Benld City Council members on Monday night approved Mayor Jim Kelly’s appointment of Ald. John Balzraine to serve as the council’s liaison to the Benld Public Library Board of Trustees and voted to amend the rental agreement for city-owned facilities to reflect current COVID restrictions.
The council ratified Kelly’s appointment of Balzraine shortly after the Mayor reported he had accepted “with regret” a letter of resignation from Ald. Jim Tilashalski, who held the position for several years. Balzraine will serve as the city’s non-voting representative to the Public Library Board. While the library is owned by the city, its operation is administered by a Board of Trustees appointed by the city government.
The council also approved an amendment to the rental agreement for city facilities which will require renters to abide by whatever COVID-19 precautions recommended by the Illinois Department of Public Health at the time the facility is renting. Public Health protocols have changed frequently during the pandemic. Current restrictions limit the number of persons using a city facility to 50 percent of capacity. For the Civic Center, the restriction means no more than 50 persons at this time. Social gatherings at the city park would be limited to no more than 100 persons.
In an unusually brief meeting, the council dispensed with mostly routine business in less than 30 minutes. There was no controversy except for a few moments when Ald. Tilashalski questioned City Attorney Rick Verticchio about why Verticchio did not contact him regarding an application for a grant to assist with the cost of demolishing nuisance buildings.
Tilashalski had pushed for making an application for the grant despite a stringently narrow deadline. Citing the grant’s requirement that the municipality have legal ownership of the buildings slated for demolition, Verticchio said the city was unable to file an application because it had not acquired some of the buildings the city wanted to remove. Tilashalski, however, argued the city should have applied anyway.
Tilashalski said he knew of at least one municipality that applied for the grant despite not having legal title to all of the houses it wanted to raze. He said his recommendation had been to seek the grant and let the grant administrator reject the application if it did not meet the requirements.
Verticchio apologized for not contacting Tilashalski to discuss the decision. He maintained, however, that it would have been unwise for the city to “fudge” on the application in hopes of escaping detection. The misrepresentation, he said, would be tantamount to perjury and could disqualify the city from applying for a much bigger and more critical grant to underwrite a sewer improvement project.
Verticchio reported he is working on a contract in anticipation of advertising for bids to demolish two commercial buildings across the street from city hall. He also answered questions from Ald. Balzraine regarding the costs associated with declaring derelict properties as public nuisances and securing court orders to abate the nuisance.
“Do we need to increase our fines to cover the costs?” Balzraine asked.
Verticchio recommended against increasing fines, noting that judges often reduce the amount of current fines if the defendant complies with clean-up orders in a timely manner. He cited a recent case where a county judge reduced $250 in fines to $50 after the defendant complied.
“So we’re doing a good job (of abating nuisance properties) but it’s costing us more than what we get back?” Balzraine observed.
Verticchio suggested the cost associated with such court cases amount to necessary expenses to improve the city. “In the long run, it is costing money because it costs more if you have to force people to comply,” Verticchio said. “But you have to do that to let people know that we’re serious.”
In a related matter, the council voted to approve a 90-day extension for Robert McLain to complete nuisance abatement on a condemned property he recently acquired from the city.
In other action, the council approved a business license for Kaleb Beck at 507 South Main Street. The business—KNB Services, LLC—is a fencing company. Beck told the council the location would be used only as an administrative office for his business. Warehousing of materials will be at another location.
Council members also voted unanimously to declare 200 South Sixth as a nuisance property.