Topics before Jasper County Board last week included the Jasper County Jail Construction Project and options before the county regarding statewide legalization of recreational marijuana.

Board chairman Ron Heltsley confirmed in an interview the county will not seek purchase of adjoining land near the existing jail property. He said efforts by the State’s Attorney office showed no land around the jail property was available for sale. That means the new jail will be built on the existing property and the jail, some of the structure dating back to 1912, will be demolished.

The project is deemed necessary to replace a deteriorating facility, Heltsley explained during a phone interview the morning after the Oct. 10 meeting, which ended after adjourning soon after ending the closed session for the purpose of discussing property and personnel issues. Some of the structure is 107 years old and an addition dates back about 30 years.

Heltsley said the jail has passed inspections. It was the decision of the county board to move forward with new construction.

Deciding on whether cannabis-related businesses should be banned or allowed and taxed will depend on what county board members hear during a public hearing on the night of Oct. 22 at Newton High School. (See related story in this issue.)

Jasper County State’s Attorney Chad Miller said the county could gain revenue by taxing any businesses that come into the county. But the question is whether county officials, law enforcement and the general public want to take that path that would affect all rural or unincorporated areas of the county. All county board members were in attendance during the Oct. 10 meeting.

Board member Darrell Hickox noted some of the apparent contradictions of the state legislature approving recreational marijuana.

“You basically can’t smoke a cigarette in public anymore, but now it will be different with marijuana?” Hickox asked Miller.

Miller said that is not correct because the state did not change the clear air act that banned smoking in public spaces a decade ago. He said if people do smoke marijuana in approved businesses, it will be in separate areas just like smoking tobacco products.

The prosecutor said legalized marijuana use and possession (not more than 30 grams) will change the direction of his legal work.

“I’ll no longer be prosecuting for possession of cannabis. I’ll prosecute people on whether they paid their taxes or whether they transported it legally,” Miller said. He noted possession of 30 grams used to be a felony charge in Illinois.

On financial matters, the board laid over the Fiscal Year 2020 budget for public review. The board also amended the 2019 budget to correct probation figures.

In highlights of committee reports from the board meeting:

The Sheriff’s Committee on Sept. 30 acknowledged Deputy Garrett Finn is now working on his own after training, setting the number of full-time deputies at six. Part-time communications dispatcher Brittany Pride has submitted her resignation and will be working until Oct. 28. The department is also accepting applications for a part-time correctional officer.

On communications, the committee learned the purchase of advanced Starcom radios is moving ahead with Barbecks. This purchase will be in partnership with the Effingham Police Department. Money sources, including grants, are being considered to pay for this purchase costing as much as $6,000 per unit. On Sept. 30, the 911 system phones were down but Cumberland County 911 handled Jasper calls and forwarded them to the local dispatchers. The problem with Jasper 911 was corrected in a few hours.

The Oct. 7 Finance Committee confirmed county finances are in the black for the year. County Treasurer Clinton Bigard recommended department heads look over their budget figures to avoid problems next year. There was a discussion on insurance and worker compensation.

The Building Committee report from Oct. 3 showed a lot of work is ahead at the courthouse in different offices, concrete work in front of the county building and fixing the ramp on the south side of the county jail.

Under other business, the county board approved appointments of Patricia Burtch to a 2-year term by assessment year on the Jasper County Board of Review and Norbert E. Ochs as Commissioner of the Captain Pond Drainage and Levee District near Ste. Marie. The commissioner term for Ochs expires in September 2022.

Board members also approved the Risk Management insurance renewal for 2019-20 with a 4.9 percent premium increase from last year, based on a Finance Committee recommendation.

The State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutor fee resolution was approved with a $500 increase from last year. Miller said this service helps with prosecution duties on appeal cases or other responsibilities that put a strain on the local state’s attorney office.

As in previous years, the county government will pay for flu shots offered to county employees at the Jasper County Health Department.

The board was informed of two Chamber of Commerce board of director resignations. The Chamber is seeking individuals to fill those vacancies.

Chairman Heltsley talked about his recent trip to Washington D.C. to obtain useful information with other members of the United Counties Council of Illinois.

Heltsley talked with Congressman John Shimkus, who represents most counties in southern Illinois, and found out help with coal-fueled power stations is not available on the federal level. Shimkus did note grant options might be available for new jail construction projects.

And on a popular grassroots movement to separate Chicago from the rest of Illinois, Shimkus told Heltsley “If people knew how much money came downstate from Chicago they wouldn’t be talking about it.”

The next county board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Nov. 14 in the Jasper County Building on Washington Street.