Out with the 2010s

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As this decade comes to a close, many people are taking time to reflect on what happened in their lives. 

The Republic-Times asked a few people to do the same for key fields in the county. 

Experts in agriculture, law enforcement, education, business and the nonprofit sector considered some of the trends and changes that defined the decade. 

Agriculture

In a county probably best known for agriculture, dairy farmer Mike Henry said the industry continued to evolve in the 2010s. 

“Times are just getting tougher,” the Red Bud farmer said. “If you add inflation, what we get paid for milk today is less than they got paid in the ‘70s. So you have to be able to do it on a much more efficient scale.” 

Henry, who is a member of the Monroe County Farm Bureau, said the same goes for crop producers he has spoken to. 

“They’re getting almost the same for their product now as they did 25 years ago,” he said. “There hasn’t been that big of a change in price.” 

Another aspect of farming that has changed in the last decade, according to Henry, is the public’s increased influence on the industry via organizations like the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Even with these changes, Henry said the decade has been kind to farmers overall. 

“As long as you use technology and stay ahead of the curve, you’ll do fine in agriculture,” he said. “But you have to stay ahead of the times and do whatever it takes to keep the general public happy, which costs more money.” 

He said he expects the industry to continue along its current course in the next decade. 

He said crop producers “seem to be optimistic,” though he predicted more livestock farmers will move to less-populated areas to avoid headaches caused by the public complaining. 

Law enforcement

“Our county has grown, and with growth there can be a lot of problems.” 

That is how Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing explained trends he has seen in law enforcement in the last 10 years. 

Across the county, Rohlfing said police departments have gotten busier, with the calls for service of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department and Valmeyer Police Department virtually doubling from 2010 to 2019. 

Columbia and Waterloo’s police departments have also seen increased calls for service. 

While many of those calls may result in only minor incidents, Rohlfing said drug-related crimes are on the rise. 

In 2010, for example, the MCSD had zero arrests for possession of methamphetamine. This year, that number is already at 29 arrests. Similarly, possession of a controlled substance cases went from one at the beginning of this decade to 21 this year. 

Rohlfing said other law enforcement agencies in the county have seen similar increases. 

To combat those increasing numbers, Rohlfing said his department has taken a more proactive approach to policing. 

“If you don’t keep that in check, that can dramatically change the way of life for everybody,” Rohlfing said of drug crimes, noting property crimes and jail incidents often rise simultaneously. 

Other law enforcement agencies have taken a similar approach on issues they face, with Rohlfing highlighting the work the Columbia Police Department has done to make Route 3 safer. 

Thanks in large part to those kinds of efforts, Rohlfing said the 2010s have been “very positive for (citizens’) quality of life.” 

For that to continue, Rohlfing said lawmakers must continue to give police enough resources to deal with issues

Specifically, Rohlfing said the legalization of cannabis in Illinois on Jan. 1 may define the 2020s for law enforcement. 

“Our next major challenge for Monroe County will be the legalization of marijuana,” he predicted. “It’s not going to be some large scale thing that’s going to overcome us, but there’s going to be some challenges with that.” 

Education

In education, Regional Superintendent of Schools Kelton Davis called the 2010s the “age of accountability.” 

Davis said educators have had to cope with various political initiatives like No Child Left Behind, the Every Student Succeeds Act and Learning Standards with Common Core. 

At the state level, lawmakers  passed legislation that intensified performance evaluation of educators and reduced the retirement benefits of teachers in the last 10 years. 

“Combined with changes in licensure that significantly increased requirements to be a teacher and/or administrator, Illinois was positioned to see the greatest impact from the nation’s teacher shortage,” Davis recounted. “The teacher shortage in Illinois is real and very significant.” 

Davis said schools have also increased their attention on safety, students’ mental health and college and career readiness, with a particular recent focus on jobs requiring skilled labor.

Many of those topics will continue to require educators’ efforts in the years to come. 

 “Our bucolic communities are not immune to all these issues and our teachers, administrators and support staff have worked hard and continue to work hard to address these and many other challenges facing education such as increased and unfunded mandates,” Davis said. “We are proud of our schools, which is to say we are proud of our educators and their dedication to our children and our communities.” 

Business

While growth can bring problems, it can also bring more business. 

That was the case over the last 10 years, according to Jim Hill, who is on the board of directors for the Monroe County Illinois Economic Development Corporation. 

Hill pointed to the growth of Rock City in Valmeyer, 11 South in Columbia, the Kaskaskia-Cahokia Trail and the tourism it brings, the Kaskaskia Regional Port District and health care businesses as examples of the improved business climate in the county. 

Additionally, he noted Monroe County will soon have an enterprise zone to attract more companies. 

“We’ve got a lot positive going on here in the county,” Hill summarized. 

Hill predicted that will continue in the next decade as the MCEDC continues to retain current businesses and attract new ones. 

“There’s some needs in the service sector, but there’s also some needs for some clean, light industry in the county so we can build up our tax base and provide good wage jobs for citizens,” he explained. “Whatever we do economically, we want to retain the quality character of our county.” 

Hill said residents will also see some of the corporation’s work come to fruition in the near future. 

“We anticipate over the next five years the county seeing a lot of output in products and development from a number of things we’re working on,” he said.

Nonprofit sector

Although agriculture may be the staple of Monroe County, it has also developed a well-deserved reputation in the 2010s for helping the less fortunate, according to House of Neighborly Service Executive Director Tina Charron. 

“We have had an increase in volunteers and a lot more outpouring of support in the community overall,” Charron said. “Monroe Countians support their own.” 

Based on her experience and speaking with individuals in similar positions, Charron said the community has also upped its monetary support and donations of items. 

She said she expects those positive trends to continue into the next decade. 

“We are looking forward to continuing to grow and continuing to make positive changes,” Charron said. 

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