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Jacksonville Elks Cancel 38th Christmas Auction Due to COVID Restrictions, Replace With Raffle

The Jacksonville Elks Lodge #682 has cancelled their 38th Annual Christmas Auction due to COVID-19 concerns. Knowing that COVID made for a challenging year, the lodge planned to make the event more of an open house and a silent auction. Todd Thorsen of the Elks says due to recent restrictions that the lodge thought it would be best to cancel the event: “We just couldn’t ask businesses that have been closed for a long period of time to donate, because they’re hurting, too. It just made more sense not to have it this year and do a mail-in campaign and a raffle.”

Thorsen says the lodge has replaced the event with a raffle to still help try and raise the donations they need: “It’s called the Youth Christmas Auction Raffle. Tickets are $10 each or 3 tickets for $25. You pick an item that you want to be you know in the raffle for. It’s either a Pellet Grill or a Jones Meat Locker Meat Bundle or a Fitbit Versa 3. If you buy 3 tickets for $25 you can pick which item you want to be considered for in the raffle.”

The original goal of the Lodge was to raise $15,000 to be allocated to the children’s charities: Midwest Youth Services, Advocacy Network for Children as well as a portion to be used for the 3rd Annual “Elks – Kids Safety Day”. The Lodge raised $10,000 by asking members to donate through a mail-in campaign. For more information, check out the Jacksonville IL. Elks Lodge 682 on Facebook.

Businesses Worry about Black Friday Sales Not Being Enough

Experts say local retailers do have some options for weathering the storm of an odd holiday shopping season. 

Black Friday got it’s name from the widespread belief that many retailers operate at a financial loss during most of the year and the big sales turnout the day after Thanksgiving put many of those retailers back in the black and able to turn a profit. 

However, in the era of 2020 and COVID, many retailers, especially local mom and pop shops fear the post-Thanksgiving bump won’t come as more and more shoppers turn to online shopping options to avoid shopping in-person. 

Rob Karr, with the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, says it will be interesting to see how consumers respond to stores enforcing strict capacity restrictions in an effort to maintain social distancing. 

Under the current COVID-19 restrictions, all retailers in Illinois are limited to 25% capacity with the exception of grocery stores and pharmacies which are allowed 50% capacity. 

Karr says IRMA has been working to help small businesses stay open and competitive during the pandemic by both offering advice for changes they can make to their sales approach such as how to offer curbside service, but by also going to bat for small retailers with the Governor’s Office: “Because of our intervention with the Governor’s Office, we were able to convince the Department of Public Health, Governor’s Office, Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, that you need to make that false distinction between essential and nonessential retail anymore. All essential retail. All of them that can operate in the same way that a grocery store or pharmacy can. So having them open, number one, at 25% capacity is a great big deal. That at least gives them a fighting chance. Secondly, some of them have really tried to build out at least a little bit of curbside and delivery options for their consumers, but what we have to keep in mind is that those are expensive options particularly if they are done robustly. They require a great deal of manpower and a little bit of technology support.” 

Karr says small businesses can still outshine large corporate retailers in specific areas now that they are able to stay open: “I think just having them open giving consumers that option as well. Rather than jamming more people into fewer stores, people are going to spread out now that they are able to shop at the store they want. I think that’s where smaller independent retailers are really [going to] excel. They can give that personal service. The consumers can have a more socially distanced  shopping experience.” 

The National Retail Federation released their annual holiday season predictions, forecasting a 4.5% increase in sales over last year, with online sales increasing 20 to 30% in 2020. Online sales generally increase only 10 to 15% on average year to year. 

Karr says there are options for small retailers to reach and service consumers electronically, some of which are actually not that expensive: “As with every crisis, comes opportunity right, and there are online apps that have arisen that small retailers can utilize depending on how many customer counts they have in a day. You know you have employees. You can have people simply mailing you or texting you or doing it through Twitter or something, Facebook messages, and  then you can have merchandise run through the curbside if people show up and let you know, so there is affordable ways to do that. Obviously, if you get into more delivery depending on your customer counts, and you have to enlist a delivery service that gets a little more expensive, but you can do it.”

Jacksonville Main Street says that 60% of every dollar spent in a locally owned business is reinvested in the community.

Pritzker Urges Downstate Businesses to Apply for CURE Program

Local governments in downstate Illinois are being urged to apply for COVID-19 relief funds ahead of this week’s deadline. The spending status reports for the local CURE program is due Tuesday, December 1st. December 30th is the final day that costs can be incurred in the program.

Governor J.B. Pritzker says hundreds of downstate governments have yet to submit their application for the federal CURE Program, which reimburses communities for pandemic costs: “We still have more than 350 local government units that have not taken the simple yet necessary steps to claim their dollars. Funding which could help with off-setting basic costs for payroll, PPE, contact tracing, and other essential costs for their emergency response. That could include everything from overtime payroll for first responders or local human services or PPE plexiglass dividers and more.” 

Pritzker says so far, only about $118 million of Illinois’ $250 million share of federal CURE Program monies have gone out or is on the way to communities. The application deadline is December 1st. More information is available at DCEO.Illinois.gov.

Officials Worry about COVID Spike after Thanksgiving Holiday

COVID-19 has put local health officials on high alert. West Central Illinois’s spike in cases since the beginning of October is showing no signs of letting up. Dale Bainter, Administrator of the Morgan County Health Department, says that he’s normally positive that things are turning a corner but now, he’s bracing for the worst after the Thanksgiving holiday: “I’m a positive person and I look for anything positive that I can grab a hold of. Right now, the numbers we’re seeing just continue to trend in the wrong direction. I fear that it puts a lot of successes we’ve had in jeopardy. It’s evident that the mitigation tactics work when they’re followed. We can look at the successes of our school’s validity test statement. Those schools are a congregate setting, and they’ve continued to succeed. I fear that we jeopardize that success if we as a community don’t follow these mitigation practices in general, try to flatten the curve, change the trend we’re on or get off the tracks because it does seem like we continue to trend in that direction.” 

Greene County Health Department Director Molly Peters echoed similar sentiments in an email update over the weekend. Peters said about 1 in 4 people had symptoms or had tested positive in recent weeks. She said that hospital staffing for increased hospitalizations related to COVID-19 was also causing a major concern in the county. Peters says that the county is already planning on mass vaccinations and plans are being made for more testing at the end of the week at the Roodhouse Boot Camp on Friday and Saturday. 

With public health departments expected to report new numbers over the weekend today, a new single day case record is likely to happen for the state. Yesterday, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 7,718 new confirmed and probable cases of the virus along with 57 additional deaths. The seven day statewide positivity rate is currently 10.1%. 

TEOSA Organizes Cleaning Day in Hopes of Opening in Early December

The keys to the new TEOSA have been secured, but much volunteering will be needed to get it open before the colder weather. The TEOSA is set to be located at 948 N. Main in Jacksonville however the building will need to be cleaned before it can open. 

The Jacksonville Police Chaplain, Alan Bradish, has organized a cleaning day for this Friday: “Friday, November 27th, that’s this Friday, we’re going to have a cleaning day from 9-12 in the morning, and invite anyone who is interested in coming to help clean up the facility. [We are] encouraging everyone who comes to bring their own cleaning material and implements like brooms and dustpans, mops and brushes, cleaning supplies to clean bathrooms and sinks and the shower, and even rakes and bags to clean out side, you know sponges rags all those good things. That will be from 9-12 at 948 N. Main.” 

Additionally, this Friday will also be a day in which citizens can drop off in supplies they are hoping to donate to the shelter: “Then Friday afternoon, I know a lot of people have been saving for the TEOSA to help make it run smoothly like sheets and blankets, personal hygiene, and things of that nature, we’re going to have a drop off in the afternoon from 1-4. People can come and drop off  those things that they’ve been saving up and wanted to donate. We will receive them at that time.”

For people interested in volunteering at the shelter once it is open, the first training will be Saturday, November 28th from 2PM-4PM with the other three all falling on Monday, November 30th from 10AM-12PM, 2PM-4PM, and 6PM-8PM. Overnight volunteers will only be required to attend one of the training sessions.

If interested in volunteering further, please contact Bradish by phone at (217) 719-9358 or by email at jpdchaplain@gmail.com.

Jacksonville City Council Tables Tax Levy until Last December Meeting

The City of Jacksonville appears to have some conflicts about how they should levy taxes for the upcoming year. The first reading of the 2020 tax levy was scheduled last night. City Clerk Skip Bradshaw read the amounts for separate funding allocations under the city’s governance. Bradshaw indicated that the city would be following the Consumer Price Index for cost of living increase at 2.3%, which was something brought up at the previous meeting by Alderman Steve Warmowski. 

Warmowski took exception to the amount after he noted that the city would be receiving a $66,000 increase to its general fund.

Warmowski then asked for two months to amend the first reading to decrease the general fund amount of the tax levy, and with doing rough figures the amount was determined to be approximately 1.4%. The motion failed 7-2. Warmowski then asked for a second amendment to move the 2.3% levy down to exactly 1.4%, and the motion failed again 5-3. 

Ward Three Alderman Brandon Adams then made his own amendment: “Isn’t that kind of the point to vote on the property tax levy when we know the amount that we need to achieve first. I mean this is what I was asking Adam: aren’t we putting the cart before the horse by saying we’re going to raise taxes, and then we can alter budgets, and then we say here’s how much we need. All I’m saying is, I move to postpone the tax levy question until the last December council meeting when we can have more departments budgets and understand the situation we’re in a little bit further.” 

The motion to table the first reading of the tax levy until the final December city council meeting passed 7-2. Mayor Andy Ezard and City Attorney Dan Beard say the levy will have to have an emergency clause so that the levy can meet statute and pass before the law-required due date.

IDHS Announces Gambling Addiction Study

The Illinois Department of Human Services announced the launch of a year-long study on Thursday into gambling, gambling addiction, and support service needs in Illinois. 

IDHS spokesperson Patrick Laughlin says a team of researchers will look at the prevalence of gambling addiction in the state and risk factors that lead to problems with gambling: “The results from the study will be used by IDHS for future strategic initiatives to prevent problem gambling, and increase access to treatment and services in Illinois. It will also explore risk factors for developing a gambling problem, barriers that residents face in accessing services in different regions of the state, and what practices and initiatives can address the problem gambling needs.” 

The half million dollar study will be funded in part by gaming tax revenue. 

Raoul Cracks Down on Unemployment Fraud

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul says his office is ramping up efforts to catch people using identity theft to get unemployment benefits. 

Illinois Department of Employment Security Director Kristin Richards says her department has been dealing with countless numbers of calls of people getting false letters in the mail for unemployment benefits or calls about identity thieves using someone’s information to get fraudulent benefits. She says it’s a problem the entire country is currently facing. 

The fraud has gotten so bad that Raoul says he was the victim of someone using his identity to try and get benefits from IDES: “My office has received nearly 850 written consumers complaints and approximately 4,000 calls to our hotlines about unemployment insurance fraud. Unfortunately, I, myself, can attest that anyone can be targeted by these scammers because I, myself, received a phony debit card in the mail.” 

Raoul gave tips to protect yourself from the potential IDES scams: “These steps including monitoring your credit report. You can check your credit reports from the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, for free once per week through April 2021 by visiting annualcreditreport.com. You should consider requesting a fraud alert by contacting one of the three nation-wide credit bureaus. This places a flag on your credit reports for one year which means potential credit grantors receive an alert telling them to request additional identification from someone applying for credit using your name. You should also consider putting a freeze on your credit report which means that potential credit grantors will not be able to see your credit report unless you prove to them that you are who you claim you are.” 

Raoul says in order to place a credit freeze, an individual must contact all 3 major credit reporting agencies. Raoul says more information on getting the request completed can be found at illinoisattorneygeneral.gov. 

IDES also has steps of reporting the fraud and stopping benefits. Richards says that if the fraud is reported, the benefits for the fraudster stop within 24-48 hours.

COVID-19 Update for West Central Illinois

The Brown County Public Health Department has announced that the Adams County Health Department will be performing rapid COVID-19 testing at the Mt. Sterling EMS Building on Wednesday from 10AM to 4PM and at the old Versailles Grade School on Tuesday, December 1st from 10AM-4PM. 

Brown County is also reporting 4 new cases of COVID-19 today. It brings Brown County’s overall COVID-19 case count to 279. There are currently 90 active cases with 2 of those currently hospitalized. 

The Scott County Health Department announced that COVID-19 testing will only be performed today and Wednesday from 9AM-11AM. When you arrive, please stay in your car and call the health department at 742-8203. They will come out to your car to test you. Also, please bring your insurance cards. They will be closed Thursday and Friday for the Thanksgiving Holiday. 

The Pike County Health Department reported 43 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 today along with 4 additional deaths. The new cases bring Pike County’s overall total to 948 confirmed and probable cases and now 26 COVID-19 related deaths. PCHD is currently reporting 148 active cases with 12 hospitalized. 

The Cass County Health Department reports 35 new cases from today and over the weekend along with 2 additional COVID-related deaths. An 82 year old male and a 90 year old female passed away over the weekend. Both cases were part of an outbreak at a long-term care facility. Cass County’s overall case count is at 905, with 212 active cases, and 10 of those currently hospitalized. 

The Morgan County Health Department reports 130 new cases from today and over the weekend along with 1 additional death. A male in his 80s died at an area hospital yesterday. Morgan County’s overall COVID-19 case count is now at 2,041 with 355 active cases and 22 currently hospitalized. Morgan COunty currently has 501 residents in quarantine. To date, there have been 37 COVID-related deaths in the county. 

The Schuyler County Health Department is reporting 35 new cases from today and over the weekend. To date, there have been 228 overall cases of COVID-19. There are currently 93 active cases of the virus in Schuyler County. 

The Illinois Department of Public Health announced 8,322 new confirmed cases today, breaking a 4-day streak of 10,000 or more cases throughout the state. IDPH also announced 47 additional deaths. The preliminary 7-day statewide positivity rate is 10.9%.

The Morgan County Commissioners Handle Fiduciary Matters at Most Recent Meeting

The Morgan County Commissioners took care of a couple of large fiduciary matters this morning for their weekly meeting. Chairman Brad Zeller teleconference into the meeting while Commissioner Bill Meier is still out for medical leave at the present time. Commissioner Ginny Fanning ran the meeting from the Commissioner’s Office. Deputy Clerk Dana Jokisch filed in for County Clerk Jill Waggner who was off for vacation. 

The commissioners unanimously passed bills for the month totaling $55,434.03 out of the general fund and $35,239.19 also out of the general fund but allocated for the final portion of General Election Cost. Fanning explains costs: “The Clerk’s Office has separated out the election line items so this is also general fund money, but the election is in the amount of $35,239.19 that is for, what I count it up to be, 153 judges and also includes mileage for some of those judges and then also the moving fees to get all of the different equipment to the polling places.” 

The other large cast was the annual renewal of the State’s Attorney and Appellate Prosecutor’s Office Contract for $15,000. State’s Attorney Gray Noll says that the Appellate Prosecutor’s Office is used for a number of different reasons in the local court: “The main thing that we use them for, that we call upon them for, that they handle all the appeals for any criminal cases or civil cases that are appealed, As you are aware, any criminal trial that we have, is basically always, are often resolved short of trial our appeals conform to that as well. That alone is certainly worth the annual fee that we pay them.” 

Noll says his office would have to hire 1 or 2 extra people to handle appeals cases if they did not have the agreement with the Appellate Prosecutor’s Office. Noll says they also handle a small number of conflict of interest cases on top of just appeals. Noll says the $15,000 fee is based upon population by state statute. He says the fee has been the same for the past 3 years. 

Noll also told the board that Assistant State’s Attorney Craig Miller’s last day will be November 30th before moving on to his new role as Cass County State’s Attorney. The Commissioner’s next meeting is scheduled for November 30th.