(Cambridge)- The Henry County Board met Thursday, June 20, and the top subject of conversation was the flooding issues affecting Henry County, especially the farm community. The first speaker, under Public Comment, was Dennis Verbeck of Atkinson, the President of the Henry County Farm Bureau.

Mr. Verbeck described Henry County fields as a “virtual wasteland,” with “substantial economic implications” to individuals, farm families, and businesses. He explained the costs are not just financial but devastating from a mental health perspective, all the way up to potential suicides.

On a positive note, Mr. Verbeck lauded Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D-East Moline) for coming to Hooppole and meeting with farmers, and assessing damages. He also praised the help of Sen. Chuck Weaver (R-Peoria), Rep. Dan Swanson (R-Alpha), and County EMA Director Mat Schnepple.

Mr. Verbeck said this was the worst flooding Henry County had experienced since 1993. As he was continuing his Public Comment, the 3 minute timer had expired. But on a motion by Jacob Waller (R-Geneseo), and a Second by Erik Brown (R-Geneseo), a unanimous vote to give Mr. Verbeck as much time as he needed and time for questions from the Board, was approved.

Jill Darin (R-Geneseo) encouraged the use of Social Media and other publicity tools to spread the word for the need for assistance and support for the farming and agribusiness community. She also said that the water was so high on a neighboring farm in northern Henry County that the owner was “water jet skiing” on it. Kathy Nelson (R-Geneseo) said the “nail in the coffin” to some farm properties was the most recent heavy rains.

Duane Stevens, Public Health Administrator for the Henry/Stark County Health Department, made a presentation on his office and their activities. He announced construction on the site formerly the Kewanee Sav-A-Lot, that would give the Health Department 2000 more square feet to serve the public.
The expansion will allow expanded mental health services, more privacy and safety for clients and staff, and expanded hours, changing from 8:00-4:30 to 7:00-6:00. Mr. Stevens said approximately 50% of services his office delivers are mental health related.

The new construction is slated to start this September, and open in March of 2020. Free tetanus and pertussis immunizations are available through the Health Department as well. Home care for Veterans is another growing area of service by the county. Health Committee Chairman Jan May (D-Kewanee) emphasized that Health Department services are available to all county residents, not just low-income.

Henry County EMA Director Mat Schnepple presented next to the Board. He is in charge of emergency and disaster response. He had recently been assigned by the State of Illinois to head response to a severe flooding crisis in Southern Illinois. While there, he personally lobbied Governor Pritzker to add Henry County to the state Disaster Declaration proclamation. Mr, Schnepple has personally identified 54 homes damaged significantly within the county.

On a motion by Jake Waller (R-Geneseo), and Second by Erik Brown (R-Geneseo), the Board then voted 19-0 to direct Mr. Schnepple, and County Administrator Erin Knackstedt, with input from the Farm Bureau, to draft a county resolution expressing support for governmental aid for affected Henry County residents and property owners. Roger Gradert (R-Cambridge) said that “losing a field to a farmer is like losing a building to a business.”

Public Safety Chairman Shawn Kendall (R-Galva) reported that six new squad cars for the Sheriff's Department were purchased with funds from the Public Safety Sales Tax.

Transportation Chairman Jeffrey Orton (R-Geneseo) reported a June 3 accident outside Orion where a county employee flagging traffic had to dive out of the way of a speeding car heading right at him. The result was the car hitting a brand new 2019 county truck and doing $12,000 worth of damage. “Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt,” Mr. Orton said.

Finance Chairman Kelli Parsons (R-Kewanee) reported that the contract of Administrator Erin Knackstedt of Geneseo was extended to 2021, after being year-to-year. She indicated that this was done to have her contract expire in an off-election year so that future board members, or individuals “with a grudge,” could not remove Ms. Knackstedt from the position after a major electoral change.

Ms. Parsons also presented Minutes and a Resolution from an October, 2017 Board Meeting that showed up to $100,000 in Public Safety Sales tax proceeds could be spent on jail operations, which could include inmate meals. Some Board members have expressed concerns about that type of usage. Dwayne Anderson (R-Lynn Center) said that too high a percentage of the funds from the 1% tax were being spent on operations costs. Ms, Parsons disagreed