Jasper County has a new administrator of Animal Control.

Dr. Chad Ely, a veterinarian, was approved by voice vote by Jasper County Board on the night of Thursday, June 11. He replaces Rob Schafer, who has retired from the position. All counties in Illinois are required by statute to have an administrator for animal control.

The board took no action on hiring a new Jasper County Animal Control Warden. Last month, Ray Watkins resigned as Warden and board had conducted up to interviews. The board did approve $2,500 in back pay on the county warden contract.

Board members voting for the administrator appointment were Board Chairman Ron Heltsley, Brian Leffler, Angela Fehrenbacher, Darrel Hickox, Danny Kerner, AC Pickens, Jason Warfel, Gary Michl, Ron Swick, Doug Waddell, Mike Hall, and Ben Bollman.

On matters covered by the Finance Committee report, the board agreed to a purchase of a $792 hard drive, $5,000 single audit expense on federal funds by Kemper CPA and a 3-year firewall service contract with SDS for $2,100. The single audit is required on federal funds, and the firewall computer protection is needed due to recent water damage. The board also supported improving record protection in the County Building.

Bridge Aid petitions were approved for North Muddy Township, located 1.25 miles northwest of Wheeler, and Wade Township, four miles north of Newton. In addition, the 2019 compliance reviews of County and Township Motor Fuel Tax program are now completed by the Illinois Department of Transportation. These reviews will be available to the county board and on file at the Highway Office.

Mitch Bierman of the local Social Justice Group asked for the board’s approval on use of the courthouse lawn for a rally against racism on June 13. In addition, Bierman, an alumnus of Newton Community High School, asked if the Sheriff’s Department could offer low-profile security for the rally; the city had already offered similar protection through the Newton Police Department.

Bierman emphasized the rally was intended to educate the public on violence and inequality against people of color. Such rallies have spread across the country since the death of George Floyd in the custody of four Minneapolis Police officers on May 25. The group’s message would concentrate on peace and justice, not calls for violence. Bierman and several other Jasper County young people attended a similar rally on June 6 in Effingham, and it drew about 500 people to the old courthouse lawn there. It was a very peaceful event.

Board Chairman Ron Heltsley said the only question by the board was on insurance liability. He had checked with the county insurer and no insurance bond was required for that type of event as long as there would be no damage to the courthouse lawn. No board members raised any objections to allowing the rally on the Square.

During committee reports, the board members learned Sheriff Department telecommunicators will be switching back and forth between locations in coming weeks to ensure isolation from COVID-19. These dispatching sites are in the current jail or a nearby building.

Dispatcher Janet Chapman has been training the last couple of months. Chapman has been working part-time during her training. She was scheduled to complete her training at the end of May and start dispatching full-time this month.

Bids were reviewed from Pennington Ford or Chevrolet and McClane Motors for an SUV. McClane Motors had the lowest bid of $32,465 for a 2020 Dodge Durango Pursuit. The vehicle has been ordered and equipment has been ordered for the new sheriff’s department patrol unit from CJ accessories. Chris Hankins will be installing the equipment when the new patrol unit arrives. The Sheriff’s Department is seeking grant money for purchasing new tasers for officers.

The Sheriff’s Committee also learned the COVID-19 outbreak in Illinois prisons has the state still refusing the transfer of prisoners sentenced to Illinois Department of Corrections facilities. This has caused inmate housing problems and added to housing expense for counties across the state. Jasper County currently has four people sentenced to prison, but they remain in the county’s custody. It is unclear at this time when IDOC will begin accepting new prisoners.

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted revenue totals on the state income and sales taxes in Illinois. County Treasurer Clinton Bigard told the Finance Committee last week in the county six-month revenue and expense report that expenses are the same from last year, but the income is down $160,000.

Building Committee member reviewed a long list of “got it done” and “to do” items for county properties and facilities. The short list of tasks includes flagpole concrete base pouring, placement of 24 picnic tables for public use on the courthouse lawn with cooperation from the City Park, need for seeking bids to replace deteriorating benches on the Square, repair of a steel door at the Courthouse that has rusted due to water problems, plus caulking of windows for the Probation office, roofing repairs and improved records protection in the County Clerk office. There was also discussion on putting together a 5-year plan on building and grounds priorities.

The committee also discussed the dedication of the maintenance employee for using his own mower to cover county property and cut five hours from the mowing duties. So, it is much more efficient than the county-owned mower. Different options were discussed on whether to continue with the employee’s or seek another mower that is better at the job. There is no liability on use of the employee’s own equipment since he is doing the work for the county.

Contractors interested in the new jail construction project will have plenty of reading to complete. A packet made available to potential bidders covers 50 to 70 pages. The board last month moved ahead with a floor plan for the new facility that will be built on the site of the current jail. Part of that facility was constructed in 1912.

The Ambulance Committee report showed the pandemic has delayed acquisition of the new ambulance for Jasper County Ambulance Service. The Ambulance did receive $14,691 from the Care Act and the effort will continue to seek other funding. There is some confusion on how the funds will be shared with the County Health Department due to the ambulance service and health department sharing the same tax identification number. There was also a review of personnel changes with different shifts and advancement to paramedic for one employee.

Near the end of the meeting, Hickox asked why board members had to meet in the courtroom of the Jasper County Courthouse instead of its usual place at the County Building on West Washington Street. State’s Attorney said the County Health has the authority to require safe meeting practices during the pandemic. In addition, the county board wanted to make sure everyone felt comfortable with safe distancing allowed in the courtroom as opposed to the board meeting room.

Hickox, who has questioned the extent of the pandemic, still asked why the board had to comply. Fehrenbacher noted the death toll in Illinois from COVID-19. Hickox said people die from other things, too. Hickox also said the Zoom meeting connection did not work well during the May meeting with many people not hearing all that was said by members and some losing connections.

Chairman Heltsley said it was a matter of safety and next month the board could return to its board room for the next regular meeting on July 9. Hickox said he wished the Governor of Illinois would quit pushing us around.