Innovation at Work in Tazewell County

by David Zimmerman, Tazewell County Board

Is it possible to be considered an innovative county and yet be frugal with the funds that have been entrusted to you? I believe Tazewell County can answer that question with a resounding “yes.”

The dictionary says that innovation involves bringing new ideas, creative thoughts or new imaginations in the form of a device or method. It also involves looking at issues differently and bringing better solutions to the situation. Some innovation can be costly, but that need not be a limitation when you are willing to look at issues with a fresh perspective. I would like to highlight some ways in which innovation is put to use in our county every day.

Innovation in Law Enforcement
The Sheriff’s Office is a prime example of innovation at work—Sheriff Jeff Lower believes “that it is necessary to stay ahead of criminal activity.” Drone technology, for example, is used for a variety of purposes, including accident reconstruction and surveillance. Search and rescue operations are also enhanced greatly by drones, as rugged terrain, cornfields and vast areas can be searched more quickly and efficiently. 

Forensic cellphone investigations are also at the forefront of changing technology, and the Sheriff’s Office has invested in the most current, innovative equipment and training necessary to do effective police work. Additionally, the opioid epidemic has required innovative thinking to try to mitigate this increasing and ongoing problem. Tazewell County has partnered with the Gateway Foundation in Pekin to offer the MAT program (Medication Assisted Treatment) to help those addicted to opioids. Instead of locking up those struggling with addiction, this program has seen many individuals successfully overcome their habit and stay clean.

Innovation on the Roadways
Our Highway Department is another example of innovation at work. As finances become tighter, it’s necessary to think differently about how we do things. Road Superintendent Craig Fink uses “asset management tools” to gauge the state of county roads and how to best maintain and repair them. These tools allow the department to make decisions on an annual basis regarding the entire county highway system.

Each year, a Condition Rating Survey (CRS) is conducted, giving each segment of the road system a number representing its condition. This annual snapshot takes in multiple variables, including the roads’ width and length, its composition, daily car count and the costs of preventive maintenance. This history helps determine the condition of the road and what can be done to extend its life.

This data, combined with historic pricing data, is used to develop a forecast of what our road costs will be in the future. With road taxes diminishing and the cost of inputs going up, these tools allow finances to go further than models used in the past. This type of innovative thinking has allowed Tazewell County to have one of the best county highway systems in the State of Illinois.

After this highway data is collated and entered into our GIS system, they partner with many of our county departments to make the data functional and useful. GIS Coordinator Janna Baker uses innovative equipment and resources to team up with our Emergency Management Agency, the Assessments Department, the 911 system and many other agencies.

Freedom to Innovate
There are many other examples of how innovation is impacting Tazewell County and its residents—from e-filing in the Circuit Clerk’s office to the use of the Kaizen process in the Health Department to find savings and efficiency. One goal of the County Board is to allow our employees the freedom to innovate and find ways to make our county a better place to live and do business. When you have the right mindset, tools and people within your organization, innovation is possible—even when resources are limited. iBi