New pagers for fire departments

It’s all systems go for local fire departments since a new set of pagers have been activated.

Monroe County Public Safety Director Kevin Scheibe during Monday’s meeting of the Monroe County Board of Commissioners reported 140 800-series pagers have been delivered and programmed for use by all fire departments operating in the county as of March 27.

“This helps everyone,” Scheibe said. “The departments now have coverage in areas they’ve never gotten (pages) before.”

In November, Scheibe told commissioners a problem was discovered with the county’s UHF/VHF-based fire paging system which prevented some areas from receiving notification of service requests. 

He initially believed the problem could be fixed for about $20,000, but learned the issues with the 20-year-old equipment would require about $230,000 in repairs.

Commissioners subsequently approved an expenditure of $83,700 to purchase pagers for local fire departments.

The departments will reimburse the county $40,000 of the cost with the rest of the funding coming from American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Scheibe did say the purchase exceeded the approved amount by a little over $1,000 due to a software purchase needed to allow the Monroe County Emergency Management Agency program the pagers.   

In addition to reducing paging delays, the new paging system “saves all the fire departments money,” Scheibe said Monday.

Also during the meeting, Monroe County Engineer Aaron Metzger asked commissioners to approve a letter of support to increase funding to the state’s Township Bridge Program.

The program uses funds from the state motor fuel tax program to fund local bridge repair projects. 

Metzger noted the current portion of the tax – $15 million annually – has been the same amount since the program was introduced in 1979 despite a nearly 300 percent increase in inflation and other price indices since that time.

House Bill 2781 would increase the annual bridge program disbursement to $60 million.

Commissioners voted to provide a letter of support, with Commissioner Vicki Koerber commenting she would “absolutely support” any bill which would provide a method to channel statewide motor fuel funds to a more local level in light of the nearly 40-cent difference between Illinois and Missouri average fuel costs.

Metzger will deliver the letter to State Rep. David Friess (R-Red Bud) and State Sen. Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro).

Commissioners also OK’d a resolution to approve preliminary engineering for the Bluff Road Flood Relief Program.

In 2020, Metzger applied for a federal economic development administration grant to raise Bluff Road between Hanover and HH roads. That section of heavily traveled Bluff Road has been subject to flooding several times in recent years by waters from the Mississippi River and Fountain Creek.  

Metzger explained that although the project is “short” of needed funding, the grant is “open indefinitely” and he would like to move forward with engineering and environmental studies as well as possible right-of-way acquisition to be ready if or when the project is fully funded.

He added the engineering cost of $98,051 awarded to Volkert, Inc., would be pulled from the county budget but then reimbursed by the state.

Metzger also reported the Illinois Department of Transportation notified the county the intersection of Route 3 and Hanover Road has been selected for inclusion in IDOT’s Highway Safety Improvement Program. Read more on page 4A.

Also during Monday’s meeting, Koerber thanked Regional Office of Education Superintendent of Schools Kelton Davis for his “prudent” decision to advise early school dismissal on Friday. 

Although the weather system which produced multiple tornadoes in Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas had little impact in Monroe and Randolph counties, Koerber suggested parents who questioned the decision to release students early may have had a different opinion “had it been the reverse” with students in school during a severe weather outbreak.

Kelton thanked local superintendents for their support.

“I work with some very level-headed people,” Kelton said, noting the impact of high winds on school buses and the heavier rains and hail experienced by residents and school districts in the Bottoms area and closer to the Mississippi River.

During the March 20 meeting, Monroe County Treasurer Kevin Koenigstein delivered a roundup of the county’s financial status through the first quarter of the current fiscal year.

County revenue was reported at 24.8 percent of budgeted projections with expenses coming in at 21 percent, which Koenigstein said was a “positive” for the quarter.

Also of note, Koenigstein said monthly interest income in Fiscal Year 2023 is exceeding the total interest gained in the prior fiscal year due to a significant increase in interest rates during the past six months.

Oak Hill Administrator Shari Kruep also updated commissioners during the March 20 meeting. Kruep said the county-owned nursing home and rehabilitation center was COVID-free and has resumed resident activities. 

Oak Hill also hosted a staff and family Easter Egg hunt April 2.

Kruep also reported the continued use of temporary staffing agencies to fill required nursing shifts continues to cause a significant increase in expenses.

The next board meeting will be held at the Monroe County Courthouse on April 17 beginning at 8:15 a.m.

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Scott Woodsmall

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