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Saline County approves UTV permits, and gaming licenses

By Travis DeNeal
updated: 4/3/2019 12:39 AM

HARRISBURG -- Time to fire up the side-by-sides in Saline County.

Last week, county board members passed an ordinance making Saline one of the first Illinois counties to allow utility terrain vehicles on county roadways. The ordinance also permits golf carts to be used in the same capacity, so long they meet certain requirements.

Board member Wes Sherrod, who crafted the ordinance, said he designed it with the idea of making Saline County a destination for UTV enthusiasts.

"Let's face it, there aren't a lot of places for people who own UTVs in Illinois to ride legally," Sherrod said. "I thought opening up the county by allowing permits could make Saline County a lot more attractive to people who want to ride."

Discussion of the ordinance became heated at times. Bill Bethel, road commissioner for Independence Township south of Harrisburg, said he is concerned irresponsible UTV riders will destroy some gravel roads.

"I've got a road right now I just spread gravel on, and they already came through, did a bunch of doughnuts, and slung that gravel everywhere," Bethel said.

While he said he can smooth gravel not thrown in ditches with equipment, it costs time.

"Townships don't have money to waste," he said.

Saline County James "Whipper" Johnson reiterated comments he made at the last county board meeting, that people willing to destroy property are likely to continue such behavior regardless of laws.

"If people are destroying property, they are subject to being arrested," Johnson said. "This ordinance doesn't change anything about that."

Board member Allan Porter said he thinks more UTV riders on the roads means more people will be tempted to ride where they shouldn't, causing damage in the process.

"This is a door I don't think we should open," Porter said.

UTVs are subject to inspection. They must have turn signals, adequate lighting and safety belts. Though the ordinance did not specify who would serve as inspector for UTVs, Johnson, the sheriff, said he would perform the inspections. Permits will cost $100.

In addition, Sherrod said it may be possible the permits could be sold on weekends at Williams Hill Pass OHV Park and the Mitchellsville Country Store, in anticipation of weekend riders who may be unable to reach Saline County before county offices closed by day's end on Friday.

Gaming OKd for county businesses

Another ordinance that saw intense discussion before passage was a measure to allow businesses outside of city limits to have gambling machines, such as electronic slot machines or video poker.

Termed a gaming ordinance, the law will allow businesses who sell alcohol by the drink in county jurisdiction to offer video gaming machines. County board member and parliamentarian Bruce Tolley noted that currently, businesses with county liquor licenses may sell package liquor only.

The Rev. Ron Reed, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Harrisburg, questioned the necessity of allowing gambling machines in the county, when many businesses in Harrisburg already have them in place. Reed said he is concerned by the societal affects of expanded gambling.

"It very often is the people who can afford it the least who put the most money into these machines," Reed said.

The ordinance passed 6-2 with four abstaining.

After the meeting, Sherrod said while some tempers flared, enough board members saw a bigger picture of Saline County's future to give his ordinances a chance.

"This isn't something we were looking to do immediately, but we're in bad financial shape. Really bad. So the options are, either we do the same thing, which is essentially doing nothing, or we look to things that will bring money into Saline County," Sherrod said. "We're not giving up on this county."

Porter, a board member opposed to both the UTV measure and the gambling expansion, left the meeting a few minutes early in frustration. The only business left at that point was reappointing county representatives for various municipal boards. Afterward, he said he's concerned about the direction of the county.

"I'm not quite sure I know what to say," Porter said. "They sure didn't want to hear what I said at the meeting."

Dispatch pact gets another 3 years

Board members also approved a three-year agreement with the city of Harrisburg to continue to provide dispatch service.

A contract with the city ended about a year ago, though it contained provisions for keeping the service in place. The county wanted more money because its dispatchers are used to provide the service and contractually they have annual increases in pay and benefits.

The city had been paying about $181,000 annually for the service. In the new contract, they offered to pay a flat rate of $201,000 each year.

Sherrod, who negotiated with the city, said while the agreement fell short of what the county wanted, it would provide the county with additional money to offset increased costs for the county. He said waiting until after the municipal election might cause the deal to fall through.

Board members passed the agreement.