McLean County Board Chairman John McIntyre got mixed reviews when he asked whether the county should formally back a proposal to create a subregion from Gov. JB Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan.
The so-called Heart of Illinois plan backed by officials in 11 Central Illinois counties is intended to help the region open its economy more swiftly, based on a greater capacity to handle a potential surge in COVID-19 cases.
“I can’t emphasize enough that it is just a suggestion for our governor to consider,” McIntyre told the McLean County Executive Committee on Tuesday. He said if the County Board supports the plan, he will send a letter of support to urge the governor to consider it.
Board member Susan Schafer said she doesn’t support all of the governor’s shelter-in-place restrictions, but said Pritzker has been listening to health experts who caution against a faster reopening.
“I understand we all want to get back to normal, there is not going to be that kind of normal,” Schafer said. “I think it’s too soon, too early and it’s moving too quickly.”
Committee member Chuck Erickson said he submitted a plan to county administration to have the county reopen on its own, similar to what Clark County is doing in southeastern Illinois.
“I don’t think the governor is ever going to do anything and I think counties in this state are starting to go it alone,” Erickson said. “That would be my preference if that’s what we need to do.”
Committee member Josh Barnett recommended the county urge the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Illinois Department of Public Health to reconsider the decision to close the mobile testing site in Bloomington and move it to Peoria.
“We’re not going to be able to reopen or get back to normal unless we are actively testing folks and making that available to people, and that’s going to be hard to do when they are taking our testing site away,” Barnett said.
The panel informally voted 4-4 against a letter of support on the subregion plan. McIntyre said he will poll the entire County Board before deciding how to proceed.
But the panel backed Barnett’s plan to push the state and federal government to restore the testing site that Bloomington is about to lose.
The committee narrowly approved freezing pay for the county’s circuit clerk and auditor while stripping some pay raises that were planned in future years for the coroner.
Citing financial uncertainty due to the pandemic, the committee endorsed keeping the circuit clerk’s pay at $105,289 annually through 2024. The auditor’s pay would remain $75,324 over those four years. The county cut that salary by $25,000 in 2018 after it reduced staff and transferred bookkeeping duties to the county treasurer’s office. The coroner’s salary would go up nearly 3% in 2021 to $103,249 and then $104,797 in 2022, then would be frozen the following two years.
Committee member William Caisley said the pay freezes were shortsighted and suggested the cost-saving measures won’t be necessary.
“These conditions are likely to abate and go away though I don’t have any crystal balls that no one else has,” Caisley said. “The size of the jobs of being clerk of the circuit court and coroner at least are growing greater rather than lessening."
He said the county may end up needing to offer more sizable raises in the future to bring those salaries in line.
Committee members Erickson and Schafer also voted against the pay rates.
The incumbent circuit clerk and auditor both face challenges in the general election in November. Democrat Erik Rankin is challenging Republican Don Everhart for circuit clerk. Democrat Rob Fazzini and Libertarian Kevin Woodard are running against Republican auditor Michelle Anderson.
Committee members struck mail-in voting and renewable energy from the county’s legislative agenda.
The panel rejected support for state and federal legislation requiring voting by mail, even if those governments provided the funding.
Caisley said the county shouldn't endorse large-scale mail-in balloting.
“It lessens the possibility of voter fraud, particularly chain voting and purchasing votes,” Caisley said.
Board member George Gordon said the desire for mail-in voting is magnified during the pandemic. He cited the long lines voters in Wisconsin experienced during its primary in April.
“There are a lot of folks who don’t want to be faced with the choice between exercising an essential right of Democratic government and on the other hand, casting your vote and taking the risk of medical difficulties,” Gordon said.
The panel voted 6-3. Gordon, Barnett and Laurie Wollrab were the dissenters.
County Board member Jacob Beard also asked the committee to remove several legislative initiatives on renewable energy, fair maps and property taxes.
Beard, who was granted permission to speak by McIntyre since he is not a member of the committee, said the Clean Energy Jobs Act and Path to 100 Act were “partisan bills” that land beyond the scope of county government.
He said even if there are components of the bills that affect county reidents, it would be inappropriate for the county board to "stand behind either of those bills."
But committee member Laurie Wollrab said those issues are still relevant to county government.
“The fact that they may not relate 100% completely to our business, I think it’s not of concern right now,” Wollrab said. “I think we should have those discussions with our legislature.”
The committee approved the agenda in a 6-2 vote. Board members Gordon and Wollrab cast the "no" votes.
The Executive Committee unanimously approved expanding the county's enterprise zone to offer incentives to Ferrero to expand its Bloomington candy plant.
Ferrero is considering an expansion of up to $60 million at its Bloomington plant. The company would hire up to 50 additional workers.
The enterprise zone would able Ferrero to get a sales tax break on building materials, along with other incentives.
The plan goes to the County Board for a vote on May 19.
The Bloomington City Council approved the enterprise zone expansion on Monday. The plan also needs approval from the Town of Normal, Gibson City and Ford County.
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