The question on many people’s minds as we begin 2021 is how much it will resemble years before the novel coronavirus pandemic.
• One key determining factor that will answer that question is how the pandemic progresses.
As the vaccine continues its rollout, increasing numbers of people will be largely protected against the virus, which should decrease the severity of the pandemic.
That should especially be the case as the shot becomes available to more members of the general public, as opposed to the specialized groups currently being inoculated.
Also on the pandemic front, some parts of life may return to something closer to normal in 2021.
Community events may once again take place – though they could still require social distancing and face coverings.
Those types of gatherings may provide a preview of how COVID-19 has a lasting impact on our lives.
Experts have said it will not be a simple, quick return to pre-pandemic life, and this year should give us an idea of what incremental steps may be involved
• We should begin to have at least an inkling of that in the early part of this year, which is also when Monroe County voters can choose new municipal officials.
On April 6, voters in Columbia will get to choose a new mayor and two new city council members.
Columbia City Clerk Wes Hoeffken and Monroe County Coroner Bob Hill are running in the mayoral race, while Doug Garmer has filed to challenge Alderman Jim Agne and Paul Khoury will campaign to replace Alderman Gene Ebersohl.
Residents will also see three new school board members, as Greg Meyer, Andrea Crowder Khoury, Tyson Search and Adam Hemken have filed to run for the four open seats. Only Meyer is an incumbent.
In Waterloo, there will be a new alderman after Russ Thomas decided not to run to represent Ward I again. Matt Buettner has filed for that council seat.
Valmeyer will likewise have at least one new member on its village board. Jean Langsdorf has chosen to not seek re-election, so Rob Noland has filed to take that seat.
Noland will serve a four-year term, as will current board members Adam Tyberendt and Tim Valentine. Current board member Henry “Butch” Ford is also unopposed in his bid for a two-year term.
On the Valmeyer school board, there is a bit of an issue because there are three spots open and only two candidates have filed for them. Justin Rohlfing and Stefanie Johnson-Tyberendt, both incumbents, are seeking re-election, but John Niebruegge is not.
To the north, Dupo will have multiple contested races. Mayor Jerry Wilson will vie for re-election against current village trustee Chris Ragsdale.
The Dupo Village Board will also have three open seats with six candidates looking to fill those. Candidates who filed are Ron Dell, Dawn Keys, Allan Mollankamp, Jerry Goodrich, James Smith and Tammy Taylor.
• In January, there will also be movement in higher political offices. Republican David Friess of Red Bud will take over for Democrat Nathan Reitz for representing the 116th Illinois House District.
Similarly, Republican Terri Bryant of Murphysboro will replace Republican Paul Schimpf of Waterloo as the 58th district’s state senator.
At the national level, barring an unprecedented, last-minute change, Democrat Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president.
• Back in Monroe County, there could be several developments in law enforcement.
Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing proposed a $14 million expansion of the Monroe County Jail last month to help house the increased jail population and decrease maintenance issues. Rohlfing suggested adding a second story to part of the existing structure and a food service area for the prisoners.
The project would require voter support, and the Monroe County Board directed Rohlfing to continue researching options.
• The county may also see a new type of court established. That would be a problem-solving drug court aimed at helping certain people who commit drug crimes battle their addiction.
Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Chris Hitzemann and Monroe County State’s Attorney Lucas Liefer both promised to create such a court here when campaigning for their current jobs.
They are currently working to make that happen, which requires getting the proposed court certified and funded via a grant. That process can take a year or more.
• The Columbia Police Department will also have new leadership as Police Chief Jerry Paul is retiring Jan. 31. A 25-year veteran of the CPD, Paul has served as chief for the last five years.
The mayor appoints Paul’s successor, making the April election that much more pivotal. The current deputy chief of police is Jason Donjon.
• A final element in the criminal justice realm to watch for this year is progress on the two most high-profile trials in the county.
Kyle Roider, who is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated battery in the Jan. 9, 2019 slaying of 35-year-old Steven Becker in Waterloo, has had his trial delayed by the pandemic.
Likewise, 27-year-old Trevor Hudson, who is charged with attempted murder and two counts of armed violence following a Nov. 22, 2019 stabbing on Osterhage Drive in Waterloo, has not had any major new developments in his case in months.
The pandemic has slowed both of those cases since jury trials are currently not allowed in Illinois, but there could still be some movement in 2021.
Both men are set for a jury pre-trial on March 10.
• After very little new construction in 2020, Monroe County may return to its normal level of growth this year.
Perhaps the most visible example will be on the north end of Columbia, as work will continue at 11 South.
Announced in October 2019, the $8.7 million home of DeRossett Investments was slated to be completed late last year, but its progress was delayed by the pandemic.
It is now scheduled to open this March.
Developer Joe Koppeis said the complex will also have a new restaurant open there this spring, and there are plans for a hotel to be built at the site later this year.
• Another Koppeis-owned property, Rock City in Valmeyer, will also have new construction in 2021, as a data center will begin building there.
• Work on the Quarry Road construction project in Columbia, including a new roundabout, is slated to continue this summer.
That project has been in the works for several years.
• Work is similarly still progressing on the planned I-255 interchange in Dupo, although there is no estimate on when construction might begin.
The most recent development on that project is that the state and engineering company overseeing the project are completing the required archaeological studies and property buyouts.
• Life Community Church, located at 626 W. Bottom Avenue in Columbia, should also complete its new, larger sanctuary this year. It broke ground on that project in November.
The new facility will allow for 500 attendees, and Pastor Jamey Bridges said the community will be welcome to use it for functions.
• In Waterloo, the most high-profile project may be work done to repair the Waterloo High School turf athletic field and track.
That was damaged by flooding last year. The Waterloo School District should know more about the scope of the work required for the repairs soon, and work will most likely take place this summer.
• Farther north, Spike’s Pub & Grub in downtown Millstadt is nearing completion. That new tavern is located at 4 E. Washington Street next to Ott’s Tavern.
• To the south, Prairie du Rocher will continue its fight for survival.
The town lost FEMA accreditation last year, which threatens to raise the price of flood insurance to unsustainable levels.
To fight that, community leaders have proposed becoming part of the future national park in conjunction with Ste. Genevieve, Mo., a town with a similar historical significance located near Prairie du Rocher that was granted a Historical National Park designation in 2018.
This designation allows federal funds to be used for levee repair.
UPDATE: On Aug. 27, 2021, a Monroe County jury found Kyle Roider not guilty of first-degree murder and not guilty of aggravated battery with a firearm. These charges were brought against Roider in connection with Steven Becker’s January 2019 death.