezoning for a property at 1439 Centerville Road in Columbia. The building is currently zoned for agricultural purposes, but owners Greg and Melinda Meyer want to rezone it for business use so they can open a wedding venue at the location. 

That has been met with some pushback from nearby residents, who expressed concerns about issues including increased traffic. 

The residents also contacted the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency with concerns related to the impact the business would have on the Stemler Cave System and surrounding areas. 

Now, the Meyers must conduct an environmental study. While the county is waiting for that, it removed the item from its agenda. 

“Our parcel has had this study done by others eight times in the last 10 years and has always passed, so it’s just a delay,” Greg Meyer said. “We are fine with it. We want to do it right.” 

Monday’s meeting began with concerned citizens expressing their opinions about the proposed wedding venue.

After the public comments, Monroe County Commissioner Ron Schultheis clarified some of the discussion points. 

One of the speakers claimed Schultheis’ brother was a general  contractor for the Meyers, but Schultheis stated that his brother has done work for the Meyers as a laborer, not as a contractor.

“(My brother) has worked for Mr. Meyer in a per-hour job,” Schultheis said.

Schultheis also expressed displeasure at the fact one of the speakers was not a Monroe County resident.

Another item of concern that was not on the agenda is the upcoming decision about UTV usage on county roads in Valmeyer.

Monroe County Highway Department Engineer Aaron Metzger gave commissioners more information about the addendum to Valmeyer’s recent ordinance allowing UTVs on village streets.

Metzger said the “Route 156 hill” on the south end of new Valmeyer that connects the village to the old town is not included in this addendum.

“Woodland Ridge is the big one” that will need to be considered, Metzger said, referring to the street on the north end of Valmeyer that connects to Bluff Road in the bottoms.

The county board is expected to vote on the addendum, which would allow UTVs on county roads, at the next meeting on Oct. 7.

Monroe County Clerk and Recorder Jonathan McLean gave commissioners information about a fee increase for recordings such as deeds and plats.

According to McLean, the fees were increased previously, but a “predictable fee” bill from the Illinois General Assembly forced his office to revert to the old fee scale, which has since not been acted on again.

The fee increase, which needs to be read into the record before being voted on at the next meeting, would increase recording fees by $13. A total of $3 would be used for a document storage fee.

“We are the safeguard for all documents,” McLean said, adding the extra money would be used in part for cyber-security measures.

“If our records are lost or destroyed, no one can buy or sell property in the county,” McLean said.  

After McLean’s report, Oak Hill administrator Kim Keckritz discussed the state of the nursing home. 

“Recruitment and retention are our biggest problem,” Keckritz said, noting that expenses for staffing have increased due to overtime pay and bonuses for nurses who take extra shifts.

To help alleviate the issue, Oak Hill Director of Corporate Compliance Rachel Giffhorn will be partnering with Career Center of Southern Illinois to create an on-site CNA program at Oak Hill. 

Waterloo High School had been hosting a CCSI course, but has suspended the program due to low enrollment.

Keckritz is hopeful the Oak Hill program will help with staffing woes.

“When staff are developed in-house, it helps retention,” Keckritz said, adding that the program will work will with the transition from staff in the care attendant program who want to become CNAs.

Giffhorn is optimistic the program will be a success, noting that the schedule is conducive to attracting students as well as other candidates who are interested in the program.

The two-month course will be held three nights a week from 3-7 p.m.

The course, which was approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health, is expected to begin its inaugural run around the first week of November.

The fee for the course being covered by the nursing home for current employees.

The first class will have a maximum of 16 students, which Giffhorn says will be a good starting point.

Both Keckritz and Giffhorn anticipate CNA course graduates to continue employment at Oak Hill, citing the current employees who are also attending LPN courses at CCSI.

Commissioner Vicki Koerber said she was “very proud” of Keckritz and Giffhorn for establishing the CNA course at Oak Hill.

Another recently implemented element of staff retention is online continued education and compliance courses through the Relias Academy web-based training site.

“We currently have 394 in-services completed through Relias interactive courses,” Giffhorn said, explaining that employees enjoy the format and flexibility of the program.

 Near the end of the meeting, commissioners discussed the possibility of installing handrails and benches on the sidewalk on the west side of the courthouse, referring to comments about the grade of the path and its effect on handicapped and elderly visitors.

The commissioners addressed the west entrance of the courthouse as the only feasible location for the metal detector, which has increased foot traffic on the sidewalk leading to the doors.

“A bench or two would be helpful,” Schultheis said, also acknowledging some would benefit from handrail assistance.

McLean suggested adding benches near the building might also deter cigarette smokers who smoke too close to the entrance.

The meeting closed with an update on tree removal and trimming in the courthouse square. One tree has already been removed and trimming and pruning has begun.

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