Piatt County board members studied the possibility of solar farms for the county throughout 2018, voting several down before reversing course and approving permits for three in early 2019.
The board also grappled with budget issues, and saw three county board chairman bang the gavel last year. The year began with Randy Keith at the helm, ended with Ray Spencer as chair, with several months of Al Manint in between.
Here is a summary of Piatt County government news for 2018.
Jan. 10 – A county board committee estimated that work on the 1957 elevator at the courthouse should begin in the spring. The cost will be $164,185
Lisa Buehnerkemper was hired as the admissions and marketing director at the Piatt County Nursing Home.
Jan. 17 – The Piatt County board gave more enforceability to the now-decriminalized offense of being caught in possession of less than 10 grams of any substance containing cannabis. Making it a part of county statutes allows for tickets to be issued and prosecuted.
Feb. 7 – Interest in the nursing home rose sharply in January, with 49 inquiries, compared to 19 for the same month in 2017.
Feb. 14 – A power surge fried some expensive equipment in Monticello on Feb. 4, causing internet outages at some county agencies. At least one Monticello school also lost a piece of routing equipment due to the surge. Piatt County board chairman Randy Keith authorized an emergency expenditure of up to $12,000 to purchase new equipment, including seven fiber switches.
March 7 – The nursing home had a census of 82 residents, up 10 from January figures.
The Piatt County board authorized up to $290,000 in debt certificates in order to pay for courthouse elevator and roof repair.
March 14 – County officials discussed the best way to handle disruptions expected with the rehabbing of the 60-year-old county elevator. It was decided an accessible restroom would be rented and placed on the courthouse lawn. In addition, court hearings could be moved to the ground floor of the three-story structure if there are people involved that cannot go up the stairs.
March 28 – A flower farm that would also host workshops on backyard agriculture and carpentry was endorsed for a special use permit by the zoning board of appeals. Backyward Beauty will operate at a rural location by Megan Murphy and her husband Steve Collins about three miles east of White Heath.
April 4 – The nursing home has filled three key staff openings. Lisa Buehnerkemper is the admissions and marketing director, Rich Rogers is the new dietary director, and Andrea Frazelle was hired as the new nursing director.
April 11 – A $164,185 elevator upgrade at the Piatt County courthouse began.
April 18 – Piatt County Board District Two Representative Al Maint was unanimously elected the new county board chairman, replacing Randy Keith.
Sandy Schlosser resigned as Piatt County supervisor of assessments, effective July 1. It ended an experiment that began a year earlier to share an assessor with neighboring DeWitt County.
May 19 – Piatt County Transportation Director Eileen Sierra Brown resigned, saying her husband had accepted a job transfer to Toronto, Canada. Brown also reported that Saturday service from PIATTRAN is yet to catch on.
June 13 – Funding limitations resulted in a scaling back of a memorial to honor late Judge John P. Shonkwiler from a gazebo to a large memorial marker for the southeast corner of the courthouse lawn.
Piatt County officials discussed the possibility of shuffling space in order to open up office space at the Piatt County Office Building. Storage for Piatt County voting machines – which are required to be in a secure location – are also being sought.
June 20 – Dale Lattz of rural White Heath was named as a District One representative to the Piatt County Board, and will serve the remaining term of former board member Randy Keith. Latz is a retired Farm Management extension specialist, and also retired more recently as community president at First Mid-illinois Bank and Trust in Weldon and Monticello.
Private-pay residents of the nursing home will be paying 3 percent more for their rooms after prices are increased on Aug. 1. Visitor meal prices were also increased from $2 to $5 per meal.
July 4 – Piatt County received its first request for a solar farm, as US Solar filed a special use permit request to place solar arrays on land owned by James Warren near Farmer City.
July 11 – The county considered paying $2,000 more to repave the office building and nursing home parking lot on weekends to make it easier on employees who work there and loved ones who visit. The total cost would then be $20,570.
July 18 – The Piatt County Board voted down a zoning request of Willis and Rosemary Lemmon to subdivide an 80-acre tract in order to sell off parcels of 53.2 and 6.645 acres and retain 20.47 acres. County Board Chairman Al Manint was worried it could mean farmland being taken out of production, but the Lemmons’ attorney, David Cox countered most of what is "tillable will continue to be tillable."
Jennifer Bryant was hired as the Piatt County supervisor of assessments on July 11. She had previously served as a deputy assessor in McLean County.
July 25 – Gary Durbin, who said he was a "brick layer by trade," said he would be willing to help fund and build an expansion of the Halcyon (dementia care) Unit at the nursing home, noting that hallways and dining/activity areas get crowded quickly due to walkers and wheelchairs. The unit currently features 7-foot-wide hallways and totals 1,048 square feet.
Aug. 1 – A Piatt County board committee recommended a bump in pay for election judges from $150 to $175 per day. It would add about $2,000 to the county clerk’s election day budget. Hopes are that it will attract more judges, which have been in short supply.
The county needs IT upgrades totaling $130,000, but specialist Scott Davis said the consolidating of 16 aging servers into two large ones one save the county money in the long run.
The zoning board of appeals recommended a pair of housing requests be denied, but allowed the issues to be referred to the plats committee, which can gather more information. Ryan Meece had asked for a variance to break a 4.1-acre piece of land off of a 34.1-acre parcel to sell as a home site. In the other request, Kyle Meece, Ryan’s brother, had filed for a similar variance to allow for home sites to be sectioned off of a 27-acre piece of land.
Aug. 8 – A reinvigorated CNA training program will increase payroll in the short term, but will hopefully pay off long term by allowing the nursing home to fill staff needs without the use of outside agencies.
The county board would like to address its aging file servers, but is having trouble coming up with the $64,000 it would take to replace the 16 servers with two larger, newer ones. That outlay is part of a proposed $130,000 technology upgrade that would also include a new email system.
Aug. 15 – Maple Point residents are enjoying bicycle rides again with the purchase of duet bikes, which have wheelchairs on front that are pushed by volunteer bicyclists in back.
Aug. 29 – After five hours of testimony, the county zoning board of appeals tabled two special use permit requests for solar farms on agriculturally zoned land within the county. A third request had already been tabled by the county board earlier.
Sept. 5 – The zoning board approved a special use permit for Jonathan Stranberg to allow a renovated building to be used as a rental unit in White Heath. The board had turned back that request in May after finding work had been done on the former garage before a permit was granted.
Sept. 19 – The Piatt County Mental Health Center was awarded a $625,000 federal Drug-Free Communities Grant that director Tony Kirkman called a "game-changer" in the local battle against substance abuse.
Sept. 26 – The county board approved up to $200,000 in motor fuel tax funds to help fund a safety upgrade to County Highway 5, known as the Monticello-DeLand blacktop. A $612,000 federal Highway Safety Improvement Grant will fund a majority of the cost.
Oct. 10 – A broken air conditioning system heated things up for prisoners and staff at the Piatt County jail, but after two days without cooling, it was repaired on Oct. 4.
Oct. 17 – One of the four solar farm requests made in Piatt County was sent back to the zoning board of appeals. The request by US Solar was tentatively approved by the zoning board prior to the addition of a solar amendment to the zoning code. The county board wanted the request compared to and evaluated with the new guidelines.
Oct. 24 – Monticello attorney Roger Simpson announced he would retire from his position as Piatt County public defender, a role he has filed since 2007.
Oct. 31 – After its second five-hour meeting of the fall, the zoning board of appeals endorsed just one of three solar farm permits – a 4 megawatt proposal that would be located northwest of DeLand. Another proposed for rural Farmer City received a 2-2 vote, and a third for solar arrays near Monticello was voted down.
Nov. 14 – Doug Winder was appointed as the county’s new maintenance supervisor. He replaces Scott Stephenson, when resigned in August.
An arrangement between the Piatt County Nursing Home and the Carle Geriatric Medicine Group resulted in a doctor’s office being opened in the Piatt County Office Building, which is connected to the nursing home. The office will be staffed with geriatric specialists.
Nov. 21 – Permits for solar farms proposed for rural Farmer City and southwest of DeLand were voted down by the Piatt County board.
Nov. 28 – The Piatt County Nursing Home experienced a stunning financial turnaround in 2018 thus far. Auditors said there was a recorded $840,000 loss in 2017 – much of it due to the writing off of debt – but that there could actually be a small profit for the current year.
Dec. 5 – Ray Spencer was elected unanimously as new chairman of the Piatt County board. A first ballot to name Randy Shumard to the post ended up 3-0 with three abstentions, one vote shy of what was needed. Shumard was re-elected vice-chair of the board, also by a 6-0 vote.
A 2,500-pound stone commemorating the life and career of the late judge John P. Shonkwiiler was set in place on the northeast corner of the Piatt County Courthouse lawn.
Dec. 12 – The nursing home is looking to hire staff for its Services for Seniors agency, which has gone from three employees to just one. Nursing Home Administrator Scott Porter would not say whether the two employees stepped down voluntarily or were fired.
329 Frontier Piatt, a subsidiary of Borrego Solar, reapplied for a special use permit for a solar farm near DeLand after being voted down by the county board in November.
Dec. 19 – The county board voted down its third solar farm request in three tries, this one near Farmer City by US Solar, which had received a thumbs up by the zoning board of appeals but could manage only a 3-3 tally when it appeared before the county board.
Dec. 26 – On it’s second try before the zoning board of appeals, US Solar saw its special use permit for a potential solar farm near Farmer City fail to get a recommendation by a 2-2 vote.