Staley Bridge contract awarded

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The on-again, off-again effort to get a bridge constructed over Sugar Creek at Staley Road has another green light.

A solitary bid was received in February and rejected as too high over the engineering estimates. The project was subsequently rebid, and Aaron Lawson, Edgar County Highway Engineer, reported at the Wednesday, March 13, county board meeting, the new round of bidding resulted in two bids that were fairly close between them but still higher than the original estimate.

Lawson recommended the county board accept the $1.4 million bid from William Charles Construction of Rockford. Board chairman Jeff Voigt also endorsed the plan noting the Charles’ proposal allows the highway department to do some of the work as day labor to help keep costs down. Awarding of the contract is dependent on Illinois Department of Transportation concurrence.

The next major hurdle is cutting down trees before April 1 and the start of the Indiana Brown Bat migration. The endangered species of bats prefers roosting in trees, which also serve as maternity colonies for females. Failure to remove the trees by April 1 means a delay until Nov. 1.

“We are confident we can get the tress down in this sloppy, nasty weather,” said Lawson. “If we don’t, we lose the season and we don’t want to do that.”

When completed, the bridge will provide a safe access over Sugar Creek and eliminate a low-water, slab crossing in the stream.

Money to pay for the $1.4 million project is coming from a variety of sources. The county has saved annual state payments for township bridges of approximately $185,000 each year. This money must be used within four years of disbursement or it goes back to the state.

Some of state payments were used for preliminary engineering and right-of-way acquisition. Lawson said that leaves about 2.5 years worth of accrued township bridge program money on hand to cover one-third of the construction cost.

The remainder of the money is $400,000 of local County Aid to Township Bridge funds and Elbridge Township is paying $95,000 toward to the project. Another $500,000 is coming from a loan to the county by EnerStar Electric Cooperative using United States Department of Agriculture Rural Economic Development money administered by EnerStar.

In other highway department related matters, the board authorized Lawson to seek another safety grant for work on the Lower Terre Haute Road. The county received $1.5 million last year for shoulder work.

Lawson said the new proposal is for improving the road’s elevation and doing another surface overlay before installing the new shoulders. Knight and Associates Surveying and Cummins Engineering were hired as consultants to help gather the necessary data for the grant.

The county is entering the time of the fiscal year when money starts getting tight. County treasurer Don Wiseman was authorized to open a line of credit to help the county pay bills. This is something the county does every year as a safeguard and for the last two years Wiseman has not needed the line of credit, but he is not optimistic about getting through without borrowing this year.

“We are definitely on fumes right now, but we will make it through the month,” said Wiseman. “I will only borrow what I need to and repay it as soon as we make a (tax) distribution to keep interest minimal.”

Borrowing is not an indication the county is overspending revenue. The action is needed because of a cash flow issue created when the state does not always pay its obligations in a timely manner. As of the March 13 meeting, the county had not received either the monthly income tax or local use tax payments.

“We are still owed $50,000 to $60,000 from last year for the probation department,” said Wiseman.

Another financial hit from the state is coming July 1 when a new law becomes effective.

“I’m working on a new fee schedule,” said Angie Barrett, Edgar County Circuit Clerk. “Starting July 1, defendants sentenced in a criminal case can seek fee waivers from the court.”

She said this is part of the Access to Justice effort that resulted in legislation last year granting $30 daily credit toward bond for people sitting in jail and unable to post bond.

Barrett was unable to speculate about what this will mean financially to the county and court system since many of the people sentenced to fines and fees in criminal cases rarely have the resources to pay anyway. She does anticipate the fee waiver legislation will mean a reduction of money coming into her office.

“It helps us and hurts us,” said Edgar County Sheriff Jeff Wood.

He noted the fee waivers will also apply to charges associated with processing arrests, serving warrants and posting bond. On the other hand, he anticipates a reduction in paperwork as a result.

“It gets people out who might have to sit six or seven months, but it will be a financial problem,” said Wood.

Voigt expressed concern about another action from Springfield.

“The minimum wage issue is the gorilla in the room,” said Voigt.

A new Illinoi law raises the minimum wage in step increases to $15 by 2025. Voigt said the issue for county government is trying to deal with it while confronting diminishing revenue.

“All of these things seem designed to enhance the state revenue by putting more on the locals,” said Voigt. “We are expected to do more and more with less and less.”

Among the action items, the county board accepted the resignation of Cindy Belt from the Emergency Telephone System Board (ETSB). The ETSB has oversight of the county’s 911 emergency call system.

It was noted Belt, along with county board member Karl Farnham Jr., has served on the ETSB since the beginning

“Over the years, she’s been a very valuable member and served as the secretary of the board since the inception,” said Farnham.

Voigt said at this time the county board will not appoint a replacement, which will take the ETSB from eight to seven members.