By Todd Marver
At its Tuesday, September 12 meeting, the Washington County Board approved a bid from low bidder, Johannes Construction of Centralia for a new ambulance facility on Enterprise Avenue near State Route 127 in the amount of $3,635,000 by an 11-4 vote. The no votes came from board members Paul Todd, Brian Klingenberg, Dan Bronke and Eugene Lamczyk.
There were a total of six bids that ranged from $3,635,000 to $4,784,000. Board member Gary Suedmeyer reported they were below what their original cost estimate was and the money will come from the American Rescue Plan Act and Prairie State funds. Suedmeyer said the Prairie State fund is for capital improvements.
“At this time, we have not decided how much from each (fund),” he said.
Suedmeyer said there is a subcontractors list with several Washington County entities, including Youth Excavation of Nashville for site work, J & R Appliances for electrical and HVAC and Haier Plumbing for plumbing.
“We have some good contractors from the county,” he said.
Klingenberg suggested they explore redoing what they have, tear down the old jail and use that to build a new ambulance facility.
“I know we’ve had discussions before about trying to keep good employees in the county. We say we can’t pay them and now we’re going to go out and spend $4 million. I think we can spend some of this money in a lot better ways keeping good employees and paying them more to keep them,” he said.
Chairman David Meyer said there’s no room to make the bays bigger.
“If you don’t have the space, what are you going to do? It’s kind of like when we had the courthouse and we didn’t have room for all the judicial side of it, so we had to make decisions and move forward,” he said.
Ambulance Administrator John Felchlia said their vision is obscured at the current location. He said it’s dangerous for them and the public being right downtown and the cost of trying to redo what they have is still not fixing the safety issues with the parking issues that are happening and getting onto the highway.
“When a pickup truck or any type of UPS truck is there, we can’t see. You just close your eyes and go. (At busy traffic times), we either have to come out to the stoplight or go down almost to where Fuzzy Duck was and pull out that way just to get behind the traffic,” he said.
Suedmeyer added if there is snow or ice, the ambulance workers have to go out and clean off the snow and ice before they take their vehicles out because of how close the clearance is at the current facility.
Felchlia said at the new location, there would be just one road that they’d have to look down east and west.
“There’s the possibility of the flashing lights out there, so when we’re pulling out, they know we’re leaving. Once the building is complete, we can contact IDOT and control that stoplight and we’ll have it green our way and we will pull out there and stop traffic this way,” he said.
Todd said in 1873, there were 23,000 people in the county and they’re below 13,000 now. He said if this keeps up, in 20 years, the county is going to have 10,000 people.
“How are we going to afford to have people living here? Our tax base is going down, so you’re either going to raise taxes, have layoffs or cut services,” he said.
Felchlia said even though population goes down, call volume has continued to go up for the last 10 to 15 years and there are no trends going down anywhere in the United States.
“There are more younger people (taking ambulances) because they figured out their insurance is covering it and they think they can get into the hospital a little quicker,” he said.
Felchlia said they are four or five people deep in 2,200 square feet at the current facility, including a three-car garage that’s 16 inches thick at the ceiling and almost 36 inches thick at the base, and there is poor ventilation and no windows.
Felchlia said their call volume is pretty much equalized between Nashville and Okawville, if you take away the nursing home and hospital and just look at the 911 call volume.
“Moving out to where we’re at, people in Nashville, you’re looking at maybe a two or three minute extended ETA and people in Okawville two to three minutes faster getting over there. We’re more centralized moving a little bit north and getting out of the congestion of Nashville is probably going to make our response times better,” he said.
Board member Alan Hohlt said they’re not just building an ambulance facility and are looking at helping several other entities in the county by freeing up space to the sheriff’s office to give them more room and move the dispatch center down into where the ambulance service is now to get it away from the congestion of being near the jail. He said where the bays are could be converted into the EOC for the EMA department.
The board approved an intergovernmental agreement for Regional Office of Education 13 Superintendent Matt Renaud to have private counsel. Renaud said with the nature of education, it’s very handy for him to have counsel to talk about employment decisions and educational matters.
“That will be the bulk load of what I will talk to a lawyer about and it would help to have someone who specializes in that area. I will not be asking for a special allocation from any of the counties to pay for that. I have adequate fund balances to pay for my legal costs, state grant and current county budget. I also have adequate grant funds and state aid from my school districts for my schools to pay for it,” he said.
Board member Larry Unverfehrt said state’s attorney Dan Janowski wrote a letter saying that he was fine with the agreement and approved of signing the agreement.
Renaud reported all six Washington County schools are in good condition academically. He said they all are ranked as commendable except for West Washington School District Junior/Senior High School, which was rated exemplary.
Renaud reported all the county schools have good fund balances as well as long-term debt with the exception of West Washington School District, which is still finishing their debt margin for paying for a new school building. He said their financial ratings are all exceptional, rated as recognized by the State Board of Education and in full compliance with all regulations.
Unverfehrt said Washington County schools are doing a very good job and are very conservative. He said any of the schools in Washington County could operate for a minimum of a year without any funding from state or federal.
“That states a lot as far as their plans and capacity. We’re pleased to hear that and how the schools are run in Washington County,” he said.
In addition to Washington County, ROE 13 also services Clinton, Marion and Jefferson counties. Renaud reported Clinton is the highest proportional county as far as income is concerned in ROE 13 with Washington being the smallest because it has the smallest equalized assessed valuation.
“I proposed an FY24 budget. It’s a proportional share by statute that’s representative of your equalized assessed valuation. That budget is about $1,000 more than last year requested from Washington County. The budget request for all four counties is about 2.3% of my total budget,” he said.
Renaud reported that eliminating the ROE office in Washington County was a cost-saving measure that was made about eight or nine years ago by former superintendent Ron Daniels’ office. Renaud said Daniels did a survey that said there was not much foot traffic in Washington County.
“Most of our services are digital, so we don’t see a lot of foot traffic with the exception of Mt. Vernon,” he said.
The board approved the annual plan for the probation office. Jessica Eldridge, chief managing officer at Washington County Probation Office, said this is their first time submitting an annual plan.
“This is new to all of us. This is my first time submitting this and your first time reviewing it. We need a signature from the chairperson of the county board acknowledging the annual plan and approving it. That’s why we are here today,” she said.
Eldridge said the first part of the annual plan is a document that they have to submit to the state of Illinois about their goals and what they plan to do in the next fiscal year.
“If there’s any kind of salary shortfall, we have to request that now. Right now, the state reimburses our salary at 100%, but in the future if for some reason they wouldn’t, then the county would have to pay. It tells us our upcoming budget for the next year, which I already submitted,” she said.
Washington County Resident Circuit Judge Dan Emge said the state is obligated by statute to reimburse the county for probation officers’ salaries. He said due to that, the county submits an annual plan every year and any state reimbursement is conditional upon the county following the plan.
“This has been done forever, but it was done through St. Clair County, so we never had any part of it. Last year they gave us a pass on this because we were a new circuit and we didn’t have to do it. Now they’re making us do it. So this is something that’s going to be coming every year. The budget information in the annual plan, while it may be in a different format, is essentially the same exact numbers as we submitted to Gary Suedmeyer for the probation office’s budget back in August,” he said.
Emge said there is a probation fee fund that includes monthly fees paid by people sentenced to probation. He said the uses of that fund are very limited, but one thing it can be used for is to pay salaries if the state is not meeting its funding obligation.
“Right now our probation fee fund is a couple hundred thousand dollars. That’s a rainy day fund just in case. The only time that fund can be used to pay salaries is if the state is not reimbursing 100%,” he said.
The board approved a resolution to create a mutual aid agreement with Illinois Professional Emergency Management Association (IPEMA).
Matt Bierman, Washington County EMA director, said it’s impossible to maintain all the equipment that could possibly be needed for an emergency situation, and IPEMA is an association that helps the county get equipment in a time of need. He said when the county had the storm back at the end of June, a generator failed and the county had to get a different one and went through IPEMA and was able to secure a generator to use.
“They asked if we reached out to them that we have a mutual aid agreement with them and we are able to do it a lot smoother than we did. It also helps get funds for them back. We don’t charged for borrowing that equipment, but if the federal declaration ever comes around which is submitted and has not been denied and is still sitting in FEMA’s hands, they would get reimbursed for bringing that to us. There is no charge to us if they don’t get that reimbursed. It’s an agreement that allows me to sign the mutual aid agreement with them to work with them if we need equipment again,” he said.
The board approved allowing the courthouse grounds to be used for Hometown Christmas on December 2.
“They have Christmas trees in front of the City Hall, but they would like permission to use part of the courthouse grounds,” Suedmeyer said.
The board approved not working with Regions Bank on a county credit card.
“Several months ago, we requested permission to go through Regions Bank and get a countywide credit card. We’ve run into quite a snag there. They’ve asked for all kinds of organizational documents that we cannot find. We’ll look elsewhere for a credit card. At this time, we’ve not come up with any yet, but we will not be working with Regions anymore,” Suedmeyer said.
County Engineer Kiefer Heiman reported there are two active federal projects currently in the county. He said the Hoover Road Bridge project in Oakdale Township is complete, but the guardrail manufacturer had a fire at their plant, so it’s to be determined when they’re going to finish that project up.
The other active federal project is the repavement, striping and widening of the shoulder of County Highway 10 from Elkton to State Route 153.
“We have paved over half of it and we are expecting to finish (September 13) paving it. We should have it done within the next week for sure, striping and the shoulder,” Heiman said.
Heiman said his department has mowed everywhere except Lively Grove, Johannisburg and Oakdale, but he’s expecting that to happen by the end of the month. He said his department is going to be doing some pavement crack sealant north of Hoyleton.
“That pavement is over 20 years old. It’s cracked up a little bit, so we’re going to try to seal that in. That’ll be our last big major project of the year,” he said.
Board member Eric Brammeier reported they had their second recycling event in Ashley on Saturday, September 9. He said the next recycling event and last one for the year is October 7 in Okawville.