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McLean County Board delays votes on vaccine bonuses for county workers, tablet fees for jail inmates

McLean County Board meeting
Eric Stock
/
WGLT
The McLean County Board voted 12-6 on Thursday to delay a vote on a contract to provide tablets for McLean County Jail inmates. The county was set to get a 25% commission in user fees.

McLean County government isn’t ready to pay COVID vaccine incentives to county employees as it explores multiple options to give COVID-related bonuses to staff.

At its regular meeting on Thursday, the county board also postponed a vote on a change to the McLean County Jail’s contract that would enable the county to profit off new computer tablets for inmates. The board rejected plans to allow golf casts on the road in Hudson and committed itself to using one of three district map proposals coming soon from an advisory panel.

Vaccine bonuses

The board delayed a vote on a plan to pay $1,000 bonuses to all full-time county staff who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Part-time workers would get $500 under the plan, which the board’s executive committee approved on Monday. The funding would come from the county’s $33 million allotment of American Rescue plan funding.

County board Chair John McIntyre said after the meeting the administration also is examining the possibility of issuing premium pay for essential county employees who worked throughout the pandemic — a proposal County Clerk Kathy Michael lobbied for at the Executive Committee meeting. McIntyre said it will take more time to determine who would quality as an essential worker to become eligible for the additional pay.

He said the board may want to pass one option, or both.

“We didn’t want to discriminate against anyone, or cause dissension (among) our employees,” McIntyre said. “We do want to reward our employees somehow if we can, but we want to make sure we are doing it properly.”

The county board’s finance committee rejected the vaccine incentive plan last week when committee member Lauri Wollrab raised concerns that county employees could fake a religious or medical exemption and still the get vaccine pay.

The McLean County Nursing Home started its own vaccine incentive program last month. The county used funding from a federal grant to pay for that program.

Vaccine requirement?

McIntyre said he would support a COVID vaccine requirement for county staff, but said there hasn’t been enough support among fellow board members. “I’ve discussed that with some board members from both political parties and so far, it hasn’t been done,” said McIntyre, a Republican, adding he hasn’t polled all board members for their thoughts.

“Everyone has their own reasons why (they aren’t vaccinated). Personally, I think everybody should be vaccinated. I don’t see why it’s such an issue,” he said.

McIntyre said some board members raised concerns that some county employees would quit if they were required to get the vaccine. “I would hate to see that happen, but there is that reality,” said McIntyre, adding the county board could consider a vaccine requirement in the future.

Inmate tablets

The panel voted 12-6 to delay a vote on a change to its contract with San Antonio-based Inmate Calling Solutions (ICS) to offer computer tablets to McLean County Jail inmates. The contract calls for a 25-cent fee for each inmate email and a 5-cent per minute fee for streaming on the devices. The county would get a 25% cut of that revenue. That would come in addition to the projected $200,000 in annual commissions the county expects to get from inmates’ phone charges.

County board member Sharon Chung said she wants the county to renegotiate the contract so that inmates aren’t charged more than they already are. “I do not support further marginalizing people through charging them for basic communication with their loved ones. Nor do I believe we should profit off of it,” Chung said.

Democrats on the board and advocacy groups have expressed frustration with the county’s contract with ICS over the fees the county gets from inmate video calls. The county approved the five-year contract in 2018.

For much of the pandemic, video conferencing become one of the few ways for inmates to connect with loved ones as jail visits were restricted.

Board members Lyndsay Bloomfield, Chuck Erickson, Susan Schafer, Jim Soeldner and Gerald Thompson voted against the motion to delay. Board member George Wendt was absent.

Redistricting

In another matter, the board voted 19-0 to commit to using one of three maps that the county’s Red, White & Blue advisory panels will craft for its once-a-decade redrawing of district maps. The groups have held several meetings over the last two weeks. They are tasked with presenting a map to the county board by Oct. 26.

The county plans to place the maps on its website and present them at a public hearing on Nov. 1. The committees may make adjustments to the maps based on public feedback.

The county board will select one of the maps at its Nov. 16 meeting. If none of the three maps get a majority vote, the county will eliminate the map with the fewest votes and select one of the remaining two.

The county will keep the current format of 10 districts with two board members serving in each district. The board approved that format in May, days before McIntyre created the commissions.

Golf carts in Hudson

On the golf carts matter, the board voted 15-4 to deny a request from the village of Hudson to use golf carts and utility vehicles on county highways. Board members Bloomfield, Erickson, McIntyre and William Friedrich cast the only "no" votes.

The board’s transportation and executive committee’s both rejected the proposal.

McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage said these types of vehicle are not safe sharing the road. “The size, type, speed and non-local nature of many of the vehicles on this roadway creates specific challenges with respect to safe utilization by non-highway vehicles,” Sandage said in a memo to the board’s transportation committee.

County engineer Jerry Stokes said County Highway 12 sees significant commercial traffic, especially because it intersects with the interstate. “Such traffic entering and exiting Interstate 39 near this location makes this proposal especially problematic,” Stokes said in another memo to the transportation committee.

The McLean County Regional Planning Commission, creators of a new transportation safety action plan, also advised against allowing golf carts on roads.

In other business, the County Board:

  • Approved the reconstruction of Meadows Road (southwest of Chenoa) from the Turkey Creek Bridge to U.S. Route 24. It’s an $8 million project. Half of the project cost will be covered by Rebuild Illinois funds. The Blooming Grove wind farm will cover $2.5 million, and the county will use $1.5 from motor fuel tax and truck access route program funds. Construction is planned for 2022.
  • Approved new 2022 health insurance rates for current and former county staff. The county plans to keep the rates the same for current staff and will lower the rates for former staff. County administration noted Blue Cross/Blue Shield rates dropped over the last year because there were fewer claims during the pandemic. County administration absorbed a bulk of the 12.8% increase in 2020, while employees paid a 5% increase last year.
  • Approved a $111,000 bid from Paul Davis of Central Illinois for repair work at McLean County Animal Control, which sustained damage in the June flooding. The board also OK'd a $35,800 bid from J. Spencer Construction of Normal to repair water damages caused by the flooding at the McLean County Sheriff’s Office.
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