In what appears to be a tentative first step toward disbanding the Benld Police Department, the Gillespie City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to offer a police protection contract to the City of Benld. The Benld City Council is expected to meet in special session Friday night to vote on whether or not to accept the agreement.
The intergovernmental agreement approved by the Gillespie Council calls for a five-year contract under which the City of Gillespie would provide 24/7 police patrol for the City of Benld. Both communities will share the cost of police protection on the basis of their populations. Initially, the cost to Benld will be $18,000 per month (216,000 annually), representing a 30/70 split. Either community can opt out after the third year of the contract by providing one year’s notice of its intent to terminate the relationship.
The council approved the intergovernmental agreement to offer the contract on a motion by Ald. Dona Rauzi, seconded by Ald. Bill Hayes.
The contract is virtually identical to one the City of Gillespie offered in July 2018 when Benld city officials first considered dismantling the city’s police department. At that time, Gillespie offered to provide patrols 24/7 at a cost of $216,000 per year and agreed to hire additional officers and purchase additional squad cars to fulfill its commitment to the City of Benld.
At that time, Benld Mayor Jim Kelly reported the annual cost of maintaining the Benld Police Department amounted to $278,900 the previous year. Entering into a cooperative agreement with Gillespie, he said, would save the city $40,000 to $60,000 per year.
Facing public opposition to eliminating the police force, the Benld Council subsequently took steps to reduce operation costs. Those steps included reducing the number of patrol hours in the city. The cooperative agreement between Gillespie and Benld would restore 24/7 police patrols in the city.
Last April, Benld voters resoundingly rejected a referendum on a property tax increase that would have generated an estimated $40,000 a year for the Benld Police Department operations. Residents voted two-to-one to reject the measure, which would have authorized the council to raise the tax rate for the Police Department from .1646 percent to .6 percent.
In addition to approving the intergovernmental agreement, the Gillespie Council gave Mayor John Hicks power to act on hiring three additional full-time police officers and purchasing an additional patrol vehicle, contingent upon the Benld Council ratifying the proposal. The council also voted unanimously to authorize Police Chief Jared DePoppe to restructure the department’s hierarchy by promoting Sgt. Lori Gerdes to Lieutenant and creating two new sergeant positions, also contingent upon Benld accepting the contract.
Hicks told the council that DePoppe wants to hire the three additional full-time officers by May 1 if Benld chooses to accept the contract.
The Benld Council plans to vote on the issue during a meeting at 6 p.m., Friday. Because of COVID-19 concerns, the Friday night meeting is closed to the public but community members will be able to hear the meeting via a telephone conference call.
While council members met in person Tuesday night, visitors were allowed to participate only via a telephone conference call. City Clerk Frances Smith also participated by phone to take minutes of the meeting. Mayor Hicks said those attending in person observed social distancing protocols recommended by health officials.
Early in the meeting, on motion by Ald. Dave Tucker, seconded by Ald. Hayes, the council voted unanimously to approve a resolution defining a public health emergency. The resolution essentially provides city officials with the same authority to respond to a public health emergency, such as imposing curfews or closing certain businesses, as they have at their disposal for responding to natural or man-made disasters.
The council also gave the Gillespie Coal Museum Board authority to apply for a grant of up to $40,000 from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources as well as a second grant to help mitigate against loss of income resulting from closing the museum due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The IDNR grant is a reimbursement grant, meaning the agency would reimburse the city for expenditures after the fact.
RAISES FOR EXECUTIVE OFFICERS
After several minutes of discussion, the council voted to increase compensation for the City Clerk by $50 per month and increase compensation for the Mayor and City Treasurer by $25 each. Ald. Rauzi initiated the conversation last month, pointing out the clerk’s duties have expanded, requiring the clerk to attend additional meetings.
The Clerk currently receives a stipend of $225 per month, the same as city aldermen are paid. City Treasurer Dan Fisher pointed out, however, that raising the City Clerk’s rate of pay would put the Clerk’s salary near that of the Mayor. Typically, he said, a city’s chief executive is paid more than the clerk. Hicks quickly countered that he didn’t care whether or not the Clerk earns more than the Mayor.
City Attorney Kevin Polo said the council still had “plenty of time” to discuss the issue and make a decision, but pointed out that “the clock is ticking.” State law requires salary adjustments for public officials to be made at least six months before those offices come up for election. The terms of all three executives—Hicks, Fisher and Smith—expire next spring and their seats will be up for election in April 2021.
Ald. Tucker suggested that the council move forward with making a decision and moved to raise the Clerk, Mayor and Treasurer’s salaries by $25 per month starting with the new term of office. After further discussion, he amended his motion to raise the Clerk’s stipend by $50 per month and raise the Mayor and Treasurer’s pay by $25 per month each. The amended motion secured a second from Ald. Hayes and was unanimously approved by the council.
BIKE TRAIL EXPANSION GRANT
Upon the recommendation of Treasurer Fisher, the council authorized representatives of SIU-Edwardsville to apply for a grant from AARP to extend the Gillespie-Benld Bike Trail from its current termination in Gillespie to the Little Dog Soccer Fields. The expansion presumably would follow the abandoned Illinois Terminal System railroad right-of-way through the city. The anticipated amount of the grant nor the expected cost of the project were not discussed.
LAKE KAHO WATER SHUT-OFF
Council members agreed with Mayor Hicks to delay sending a water shut-off notice to the Village of Lake KaHo, pending a meeting between Gillespie and village officials. Lake KaHo reportedly has opted to buy water from the Litchfield water system but continues to use water from Gillespie while awaiting completion and approval of a new transmission line. Lake KaHo was one of two former satellite customers that declined to enter into a new 40-year contract to purchase water from Gillespie. Similarly, the Village of Dorchester declined the 40-year contract on the assumption it will join the Illinois Alluvial Regional Water Co. project at some point in the future. Both communities are being billed at a higher rate than the rate offered to satellites that did sign long-term contracts.
“This has come to a head because they (Lake KaHo) are refusing to pay the higher rate,” City Attorney Polo said. While Hicks suggested sending the community a 90-day shut-off notice, Polo noted that the village’s attorney, Rick Verticchio, had told him Lake KaHo wants to reopen negotiations with Gillespie.
“We need to set up a meeting with Lake KaHo,” Hicks said, “and say, ’This is what we want to do’ and “This is what you want to do,’ and tell them, ‘You have x number of days to figure something out’.”
LIFT STATION PUMP REPLACEMENT
On a motion by Ald. Tucker, the council approved the purchase of a new pump costing $12,050 to replace a 36-year-old lift station pump at the city’s water treatment plant. Tucker said the pump is one of two “large and very expensive” pumps alternately used at the lift station. Tucker said the best estimates for repairing the old pump ranged from $6,000 to $7,000. “Repairing the old pump doesn’t make sense,” he said.
In other action, the council:
- Approved the awarding of a facade improvement grant for half of a $595 project to improve the storefront facade for the Maple Street Laundromat.
- Declared property in the 500 block of Henrietta Street as a public nuisance and authorized Polo to pursue legal action to abate the nuisance.
- Agreed to donate $20 per planter for Grow Gillespie to buy plants for 28 planters along North Macoupin Street. Tucker said that any funds not used would be returned to the city.
- Declared as surplus and agreed to advertise for sale “as is” a camper and a truck recently moved to the city impound lot from the nuisance property on Henrietta Street.
- Approved payment of $582.031.85 for work completed to date on the city’s water infrastructure improvement project.
- Approved expenditure of Tax Increment Financing funds replace or repair the city garage.
- Agreed to pay claims for damage allegedly done by work crews working on the water infrastructure project in the amount of $525 for a light at United Community Bank’s loan processing center and $2,026.17 for a damaged sign at a strip mall owned by Roy Sherman on the west side of the city. Payment of the claim for the sign is contingent upon Sherman actually using the money to replace the damaged sign. The city will seek to recovery the funds from the general contractor at the conclusion of the project.