The good news for Jasper County Board members was the Newton Power Station will remain open, avoiding the closure list of four Illinois coal-fueled electric power stations announced earlier weeks ago by Vistra Energy.

Conversion to solar power could cut the 80-employ workforce at the Newton facility by two thirds or more in coming years. In addition, there is uncertainty on the future of state regulation and investment in the switch from coal to solar in Illinois.

A recent meeting with Jasper County officials had Vistra Energy executive Brad Wastson reassure the community that Vistra is “a community-friendly company.” Pending legislation would call for closing all coal plants by 2025. Conversion of the remaining plants to solar would start in 2021. It was also noted a power outage is planned for next spring and Vistra will make sure residents and business owners are prepared for it. More information will be forthcoming on the planned outage.

“I felt good after that meeting,” said Jasper County Board Chairman Ron Heltsley during the brief discussion during the Sept. 12 county board meeting in the county office building on Washington Street.

Some board members like Danny Kerner questioned whether this shift away from coal as an energy source will continue because not everyday is sunny in Illinois. Attending the Sept. 12 board meeting were Heltsley and board members Kerner Ron Swick, Darrel Hickox, Brian Leffler, A.C. Pickens, Mike Hall, Angela Fehrenbacher, Doug Weddell, Jason Warfel, and Ben Bollman. Gary Michl was absent.

Jesse Bond with the Illinois Separation movement asked for the board to consider a vote supporting efforts to separate Cook County and Chicago from the remaining counties of Illinois. Groups for Separation are pushing for a statewide referendum on the question next year.

Bond said nearly 300 signatures on a petition have been collected in Jasper County so far to place the Separation question on a countywide ballot. The idea behind the movement is to break Chicago’s domination of Illinois state government and state funding. Critics of the Separatists claim this is in support of conservative stances against gun control, gay and transgender rights and other social issues that have produced recent debate in Springfield as well as across the state.

The board voted to appoint John Miller to replace Dale Hasket to a 2-year term on the Board of Review, covering the 2019-2020 assessment year. James Nix was reappointed as Commissioner for the Sainte Marie Drainage and Levee District with a term expiring in September 2022. Both actions were approved by voice vote of the board members.

Donald F. Clark was appointed Commissioner of the Mint Creek Drainage District with a term extending to September 2022. The motion carried on a voice vote.

Chairman Heltsley announced a seat on the Southeastern Illinois Economic Development Authority is available for board members interested in serving with that Authority. It has a term extending to January 2022. An appointment will be made at the next board meeting, Heltsley said.

A highlight of county board committee reports read during the board meeting included:

@ The Sheriff’s Committee learned last month that Deputy Garrett Finn graduated from the U of I Police Training Institute on August 22. Deputy Finn will complete firearm training over the next four weeks. I Touch Biometrics has installed the new live scan machine in the Sheriff’s Department booking room. Sheriff employees can now digitally fingerprint individuals as well as store data and send data to the state without mailing. Replacement of some radio units was discussed, as well as retaining Jasper Sheriff employees during the new jail construction project when inmates will be transferred to other county jail facilities.

@ Finance Committee met on September 9th and Amber Volk spoke about her position as the Economic Development Coordinator for the county and the city of Newton. Mayor Mark Bolander spoke on his request to have an additional $10,000 for the coordinator position and move that office to the Jasper County Chamber Office. It is currently in the building next to the Jasper County Health Department, which is owned by the county. There was discussion on funding an extra $10,000 for the Economic Development Coordinator position. Fehrenbacher made a remark the building could use some thorough cleaning and possibly the building committee ensure cleaning is completed to make it a better building for the Economic Development Coordinator’s office. No motion was made for an extra $10,000. The finance committee also met last week with different county officials and department heads regarding the budget process for next fiscal year.

@ The Personnel Committee members on Sept 4 decided on holidays, and how sick days can be calculated for compensation when employees resign, retired or face termination. There was also discussion of wording being updated on the extreme weather conditions policy for ambulance and sheriff employees. There were also additions on Family Medical Leave Act, plus a $10 increase for meals allowance. Social media rules were also added to the personnel policy and the Whistleblower policy was added with no change. A day of vacation a year would be added after 15 years up to five weeks of vacation time. A 35-cent longevity provision, two extra holidays, a cap on vacations at five weeks were approved by a voice vote. The county investment policy was also changed during the committee meeting. The full board also agreed to the changes through a voice vote during last week’s board meeting.

The board members voted to go into closed session to discuss possible property acquisition. No action was taken after the board returned to open session. Hickox clarified before adjournment the building committee is not responsible for the County Health Building. The committee oversees the structures of the sheriff department, the courthouse and office building.

County board members meet in regular session again at 7 p.m., Oct. 10, in the county office building.