What to expect in 2023

Even with one of the more talked about changes for 2023 being put on hold for now, there is plenty in store for the new year.

Shortly after a Kankakee County judge ruled on a SAFE-T Act suit filed by state’s attorneys from more than 60 Illinois counties, the Illinois Supreme Court on Dec. 31 issued a state-wide temporary stay order regarding  the cash bail and pretrial conditions.

Law enforcement and members of the judicial community in Illinois will be waiting for at least a little while in 2023 for a decision in the matter, continuing the debate about cashless bail until an appeal is heard.

While the impact of the SAFE-T Act on Monroe County Jail inmates is still to be determined, preparations have already begun on a plan to reconfigure the layout and expand storage of the building in Waterloo which houses the jail and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department. The plan in its latest form was approved by the Monroe County Board of Commissioners late last year.

While COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are dramatically lower now than in past years, the persistence of the virus plus an increase in RSV and flu cases has caused  a “tripledemic” which continues to overwhelm hospitals in the area heading into the new year.

The continued economic fallout of the COVID pandemic, supply chain issues, the war in Ukraine and other issues caused a major spike in inflation and significant price increases for consumers in 2022. Many financial experts predict a global recession in 2023, although the Federal Reserve in the United States is expected to continue increasing interest rates in hopes of slowing an economic downturn.

 Locally, one of the biggest stories of the last half of 2022 was the Queen of Hearts drawings at Outsider tavern in Waterloo.

The last jackpot was $1.2 million. If the Queen is not found during the next drawing Jan. 17, the total prize will likely reach the $2 million limit sometime this month.

When the limit is reached, numbers will be drawn until the Queen is found. However, if the player who finds the Queen is not present at the drawing, the next game will begin at half of the ending jackpot total, in which case the Queen will likely continue to draw large crowds.

In April, Monroe County residents will head to the polls for municipal elections. In Waterloo, there is a contested race for the mayor’s seat and for seats in each of the city’s four aldermanic wards. There will also be two contested seats on the Waterloo Park District Board on the ballot.

The current park board is faced with how to proceed with the splash pad project at William Zimmer Park. The project budget has increased significantly since its inception in 2019.  Barring any extensions, a functional splash pad must be in place by June or the board will be required to repay the $200,000 of grant funding it has already received. The board is expected to decide whether to proceed with a pared-down splash pad plan later this month. 

On the ballot this April in Columbia, there will be contests for the aldermanic seats in Wards I and II. 

Columbia voters will also decide a referendum question in April asking whether or not the city should be a “home rule” municipality. 

The Columbia City Council voted Tuesday night to approve placing the question on the April ballot. 

There will be a series of town hall meetings ahead of the April vote to inform Columbia voters of the pros and cons of becoming a home rule municipality.

Also in Columbia, the comprehensive plan process to guide the city’s direction in the next 25 years will be compelted. 

Once the plan is approved, the city will start developing specific actions to implement the plans which were developed with help from community input during a series of events and online participation in 2022.

One of the first actions Columbia will take when the comprehensive plan is approved will be to revise the city’s zoning and subdivision code.

Columbia will also be planning for another roundabout at the intersection of Ghent Road/Old Route 3 and Quarry and Palmer roads near the entrance and exit ramps for northbound Route 3. 

In September, Columbia City Engineer Chris Smith announced the Illinois Department of Transportation awarded a $1.2 million grant for the project, although there is no definite timetable for the project as of yet.

State funding for a major project just a few miles north was announced in 2022, with an interchange on I-255 at Imbs Station Road near Dupo given a $33 million boost through the Rebuild Illinois initiative. 

While construction would not begin until 2025 at the earliest, Dupo Mayor Jerry Wilson reported  in November much of the prerequisite work such as engineering, right-of-way-acquisition and related demolition work for the interchange should be completed in 2023.

Also on I-255, work on the Jefferson Barracks Bridge is expected to be completed by the end of 2023. Repairs on the eastbound span were completed at the end of 2022. The westbound span will be closed beginning in the spring. 

All lanes of traffic will remain open to motorists during the winter. Two eastbound lanes will be moved to the westbound side during construction, resulting in two lanes of traffic for both directions for a majority of the year.

Other road projects in the county slated for 2023 include completion of a pedestrian crossing at the intersection of Route 3 at HH Road and Country Club Lanes. 

The joint venture between the City of Waterloo and the Monroe County Highway Department was delayed due to a material delay, but Monroe County Engineer Aaron Metzger said the supplies needed to complete the project should arrive in February.

Metzger also noted a bridge replacement on Route 156 in Old Valmeyer and resurfacing and shoulder work on Floraville Road from the Waterloo city limits to the Monroe County line are other major projects his department should complete this summer.

Work on the Rogers Street extension to the north and subsequent realignment is not expected to begin until early 2024.  

In Valmeyer, the village will continue the necessary steps to extend its tax increment finance district which includes the area of the Rock City business development. The initial timeline for the TIF district will expire in 2024, and two 12.5 year extensions are available with approval of the Illinois General Assembly.  

Property owners, realtors, lenders and insurance agents will have a chance to see preliminary Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps for Monroe County Columbia later this month.

FEMA, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and Monroe County community officials will hold an in-person open house from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Jan. 17 at The View at 11 South,  1000 11 South, Columbia, to answer Monroe County residents’ questions about flood risk and flood insurance.

The flood maps are expected to be finalized later this year. 

In school news, both the Waterloo and Columbia school districts are planning renovations to its facilities.

In Columbia, the school board recently considered plans to expand the high school to accommodate its growing student body. The issue will be revisited in the new year.  

In Waterloo, minor renovations are planned for the parking lot and front entrance of Zahnow Elementary, and work on the Rogers Elementary building, specifically the foundation and the school office, were approved at the end of 2022.

The search for a principal for Gibault Catholic High School will continue in the new year. Former principal Stephen Kidd resigned at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year. Mike Kish, former longtime principal of Immaculate Conception School in Columbia, was recently named interim principal while the school looks for his replacement.

In business news, work is expected to begin on a business complex at 306 Southport Drive which will include a car rental business. Columbia Director of Community Development Scott Dunakey said developers had applied for building permits after the Columbia City Council approved a special use permit for the proposed multi-business development in December. 

Gallagher’s Restaurant in Waterloo is expected to open in the beginning of the year with a remodeled interior and new menu.

In community news, a rehabilitation project on the Millstadt “Tin Man” water tower is expected to be completed in the first part of the year. Work was stalled in November due to wind and winter weather.  

The Morrison-Talbott Library will begin a project to digitize most of its genealogy materials, making family research easier for library patrons while helping to preserve the documents from the wear and tear that comes with handling.

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Scott Woodsmall

HTC web