Census success, bottoms buyout topics for Monroe County Board

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The Monroe County Board learned that its residents were tops in Illinois for self-responding to the 2020 U.S. Census during Monday’s regular meeting at the courthouse.

The count was completed Oct. 15. A total of 82.9 percent of Monroe County residents responded voluntarily, making it unnecessary for census takers to visit their homes.

Not only did Monroe County rank first of 102 counties in Illinois, it ranked 13th of more than 3,000 counties, parishes and other census entities nationwide.

The so-called decennial census is required by the U.S. Constitution every 10 years. It is important for two primary reasons:  It determines distribution of 435 House of Representatives seats in Washington, D.C. – and Illinois will certainly lose one this time.  That, in turn, drives redistricting, or who will represent households in Congress. It also determines the share of federal funds that are distributed annually.

In other news from the meeting, Monroe County Public Safety Director Kevin Scheibe updated commissioners on funding for the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program to compensate citizens for lost property from flooding in 2019.  

The program is intended to allow residents of flooded bottom lands either to sell out property to the county or raise residential structures above flood elevation so if the land floods again, homes will be protected.

Scheibe said 161 Monroe County residents are eligible for buyouts or structure raising, with 49 indicating interest – 36 in being bought out and 13 in raising their homes.

Buyout properties would become property of Monroe County, which would then have to maintain them, but could lease farmland to recoup some costs.  

Residents choosing to stay and raise their homes would be compensated at 75 percent of the cost of doing that. Scheibe emphasized that even those who have indicated interest are not obligated either to sell out or raise their residential structures. They can walk away from the program if they so choose.

He also said the program is lengthy and may take two more years to complete.

Scheibe also said Monroe County has received half of its $476,000 in Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act money, but expects to receive the remainder within the next two weeks. The county is also applying for an additional $150,000 for overtime costs if additional funds become available, he said.

Gene Rohlfing of the Harrisonville Drainage and Levee District came to inform commissioners of difficulties being caused by some farmers on land protected by the levee district. Rohlfing said some farmers are tilling land too close to the interior base of the levee, which can lead to damage from sand boiling during flood periods. The Corps of Engineers restricts such activity within 15 feet of the levee base and the levee district wants to extend that to 20 feet. Rohlfing said it is OK for farmers to grow and harvest grass closer for hay, but not to plow or till the soil. He said the district is attempting to control the tilling by informal discussion, but is considering legal action if that becomes necessary. The commissioners said they support the levee district’s attempts to ensure safety and referred the matter to state’s attorney Lucas Liefer for his advice.He noted that the Army Corps of Engineers requires there be no farming activity within 15 feet of the interior base of levees due to causing possible damage – including sand boiling at river flood elevation periods.

But he said area farmers are continuing to encroach on that limit, mostly growing and harvesting hay.  

Rohlfing said that, to date, the district has tried informal discussions to control the activity but is ready to take legal action if that becomes necessary.  He noted that the Corps of Engineers sees the current activity as “unacceptable.”

The commissioners said they support the levee district’s attempts to ensure safety and referred the matter to Monroe County State’s Attorney Lucas Liefer for advice.

Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution appointing three new members to the Community Mental Health 708 Funding Board.  They are Dr. Sean Lattimore of Waterloo (replacing Dr. Irwin Moore, who is deceased), David C. Eustis of Waterloo (replacing Richard A. Biby) and Andrea Yochum of Columbia (replacing Susy Schweigert).

Finally, Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner updated commissioners on COVID-19 progress, noting the county was receiving about 100 doses of vaccine at a time and vaccination of healthcare workers took place Monday at the fairgrounds. 

He said distribution is being managed to help ensure COVID vaccines are being administered evenly statewide. He said as distribution ramps up, Monroe County can administer up to 4,000 doses per day.

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