Members of the Benld City Council on Monday night hired Randy Gross, Litchfield, as the city’s new sanitary sewer operator, amended an ordinance to set penalties for local businesses that fail to renew their municipal business licenses and authorized Mayor Jim Kelly to sign a proclamation recognizing the 25th anniversary of the Community Unit School District 7 Partnership for Educational Excellence.
The council also referred to committee a letter from the Illinois Alluvial Regional Water Co., based in Jersey County, inviting the city to invest in the fledgling company’s plan to tap aquifer water resources to supply drinking water in Jersey County and communities in surrounding counties. The City of Carlinville and Village of Dorchester are among Macoupin County communities that already have signed on to participate in the company. The City of Bunker Hill reportedly is considering an investment of $10,000 to also participate in the project, according to Benld City Attorney Rick Verticchio.
The council voted unanimously to hire Gross to replace outgoing sewer operator Chris Releford. Mayor Kelly said Releford has told the city he plans to resign the position, but agreed to stay on until the city receives certification from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency authorizing Gross to take over the position. Gross currently works in similar positions for the villages of Mount Clare and Sawyerville.
Gross will receive the same salary that Releford was receiving, Kelly said.
The first thing I want to do is try to do something about the smell.
“The first thing I want to do is try to do something about the smell,” Gross told the council, referring to odor issues associated with the city’s sewage treatment lagoon.
BUSINESS LICENSE AMENDMENT
On a motion by Ald. Jim Tilashalski, seconded by Ald. Teresa Tucker, the council unanimously approved an amendment to the city’s business license ordinance establishing penalties for businesses that fail to renew their business licenses on an annual basis. In December, the council approved a revised business license ordinance raising the fee from $25 to $50 and setting a $30 annual renewal fee due by Jan. 1. The new ordinance, however, established no penalties to enforce payment of the annual renewal.
The amendment approved by the council Monday night calls for a $25 late fee after Jan. 1, a 15 percent penalty after Feb. 1, a 20 percent penalty after March 1 and a 25 percent penalty after April 1. Businesses that fail to renew their license by May 1 are subject to having their license to operate suspended and court action to collect the licensing fees.
In a related matter, City Clerk Terri Koyne reported that only four local businesses have not yet renewed their licenses for 2018.
Following a brief presentation by John Fassero, president of the Partnership for Education, Mayor Kelly signed a proclamation recognizing the organizations 25th anniversary. Fassero was accompanied by Nanci Grandone, whom Fassero said founded the all-volunteer non-profit 25 years ago.
“This is our 25th anniversary and we are going around to the various town councils that have supported us over the years to recognize them and thank them for their support,” Fasserro said. “We want to thank the council and certainly the citizens of Benld for their support over the past 25 years.”
Since its founding, Fassero said, the Partnership has distributed nearly $600,000 in the form of classroom mini-grants, and upward of $200,000 in scholarships to graduating Gillespie High School seniors. The funds administered by the 5-1(c)3 non-profit organization come from donations, bequests and memorials.
We’ve worked very hard over the years to be transparent and good stewards of that money.
“It’s not our money,” Fassero noted. “It’s other peoples’ money. We are the funnel that funnels other peoples’ money to the school district. We’ve worked very hard over the years to be transparent and good stewards of that money.”
For the volunteer organization’s 25th anniversary, the group has set a goal of raising $25,000 in new donations, Fassero said. “We hope to hit the $1 million mark in three or four years and we are looking forward to that.”
Recently, he said, the Partnership increased the size of the scholarships it offers to graduating seniors from $500 to $1,000. The scholarships are offered on a matching grant basis with the scholarship sponsors providing half of the funds award and the Partnership matching that amount with its own resources.
“It’s still a modest scholarship but for many students, it is the only scholarship available to them,” he said. “Most years we provide scholarships for up to 25 percent of the graduating class and we are very proud of that.”
The text of the proclamation recognizes the 25th anniversary of the Partnership for Educational Excellence, recognizes its accomplishments and urges Benld residents, civic and business leaders, and alumni to continue their support of the Partnership and its efforts to improve educational opportunities for Community Unit School District 7 students.
The council referred to committee a letter from the Illinois Alluvial Regional Water Co. inviting the City of Benld to consider participating in the fledgling cooperative water company.
Mayor Kelly said the proposal is worth looking into, although Attorney Verticchio said Benld lay somewhat outside the company’s original geographic scope. The company plans to tap into water aquifers located in Jersey County as a source of water to supply participating communities. The City of Carlinville has committed an investment of $30,000 to the project and the Village of Dorchester has committed $10,000. Verticchio said the City of Bunker Hill is “seriously considering” a contribution of $10,000. The monetary contributions ensure participating communities a position of the board of directors as the project moves forward.
The project has been a source of controversy in Carlinville where a faction of residents claim the city lacks the statutory authority to invest in a private company and that there are other, possibly more viable, alternative sources of water for the community.
Verticchio said his understanding is that the company plans to be up and running in 10 to 12 years. He said the company’s board of directors plan to use the seed money contributed by participating communities to pay engineering and legal costs, and to leverage federal grants to actually build the project. Financial commitments on the part of participating communities do not have to paid all at once, he said, but can be spread out over a period of time.
The estimated price tag for the project currently stands at $75 million.
It is a project that says its water is going to be cheaper than if a community continues to buy water from somewhere else.
“It’s a big deal,” Verticchio said. “It is a project that says its water is going to be cheaper than if a community continues to buy water from somewhere else.”
The City of Benld currently gets its water as a satellite of the Gillespie water system, which is planning a major $10 million infrastructure improvement starting this year.
Ald. Tilashalski recommended making the proposal the subject of an upcoming committee meeting, and making arrangements for interested council members and community leaders to attend a meeting of the IARW board. He noted that the letter to the council indicates the group has “people available to come address our council so we can be better informed.”
“I strongly support having a meeting (to discuss the proposal),” Tilashalski said, “and, then, those of us who can attend a meeting (of the IARW board) can attend, and perhaps along with some community leaders.”
The letter sets a deadline of March 28 for a decision about whether or not the City of Benld wishes to participate as a monetary contributor.
Ald. Tucker asked about the financial risk to the city if it chooses to participate.
“If it fails, you can’t lose more than your original contribution,” Verticchio said. If the company succeeds, he said the plan is to reimburse founding communities their original contributions once the company is operational.
Following a 15-minute executive session, the council spent several minutes discussing the status of legal proceedings against various properties in the city that have been deemed as public nuisances,
Verticchio said he is ready to advertise for bids from contractors to either demolish or repair property located at 105 South Fifth Street. The city does not own the property at this time but may acquire the deed as a result of future legal action. The cost of demolition or repair will be filed as a lien against the property. If the contractor hired to demolish or repair the property is interested in buying the parcel, Verticchio said the city could enter into a contract to sell the property to the contractor for a specified price contingent upon the city acquiring the property at a later date.
The council also authorized Verticchio to seek bids to abate the nuisance on the so-called Carr property, which previously was declared a public nuisance. Verticchio also was authorized to send a letter to the owner of property at 700 North Seventh Street indicating the city will pursue legal action if the nuisance is not abated within a specified period of time. Mayor Kelly said the owner has agreed to demolish the property this spring but Ald. Tilashalski said the city has been working with the owner for the past four years without tangible results.
Verticchio said court hearings have been scheduled to recoup city expenditures for nuisance abatement at three other properties in the event those properties are sold.
Verticchio also reported that the city has received the deed for the former site of the Benld Elementary School.
Verticchio also reported that the city has received the deed for the former site of the Benld Elementary School, which was razed after being damaged by mine subsidence. The city plans to convert the property into a park for public use. Verticchio advised the city to move toward developing the property as soon as practical because “people are watching to see what happens there.”
NATURAL GAS AGGREGATE PRICING
The council authorized the Mayor to enter into a contract with the Vanguard Company to supply natural gas for city-owned facilities at a reduced rate. The contract, similar to an agreement the city recently entered into to supply electrical service at discounted prices, will save the city about 13 percent on its annual gas bill, translating into about $549. While the actual pricing will not be known until the contract is presented to the Mayor, the prospectus indicates the monthly charges would be about eight cents per therm in excess of the market price.
In other action, the city set its annual clean-up days for May 19 and Oct. 13. Mayor Kelly plans to contact an electronics recycler to be available for community residents on those same dates.