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Douglas County Board declares a state of emergency due to COVID-19

By Kendra Hennis

The monthly meeting of the Douglas County Board was called to order on Wednesday, March 18 at 9 a.m.

The board began the meeting with a presentation from their IT Specialist, Jason, on how the board will do their meetings moving forward. They hope to minimize the number of people who need to be at a meeting by recording the meetings on Zoom, and then uploading them to the website. They are also looking at live streaming options. The board hopes to recieve feedback from this meeting so they can make adjustments for the next meeting. Mr. Mikeworth asked if this procedure would also be followed for the subcommittee meetings and Mr. Munson said that they would. Munson noted that “there is a learning curve, but we’re trying to stay ahead.”

The board then approved the local agency agreement for federal participation for Cronus, section 13-000106-00-PV. This was necessary because the Douglas County Board entered into a Local Agency Agreement for State Participation for construction of County Road 750 E and 1050 N in support of Cronus infrastructure improvements, as per the State of Illinois Department of Transportation on August 28, 2015. The agreement was executed by the Illinois Department of Transportation on August 28, 2015. The agreement was for an amount of $5,688,200 (state funds) for the proposed roadway improvements. Since the total cost of this section of work is $1,000,000 the original agreement is only valid for five years from the date of execution by IDOT. The Illinois Department of Transportation requested that the Douglas County Board revise the ending date of the agreement, extending it to August 28, 2024.

The board also approved an amendment to extend local agency agreement for state participation for section 13-00106-02-PV. This was necessary because the Douglas County Board entered into a Local Agency Agreement for State Participation for preliminary Engineering Services for the Cronus infrastructure improvements, as per the State of Illinois incentive package for the proposed fertilizer plant on February 15, 2015. The agreement was executed by the Illinois Department of Transportation on May 5, 2015. The agreement was for an amount of $770,070 (state funds) that corresponds to the Preliminary Engineering Services Agreement between Chastain & Associates (Decatur, IL) and the Douglas County Board that was executed on February 18, 2015. On October 4, 2018, The Douglas County Board executed “Supplement #1

Preliminary Engineering Services agreement with Chastain & Associates, for an additional engineering fee of $503,500. This additional fee was needed to cover additional engineering required at the request of IDOT and to cover work not captured in the original scope of services.

The new upper limit of the engineering amendment was $1,273,570. This amendment for Local Agency Agreement for State Participation, in the amount of $1,273,570 needs to be approved and executed by the Douglas County Board and the State of Illinois so that the Douglas County Highway Department can continue to be reimbursed for engineering services from IDOT as the expenses are paid to the consultant.

The first order of new buisness came from the Supervisor of Assessments office announcing an extension of the May 1, 2020 deadline for all exemption renewals including senior households, senior freeze, disabled persons and disabled veterans. The office is encouraging seniors and disabled persons not to submit their renewals in person. Renewals may still be submitted by mail. In April, an official resolution for deadline extension to October 1, 2020 will be submitted to the Douglas County Board.

The other item of new buisness was in reference to the COVID-19 virus. State’s Attorney Kate Watson worked to create a resolution for a declaration of emergency for Douglas County. The COVID-19 task force which contains different offices in the county, has come together multiple times to try and stay ahead for the county. The task force declared that there was a need for a state of emergency, so Watson went to work on a plan. Munson said that the plan will not be published or entirely released, Wastson and Munson agreed it was fair and “humble in it’s content” and a “more aggressive resolution could be passed when and if necessary.” Munson said, “I personally, after reading it several times, am in favor of this and going forward with it. I don’t see anything in here that grants any overreaching powers to anybody.” Munson asked the board to read over the resolution while Amanda Minor from the Health Department gave a presentation. Following the presentation, the board agreed that the right thing to do would be to pass the resolution. Munson signed the resolution on March 18, making it good for 7 days without board approval. The board will need to hold an emergency meeting in order to make renew this resolution following the 7-day period.

Amanda Minor, Douglas County Health Department Administrator, then talked to the board about the COVID-19 virus. Minor said that “this is a very very fast-moving thing that is happening. On friday when I left if you had told me that we would be closing bars and restaurants and moving meetings, I would not think it would have happened by Monday. I am very grateful to the restaurants and bars and the people in this community, you’re all doing a wonderful job. I would like to applaud you. I am also asking those who are still thinking ‘oh we can still meet’ how important are these things? Are they as important as a loved one’s life? I think it’s important to put that in perspective as to what we’re thinking. As you know, yesterday was the first death in Illinois, unfortunately, it is probably not going to be the last. As for Douglas County, we have submitted tests. However, I do not need a test to tell you that it’s here. It’s everywhere. We all can do something about it. The things we can do are social-distancing, being careful touching surfaces, washing your hands. According to research, the virus can live in the air for up to 2 hours and on surfaces in 24 hours. It is serious and I want people to take it seriously. If you are looking for additional information, it is available on our website and Facebook page. I know with the great community that we have, we will get through this and things will be okay. It is just going to take some time and effort.”

In other new buisness, the Douglas County Health Department, Douglas County Highway Department, County Clerk’s Office, and Circuit Clerk’s Office are all closed to the public to “limit exposure”. County Clerk Judi Pollock said “something we all need to think about is our employees. We have some employees in this county who are really rattled by what is going on and don’t know what the right move to make is. So, I think that’s something we need to think about is the mental health of our employees with what’s happening. It’s a difficult time.” Employees will still be reporting to the office and working with the door closed for the time being. Munson also asked that the board cancel all the subcommittee meetings and move their discussions to emails to later be posted in the minutes and on the website.

There were also some questions from concerned citizens at the meeting.

The first question came from Jim Allen who asked if it would be possible for the recorded meetings to be on the website for a couple of weeks so that more people could view them? Munson said yes and as soon as they are able to get it set up and they will be doing that.

Nancy Allen then asked if the board would postpone the construction happening to the Harvest Ridge Wind Farm due to the population in the area and the travel restrictions. Munson responded that the task force would be meeting later that afternoon and would discuss it there.

A concerned citizen then asked for clarification about something that was said about a meeting in July, Munson asked that the question be emailed to the board.

Michael Holmes then asked the board if they had any further consideration to a phase two of the project. Munson responded that there were not and took no more questions.

The board also:

* Approved the February 19 regular board meeting.

* Approved the payments of the county’s financial obligations.

* Approved the reports of fees of county offices.

* Approved the purchase of a used vehicle for the Coroner in the amount of $5,000.

* Adjourned until the April 15, 2020 board meeting.

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