Infrastructure upgrades, sand mines and economic development were the focuses of this year’s State of the Counties address.
Illinois Valley Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development held a business breakfast seminar Wednesday where guest speakers La Salle County Board chairman Jerry Hicks, Bureau County Board chairman Dale Anderson and Putnam County Board chairman Duane Calbow spoke about issues and other happenings within their respective counties, and what to expect this coming year.
La Salle County
La Salle County Board chairman Jerry Hicks briefly addressed the most controversial topic facing the county: sand mines.
“I don’t like the fact that the Mississippi Sand mine is right next to Starved Rock but we’re the sand capital of the world and we have to take advantage of that opportunity to bring jobs here,” Hicks said.
As for the Illinois Cement sand mine along the Osage curves near Utica, Hicks noted that mine would not have passed the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals criteria
because excellent farm ground is being destroyed for that project.
“The village of Utica annexed that land so the county has no say in what happens there,” Hicks said. “I can say that if it was under the county’s authority it wouldn’t have passed our zoning board.”
The makeup of the county board is now 15-14 with Republicans gaining the advantage. Hicks said the board has always worked well together regardless of party power and he expects that to stay the same.
“We work together and have a great working board,” he said.
Most of his speech offered a laundry list of infrastructure upgrades and new programs created this past year such as e911 being up-and-running, the county’s plans to spend $400,000 on a complete telephone system upgrade, and newly installed elevators in both county buildings.
“We’re spending some money, but they are on things that have to be done,” Hicks said.
Hicks said he is hopeful the iFiber network will be completely installed and up-and-running by June. The county government itself isn’t affiliated with the project.
Wind development in La Salle County and across the country has hit a snag. Electric prices have made it unprofitable for wind developers to build more turbines. Hicks estimated Invenergy has about 100 turbines already pre-permitted for construction.
Hicks ended his talk about declining property value throughout the county. He said property tax revenue is falling which means county board members and department heads are struggling to find ways to keep costs down in the face of rising costs.
Bureau County Board chairman Dale Anderson echoed Hicks’ statement about falling revenue, specifically pointing to the state pulling its Corporate Personal Property Replacement Tax revenue from counties.
“Well, it looks like the state might get to balance their budget after all by taking revenue from counties,” he said.
Anderson highlighted a number of projects that were completed last year such as new heating and cooling systems in the jail, new windows and doors at the county building that have not only cut utility costs, but have made the building more comfortable in the summer months.
“Our general fund revenue has dropped significantly but the public safety sales tax will help tremendously,” he said.
Putnam County chairman Duane Calbow said eight years ago the county was awarded federal and state grants to build a new jail and 911 center. But the county also had to borrow nearly $2 million to complete those projects.
“Next month, we’ll make our final payment on those loans and have them paid off 12 years ahead of schedule,” Calbow said.
Plans are set for the county to purchase the old Steelworkers Union Hall and turn it into an emergency operations center.
But the biggest concern for the county remains convincing Arcelor-Mittal to sell its vacant plant site to a willing suitor.
“In the future, we need to focus ourselves more on economic development,” Calbow said. “The old mill building is still sitting vacant and we need to focus ourselves on that.”
Kevin Caufield can be reached at (815) 220-6932 or email@example.com.