Members of the Benld City Council on Monday night approved a $120,338 property tax levy for 2019 taxes to be collected in 2020, agreed to seek candidates for a fourth full-time police officer and approved a resolution to appropriate $30,530 in Motor Fuel Tax funds for next year’s street maintenance program. The council, however, tabled action on a proposed ordinance to regulate the sale and use of recreational cannabis within the city limits when council members failed to agree on a local sales tax rate for cannabis and other details of the ordinance.
After several minutes of discussion, council members agreed to table action on a recreational cannabis ordinance until at least December when it became apparent there was no consensus on some key components of the ordinance. Attorney Gina Verticchio, who attended on behalf of her father, City Attorney Rick Verticchio, told the council that her father had prepared a proposed ordinance based upon a model ordinance provided by the Illinois Municipal League for communities wishing to allow cannabis dispensaries within their city limits. At issue was the amount of local sales tax the city wants to collect on the sale of recreational cannabis, and provisions regarding the location of such facilities.
Legislation signed into law last summer will make the sale and consumption of cannabis for recreational purposes legal in the State of Illinois as of Jan. 1. For recreational dispensaries to be located within a community, however, requires municipal governments to enact ordinances to govern the location and operation of such businesses.
The new law bans recreational use of cannabis and cannabis products in public places, and limits possession for Illinois residents to 30 grams of raw cannabis, five grams of concentrated cannabis products and cannabis-infused products with a THC content of no more than 500 mg. Possession limits for non-residents are half of those in place for residents.
The act also imposes stiff state taxes on recreational cannabis as follows: 10 percent on raw cannabis with a THC concentration of less than 35 percent; 25 percent on concentrated cannabis products with a THC content of 35 percent or more; and 20 percent on cannabis-infused products. State and local sales taxes must be collected in addition to the cannabis use tax imposed by the state. In addition, municipalities are authorized to collect sales tax of up to 3.75 percent.
Several council members worried about provisions restricting the location of recreational cannabis dispensaries to at least 500 feet from schools or daycare facilities. Though the IML ordinance does not include a provision regarding churches, council members seemed to agree that dispensaries should also be located a minimum distance from churches. With Head Start facilities at one end of the Central Avenue business district, a church at the other end and a dearth of available buildings suitable for housing a dispensary, council members worried that 500 feet would be too restrictive.
“I would not recommend 500 feet,” Verticchio said.
Council members also expressed concerns about the amount of local sales tax Benld intends to impose. The IML model ordinance calls for three percent, but Ald. Dustin Fletcher said the city might be more attractive to potential dispensaries if Benld sets a lower rate.
“I would say that based on the size of our community and the fact all the other communities are coming in at three percent, we need to keep our rate down if we are going to have any shot at all,” Fletcher said.
Former alderman Peyton Bernot, attending the meeting as a guest, said the amount of local sales tax established in the ordinance is of minor concern since the state’s cannabis use tax is so high.
“This issue is not going to be whether Gillespie is three percent and Benld is one percent,” Bernot said. “The issue is going to be the black market.” Because of the high taxes imposed by the statute, he said, recreational cannabis users are likely to gravitate toward buying cannabis from unlicensed dealers operating illegally.
“Since we have a December meeting, we can still get this passed before Jan. 1,” Mayor Jim Kelly said. “I can see right now there is a lot of disagreement. I think we ought to table this until next month.”
“We have some time to work it out,” Verticchio said. While it would be ideal to have an ordinance in place before the end of the year, Verticchio said available licenses already have been assigned. The state will start accepting new applications for a second round of licenses in March with an eye toward those businesses opening their doors by July.
TAX LEVY, FINANCIAL REPORT ACCEPTED
The council voted unanimously to adopt the new tax levy on a motion by Finance Committee Chair Ald. Lance Cooper. The levy sets line item amounts the city expects to generate from property taxes to be collected next year. The levy differs from the tax rate in that the County Clerk will set the rates required to generate the levied amounts when applied to the city’s total equalized assessed valuation. Since Macoupin County is subject to the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL), the city can increase the levy by no more than five percent or the consumer price index (CPI), whichever is less, from one year to the next. The CPI typically is less than five percent. This new levy exceeds the previous year’s levy by 1.9 percent.
Broken down by line item, the levy seeks to raise $33,186 for administrative purposes, compared to $32,567 for the previous year; $18,740 for City Police, compared with $18,390 the previous year; $17,832 for Social Security, compared with $17,500 the previous year; $12,078 for Liability Insurance, compared with $11,853 the previous year; $9,171 for Workers Compensation Insurance, compared with $9,000 the previous year; $5,605 for the Annual Audit, compared with $5,500 the previous year; and $5,239 for Maintenance, compared with $5,141 the previous year. The levy also calls for raising $3,568 for Parks, compared with $3,500; $1,223 for Unemployment Insurance, compared with $1,200 the previous year; and $100 for Leases, Rental and Rent to Own, which is unchanged from the previous year.
The levy calls for raising $12,338 for the Public Library, compared with $12,108 the previous year. The Public Library is its own taxing body and the levy technically is separate from the municipal levy. The total 2019 levy, including the amount levied for the library, is $120,364, compared with $118,120 levied for 2018.
On a motion by Ald. Mickey Robinson, seconded by Ald. Cooper, the council voted unanimously voted to accept the annual financial report prepared by Scheffel Boyle, CPAs, Columbia, for the fiscal year ending April 30. Council members reportedly reviewed contents of the report during a previous committee meeting and there was no public discussion of the document Monday night. The approved financial report will be submitted to the Illinois State Treasurer’s Office in accordance with state law.
The auditor’s opinion letter included in the report affirmed the city’s financial statements fairly present “in all material respects” the financial position of the city’s governmental activities, business-type activities and each of the city’s major funds.
For its governmental activities, the city ended the fiscal year with $1,224,144 in assets, including $927,213 cash on hand. For business-type activities, such as the water and sewer departments, the city ended the fiscal year with $2,231,290 in assets, including $308,604 in cash.
CITY TO SEEK APPLICANTS FOR FULL-TIME POLICE OFFICER SPOT
On a motion by Ald. Cooper, seconded by Ald. Robinson, voted to accept “with regret” the resignation of Benld Police Officer Adam Durbin, effective Nov. 19. In his letter of resignation, Durbin asked to be added to the city’s roster of part-time officers to be called upon on an “as needed” basis. The council then voted unanimously to approve Mayor Kelly’s recommendation to promote part-time Police Officer Molly Margaritis to full-time status.
“She’s been doing a good job,” Kelly said of his appointment to fill the vacancy created by Durbin’s departure.
After several minutes of discussion, the council voted 4-1 to advertise for applicants to fill a fourth full-time position on the Police Department. The Department currently has three full-time officers, including the Chief of Police. Mayor Kelly recommended creating a fourth position, saying he believed it would save money in the long run.
“After studying the figures, that is my recommendation,” Kelly said.
But Ald. Jim Tilashalski, who cast the only vote against the measure, strongly objected, pointing to ongoing financial issues in the Police Department. Last year, the council considered disbanding the Police Department and contracting with the City of Gillespie to provide police protection at a cost of $215,000 per year. City officials backed away from that proposal after a number of city residents voiced objections during a public meeting on the issue. Since that time, Tilashalski said, the council had approved a number of cost-cutting measures in the Police Department’s operation, but a proposed tax referendum to raise additional funds for the Police Department failed to win the approval of voters.
“According to our budget, most of the money that goes into the Police Department comes from the General Fund,” Tilashalski said. The financial report accepted by the council earlier in the meeting shows expenditures of $271,658 last fiscal year for public safety and a disbursement of $263,492 from the General Fund to public safety. Tilashaslki said General Fund revenue is down by about $21,000, primarily due to declines in Communication Tax revenue resulting from the number of residents abandoning land-based telephone lines in favor of cell phone services.
In fiscal 2018, Tilashalski said, the Police Department was $65,000 over budget. Last year, because of cost-cutting measures including a reduction in the number of full-time police officers, the deficit was reduced to about $2,600, he said.
“I don’t see that if we’re on target now that we’re going to do anything but spend more money (if we hire a fourth full-time officer),” Tilashalski noted.
Ald. Teressa Tucker, who chairs the Police Committee, said the proposal to hire a fourth officer was based on the inordinate amounts of money the city is spending on overtime. Moreover, she said, the city does not have enough part-time officers on its roster to fill shifts. “We’re spending money to hire part-time officers and to train them, then they leave to go somewhere else,” she said. Having full-time officers work excessive overtime not only is expensive, she suggested, but also inefficient. “Who wants police officers who are stretched too thin and working tired?” she said.
“We’re relying on our part-timers,” Ald. Fletcher said, suggesting that because of a dearth of part-timers, some of them are approaching the maximum number of hours they are permitted to work. “We’re going to get into trouble because we’re working them too much.”
Even with the overtime and part-time officers, City Clerk Terri Koyne said the Police Department still has about 120 hours of patrol time to fill.
“I’m not anti-union or anything,” Tilashalski said, “but as soon as we add a fourth officer we’re going to be held to (the union contract).”
Kelly said he talked to union representatives and reviewed the union contract, which currently obligates the city to employ three full-time officers. He said the union was in agreement that a fourth officer would be subject to being laid off if the city discovers the position is not financially feasible. “I told them that if we tried this and found we couldn’t do it, we would have to cut one and they were okay with that,” Kelly said.
“It’s getting to a point that we either pay our officers time and a half or we hire a fourth officer,” Kelly said. “Gillespie will not come over and cover our open shift. I’m of the opinion that over the long run, a fourth officer is going to cost less than paying these people time and a half.”
Brought to a vote on a motion by Ald. Fletcher, seconded by Robinson, the council voted 4-1 to being the process of seeking candidates to fill a fourth full-time officer position. Robinson, Fletcher, Cooper and Tucker voted “yes.” Tilashalski voted “no.” Ald. Brian Frensko was absent.
In other personnel action, the council voted unanimously to hire Tom Turigliatto as a full-time maintenance worker. Turigiliatto previously was employed as a part-time worker. As a condition of his employment, Turigliatto is expected to obtain a CDL driver’s license within 90 days.
MOTOR FUEL TAX RESOLUTION
On a motion by Ald. Robinson, the council approved a motor fuel tax resolution to authorize up to $30,530.25 in expenditures for next year’s street maintenance program. The resolution will be submitted to the Illinois Department of Transportation for approval at the state level.
“This is going to mimic what we’ve done last year,” said Jacob Kampwerth of HMG Engineers, who presented the proposal. Last year the city resurfaced 28,000 square yards of streets, he said.
The resolution calls for spending $12,755 for road oil, $10,800 for seal coat aggregate; $4,000 for patching material; and $900 for CA-6 rock.
Kampwerth said the street maintenance program may have to be adjusted somewhat because of IDOT’s plans to resurface Illinois Route 138 through Benld.
The council took separate votes to authorize replacement of one pump and repairs for two others used in the city’s sewage system lift stations. Mayor Kelly said Vandaventer Engineering said a 30-year-old pump from one of the lift stations could not be repaired, largely because parts are no longer available for the unit. Replacing the pump at a cost of $24,969 was approved on a motion by Ald. Fletcher, seconded by Ald. Robinson.
A second pump currently at Vandaventer’s facility will be repaired at a cost of $8,642 and a third pump will be repaired on-site at a cost of $44,279.
Council members unanimously approved issuing a business license for Amanda D. Harshbarger to operate Knead to Relax Massage Therapy at 210B East Central Avenue.
Harshbarger said she is a licensed massage therapist who has been employed for the last 10 years at Massage Envy in Glen Carbon. She said she intends to continue working part-time at Massage Envy for the time being. She hopes to have her Benld location open for business in January.
“This area doesn’t have a lot of massage therapists,” she said. “People need pain relief and relaxation. I think it’s going to thrive.”
In other action, the council:
- Accepted a low bid of $1,275 from Reid Electric, Gillespie, to install a service panel to separate the electrical service for the Benld Post Office from the electrical service for the Benld Police Department, both of which are located in the same building.
- Approved Christmas bonuses in the amount of $125 for full-time employees and $75 for part-time employees.