Tax bills, police hires, cell tower topics for county

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Newly promoted and hired Monroe County Sheriff’s Department personnel are pictured after their ceremonies during Monday’s Monroe County Board meeting. They are, from left, newly promoted Capt. Chad Mueller, Maj. Chris Lutz, Sheriff Neal Rohlfing, Sgt. Eric Waszak and new deputies Taylor Davis and Brandon Ottens.

Monroe County Treasurer Kevin Koenigstein brought details of the 2019 property tax cycle to the regular meeting of the Monroe County Board on Monday.

Real estate tax bills should be in the mail to property owners by this Friday, Koenigstein said.  

They are currently being printed at MAR Graphics in Valmeyer. Koenigstein noted this year’s tax cycle is running about two weeks ahead of last year.   

The first payment is due Sept. 25 and the second is due Nov. 6. 

Koenigstein said that unlike previous years, due to COVID-19 concerns, if owners are unable to pay the first installment on time, there will be no interest added to the total payment if they pay both installments by Nov. 6.  This applies to this year only. 

Citizens will also be able to pay property taxes by phone. The number is listed on the back of the coming bill.  

The total real estate tax for this year is $62, 949,817.62, an increase of 3.60 percent over last year’s total of $60,761,609.72 for the 44 separate taxing districts.  The county’s portion of the taxes increased $58,788.21, from $7,149,496.73 last year to $7,208,284.94 – an uptick of 0.82 percent for this tax year.

Also on Monday, Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing brought five deputies before the commissioners to formalize promotions and new hires, ceremonies for which have been held up by the pandemic.  

They included the following: Chris Lutz, promoted to major and to oversee patrol, K9s and investigations; Chad Mueller, promoted to captain and to oversee dispatch, corrections and court security; and Eric Waszak, promoted to sergeant to oversee one of the department’s night shifts.

New Monroe County Sheriff’s Department deputies included Taylor Davis and Brandon Ottens. Davis, hired from the O’Fallon Police Department, recently graduated from the academy and was voted class president. Ottens, coming from the Belleville Police Department, formerly worked with the Arizona Highway Patrol.   

Rohlfing thanked the commissioners and Monroe County State’s Attorney Chris Hitzemann for their work that has resulted in an enhanced law enforcement reputation for the county.  

Criminals are increasingly wary of committing crimes here, Rohlfing said.  In addition, while some counties are having difficult times filling open or new law enforcement positions, he said the MCSD gets several applications for any opening.

The issue of a new cell tower requested by AT&T, first reported in November, continued to draw questions as the board conducted a public hearing concerning the request. Permission to erect the 160-foot, monopole structure on property leased from Advantage Self-Storage at 1332 Valmeyer Road was addressed again by Matt Schlicter of AT&T.  

He said that location was judged the best to meet customer needs.

Schlicter said the antenna was needed by AT&T to meet increasing traffic volume across southern and southwestern Columbia and to ensure proper support of First Net First Responder communication channels.  

Hitzemann provided a detailed analysis of state laws and zoning director Chris Voelker noted existing county ordinances on the same subject.  

Several residents spoke out against the project, stating it would ruin views from their residential properties and reduce property values. It was also noted that in accordance with FAA regulations, the tower would be lighted at night by a flashing red light due to its proximity to an airport. 

Jason Embrich said he lives 300 feet from the tower and AT&T’s choice for the site was driven by financial concerns. His wife, Anna Embrich, noted the owner of the storage company that would lease the property to AT&T does not live in Monroe County and is therefore unaffected.  

Gary Stumpf, speaking for his mother, said he was not against the tower, just its location. He too said finances drove AT&T’s choice.

David Wright agreed the tower would lower property values and asked if anyone deciding the issue would want it adjacent to their property.

After considerable discussion, the commissioners decided to refer the matter to the Zoning Board of Appeals for further consideration in September.

Representatives of Fick, Eggemeyer & Williamson, Certified Public Accountants, of Columbia, presented an annual audit of the county’s finances for fiscal year 2019, which ended Nov. 30, 2019.  

Their 58-page report detailed receipts and expenditures for the year and analyzed policies for handling these matters. The report found the county’s finances were being handled well in 2019, but that COVID-19 challenges were introducing uncertainty both in terms of amounts and timing of state funds for 2020 and beyond.

Monroe County Engineer Aaron Metzger was authorized by the board to apply for a federal Transportation Alternatives Program grant to fund pedestrian crosswalks for the North Waterloo Trail Connector Project. 

The work would improve pedestrian safety at Country Club Lane, HH Rd, and Route 3. Plans include signalized pedestrian crosswalks for enhanced safety. 

Metzger said the grant of $300,000 being applied for will pay for 80 percent of the project. The county and city have agreed to split the remaining cost.

Monroe County EMS and Medstar Ambulance services entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to enhance interagency communications across jurisdictional boundaries.  The agreement employs the STARCOM 21 radio system used by both ambulance services and numerous other local and municipal entities statewide across Illinois.  

Finally, Daniel G. Lutz of Waterloo was appointed to the Waterloo Community Fire Protection District, replacing Lyle Wessel, who has resigned.

The Monroe County Board will meet next in the old courtroom of the courthouse at 8:15 a.m. Monday, Aug. 17.

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