County board also approves 2020-21 budget

Piatt County Sheriff David Hunt is adding interim Emergency Management Agency director duties to his plate after action by the county board on Nov. 12.

The board unanimously approved hiring Hunt to the interim post, paying him $1,333 per month, which is the budgeted amount for 2020-21 as the position shifts back to part-time.

Hunt is filling in for Mike Holmes, who was hired in 2018 and has been on sick leave since Sept. 30.

“We’re very fortunate that Sheriff Hunt has agreed to step in here short term to fill that void,” said county board member Shannon Carroll.

The sheriff said his main emphasis would be to get paperwork filed to keep the EMA’s accreditation, which is needed to be eligible for state and federal grants.

“This is not grant paperwork. It’s basically accreditation paperwork to qualify for grants. That needs to be done first.”

“Thanks for stepping up,” stated County Board Chairman Ray Spencer.

The emergency management committee has been discussing the possibility of an interim for the past month. The county emergency operations plan lists the county board chairman and his or her designee as next in line to take over EMA duties when needed.

Budget, levy approved

The board approved its budget for 2020-21, the same as the tentative one that had been passed on Oct. 28.

It is a balanced document for the main General Fund – about a $10,000 surplus – that relies on a new $250,000 tort levy and a $50,000 funding cut in the health department to help projected revenue meet expenses.

In all, it anticipates $5,480,021 in revenue, $5,469,790 in expenses.

The budget was approved 5-1, with Bob Murrell voting “no”.

“I have many concerns over it,” said Murrell, who felt that zeroing out some line items such as equipment and travel across the board, along with a nearly $300,000 cut in buildings and grounds, was unrealistic.

“There’s no transportation for any department including the coroner? The coroner’s not going to travel to get any bodies? The budget is artificial.

“Just because they left the columns blank, it looks like we’ll save that much money. It doesn’t,” said Murrell. “The bottom line looks like it is good, but it’s untrue.”

“What’s the alternative, instead of passing this budget?” county board member Randy Shumard asked Murrell in response.

Other board members lauded the work of budget consultant Bellwether, which led the county through the budgeting process without projecting staff cuts. The 2019-20 budget was $386,000 in the red and trimmed the number of employees in the county, mostly in the Sheriff’s Department.

“I would comment that Bellwether was very good in this process, and their knowledge of budgets in general, not just our county but other counties was a big step forward for Piatt County,” said Carroll.

The board also approved its tax levy 5-1, which is 4.9 percent more than last year. Spencer said the increase is needed, which is less than the 9 percent approved last year.

“Everybody’s expenses are going up, even the county’s. We have bills to pay. I think the taxpayers would expect us to pay our bills, so I don’t think it’s burdensome,” he said.

Piattran cash flow

Despite a funding crunch, the board seemed willing to help Piatt County Transportation keep its buses rolling while it waits on $386,000 the state owes them. The county loaned Piattran $100,000 last month to help meet payroll, and director Jami Trybom said another $15,000 may be needed if state reimbursements are not received by the end of the month.

Spencer said the county could help if needed while Piattran waits on its state funding.

“I don’t want to lose those services,” said Spencer.

Trybom hopes the dollars will arrive in the next two weeks. If not, the county board may call a special meeting to add to the existing $100,000 loan.

The Piattran director said she had been working on the issue since Aug. 3.

“I’ve placed phone calls to Chapin Rose’s office, to the bureau chief at IDOT to try to get things moving,” said Trybom. She was cautiously optimistic that payment would be received soon, saying the holdup is not on approval, but in the Illinois comptroller’s office issuing the check. That process has been delayed with employees working more from home, she said.

Longtime employee retiring

County Transportation Engineer Eric Seibring told the board that engineering technician Melea Fombelle is retiring from the county on Dec. 5.

“Melea was hired by Roger Hooper in December of 1984, and since that time has worked for four other county engineers. During her 37 years of employment, Melea has worked tirelessly to improve transportation system for the citizens of Piatt County,” said Seibring.

“Melea is one of the best technicians I’ve ever had work for me, and I am proud to call her my co-worker,” he added.

In other action, the board:

–approved another resolution for the Allerton Road construction. Even though the project is complete, County Highway Transportation Engineer Eric Seibring said the paperwork will allow the county to use $240,000 in Rebuild Illinois funds toward the $1.5 million project;

–approved a resolution allowing county employees to carry over the current year’s vacation time into 2020-21;

–heard from Piatt County Mental Health Director Tony Kirkman that a 9-8-8 suicide hotline number has been approved nationally, and should be in place by next June. He also said that his employees are now eligible for student loan paybacks since the county is considered underserved in the area of mental health services;

–heard Kirkman thank county board member Renee Fruendt for her work on the mental health board. It was Fruendt’s last meeting before a new board is seated in December.

“We are sad to see you go,” commented Kirkman;

–was given an update by Ryan Miller regarding an ongoing opioid settlement that is being negotiated with major pharmacy companies. In 2017, the county board voted to join other counties in filing lawsuits separately. The intent is to get settlement dollars to counties directly, instead of them being awarded to the state;

–heard from Piatt County Nursing Home Director Scott Porter that staffing “is beginning to become and issue” at the nursing home. Despite that, he added that employees are “trying to gear up for the holidays” to make it special for residents there.

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