Members of the Gillespie City Council on Monday night approved the annual appropriations ordinance, got a first look at boundaries proposed for a tentative new Tax Increment Financing district, hammered out details of a counter-offer on a contract to provide dispatching services for the Gillespie-Benld Area Ambulance Service, and approved a zoning change that paves the way for a new drive-in restaurant on the city’s southeast side.
The council again met via the Zoom conferencing system due to COVID-19 pandemic precautions with some members and officials meeting in the Gillespie Civic Center and others participating from their homes.
City aldermen voted unanimously to approve a $17,211,450 appropriations ordinance governing municipal spending for the fiscal year that began May 1. Though required by law, the appropriations ordinance is not a formal budget. Instead it sets the maximum amount that can be spent for specific line items. Though rare, municipalities can amend the ordinance if emergency expenditures are required.
Once again the 2020-2021 appropriation appears inflated because of the ongoing $10 million water infrastructure improvement project. Before work began on the project, annual appropriations typically totaled less than $6 million. The newly approved appropriation exceeds last year’s appropriation of $16,901,650 by $309,800. Because of the water infrastructure project, the lion’s share of the appropriation is devoted to the Water Department. A total of $12,177,500 is appropriated for the Water Department, compared with $12,220,500 a year ago. Stripped of the $10 million earmarked for the infrastructure project, the base appropriation for Water Department operations is about $2,177,500.
The ordinance appropriates $1,296,400 for General Administrative Expense, compared with an appropriation of $1,280,900 last year. The line item includes $1 million in state funds included in a Capital Project Bill approved last year by the state legislature. Two years ago, the General Administration appropriation was $271,500.
One of the largest increases in the appropriation is for the Police Department, whose appropriation grew from $822,500 last year to $1,059,500 this year to cover anticipated additional costs associated with providing police protection services to the City of Benld.
A total of $891,000 is appropriated for the Street Department, compared with $826,000 a year ago. The Sewer Department appropriation is increased from $533,660 last year to $545,160 for the new fiscal year. The appropriation for Recreation and Parks gets a moderate increase from $442,200 last year to $450,200 this year. Emergency Services and Disaster Administration (ESDA) and the Gillespie Public Library both have slight increases in their appropriations to total $21,400 and $40,670, respectively. The FICA appropriation also is increased from $97,000 last year to $110,000 this year.
All other appropriations are identical to last years as follows: Salaries of General Elective and Appointed City Officials, $39,820; Administrative Building (which includes repairs and maintenance), $64,800; Parks and Recreation Areas, $47,000; Municipal Band, $3,000; Liability Insurance, $50,000; Motor Fuel Tax Fund, $200,000; and TIF Fund, $215,000.
City Treasurer Dan Fisher presented the appropriations ordinance during a brief public hearing held 15 minutes prior to Monday night’s regular meeting of the council.
PROPOSED TIF DISTRICT
Keith Moran of Moran Economic Development, LLC, presented a map showing tentative boundaries for a proposed new Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district on the city’s northwest side, and asked council members to identify derelict properties that he might be able to include in the district by adjusting the boundaries. Properties within the district must be contiguous, he noted. To facilitate that requirement, the map also shows a city-owned railroad right-of-way and other city-owned properties that could potentially be used as stepping zones to connect properties identified with the new TIF district.
Substantial portions of the proposed TIF districts are city-owned properties, including property occupied by the city’s water treatment plant. Moran emphasized his map is tentative and subject to revision on the basis of council recommendations. As it stands, the roughly L-shaped district is bounded by Harding Street on the north end and Broadway on the south end, Montani Avenue of the west and Western Avenue on the east side.
‘We’re hoping you guys could identify additional areas that could benefit from included in a TIF district,” Moran said. He asked council members to provide him with addresses for derelict buildings that could be torn down and replaced, which would improve the tax base, benefit the school district and address complaints from neighbors living near neglected properties.
TIF districts capture increases in property tax revenue for a Tax Increment Financing Fund, which can then be used within the district for infrastructure improvements and other improvements. Moran said the city’s current TIF district, which basically encompasses the downtown business district, generates $50,000 to $60,000 in revenue for the city annually. The area he tentatively included on the map, he said, represents a potential for housing developments featuring energy-efficient homes utilizing solar power. Such developments, he said, could add to the housing stock, encourage new residents to locate in Gillespie, and benefit local businesses.
Finalizing the boundaries and applying for TIF district status remains in the future. “What we’re looking at now is what properties to include in the district,” he said. “What all communities should consider in establishing a TIF district is identifying which properties would benefit most from being included.”
“This could be a very effective way to obtain funding to rehabilitate some derelict properties,” City Attorney Kevin Polo commented. “If the aldermen can identify derelict properties in their wards, then Keith can plot them on a map and see if there is a way to incorporate them into a TIF district. We have some city-owned property we can use as corridors. We have a railroad right-of-way that basically runs all the way through town and we have some vacant lots. Those are ideal because they are currently vacant, so any development with be captured by the TIF.”
Moran expects to present a revised map next month incorporating as many properties identified by council members as possible.
After several minutes of discussion, the council agreed to send a counteroffer to the Gillespie-Benld Ambulance Service after the Ambulance Service board of directors rejected the city’s proposed contract asking the service to pay $26,000 per year for dispatching services. The city police department has provided dispatching for the ambulance service for many years but as the ambulance organization expanded its service area, the amount of time devoted to dispatching ambulance drivers has increased. Previously, the ambulance service made a “donation” of $5,000 per year, ostensibly as compensation for dispatching services.
City Treasurer Fisher said city officials analyzed the cost of dispatching ambulances and asked the ambulance service to pay about half of what the city estimates it spends on dispatching ambulances. The ambulance service submitted a counter-offer of $10,000, which Fisher described as substantially less than what the city sought.
“Their argument is that we have to pay our dispatchers anyway, whether they are dispatching ambulances or not,” Fisher said. “But the ambulance service covers a larger area now, but we’re the only paying that cost.” He said dispatchers handle an average of 172 calls per month for ambulance calls, more than 90 percent of which are nursing home transfers. “Those aren’t residents of Gillespie,” Fisher said. “They’re nursing home residents” who may have come from surrounding communities are even cities like St. Louis.
He said dispatching ambulances does indeed add to the workload and to the city’s expense. Logging calls, for example, require dispatchers to keep two sets of records since the ambulance service uses a different system from the one used by police.
Ald. Dona Rauzi said she estimated it would cost the ambulance service upward of $81,000 to provide its own dispatching system. She also indicated her research showed the ambulance service has cash assets of $1.4 million, suggesting that asking the service to pay a portion of the dispatching bill would not constitute a debilitating financial burden.
“We’re not even asking for one percent of that,” she said. “We’re not asking for half or 30 percent.”
Ultimately the council agreed to go to the ambulance board with a counter-offer asking for $15,000 in the first year of a three-year contract, $17,500 in the second year and $20,000 in the third year. Additionally, under the proposed contract, the ambulance service would pay $7.50 for each call in excess of 220 per month in the first year, $7.75 in the second year and $8 in the third year.
Ald. Jerry Dolliger noted that the ambulance service currently does not charge the city when ambulances are summoned by city police or city workers on the job. “That could change,” he warned.
“They don’t charge Carlinville or Mount Olive either,” Polo countered, “but they don’t provide dispatching for them.”
Representing the ambulance service board, Josh Ross joined the meeting by phone. He said the board would meet in a couple of weeks to consider the new proposal. “My concern would be the incremental increases each year,” Ross said. “That’s going to coincide very closely with when we get hit with minimum wage increases. I will take this back to the board. We appreciate the council’s willingness to consider a multi-year contract.
With a unanimous vote, the council ratified the Zoning Board’s recommendation to change the classification for a lot located west of the former Drew Ford used car lot from residential to commercial. The change will allow Jeff Johnson, Bunker Hill, to proceed with plans to build a Village Drive-In restaurant at 241 West Pine Street.
Johnson, who owns the Bunker Hill Village Drive-In, plans to build a two-story building to house his business. The restaurant will feature a drive-through window that exits onto Illinois Route 4.
“I think it will be an asset to the community,” said Ald. Dallier who moved to approve the Zoning Board’s recommendation.
ORDINANCE VIOLATION PROTOCOLS
A citizen’s complaint about dog owners allowing their animals to defecate in his yard led to a larger discussion about ordinances and protocols aldermen should follow when dealing with ordinance complaints. Participating in the meeting via Zoom, Rick Fenton said he contacted Ald. Wendy Rolando about a dog walker allowing his animal to use his front yard without cleaning up after the canine.
Rolando said both she and the police spoke to the individual.
“If it happens again, he will be fined,” she said.
Polo agreed to prepare a draft ordinance after Rolando pointed out there is no specific ordinance requiring pet owners to clean up after their animals. The only relevant ordinance she could find, she said, is an ordinance addressing nuisance animals that cause “unsanitary, dangerous or offensive conditions.”
“It would be easier to enforce with a specifically worded ordinance,” said Polo, agreeing to present a draft ordinance next month.
Later, Rolando cited a need to establish a protocol for aldermen dealing with ordinance violation complaints. Without such a protocol, she said, aldermen are likely to handle complaints differently on a case-by-case basis. Earlier in the meeting, Police Chief Jared DePoppe endorsed the idea of writing a protocol for aldermen to follow.
“Right now, we’re not on the same page,” Rolando said. For example, she said she had given a property owner five days to clean up a public nuisance. Later she learned police give offenders seven days to correct such situations.
“I don’t want to get too hung up on the number of days,” Polo said. “These are not ordinance violation citations you’re writing, these are warnings. Bear in mind that if an officer writes a ticket, he’s going to give them a certain number of days, and if it goes to court, the court will give them a certain number of days.”
Polo agreed five days might be too brief because, if the warning is mailed, the property owner may have only one or two days to address the situation when the letter arrives. Ultimately, it was recommended that aldermen refer the issue to police if the property owner fails to abate the nuisance after receiving a warning from an alderman.
In other action, the council:
- Approved pay requests in the amount of $284,783.33 to Haier Plumbing and Heating and $13,625.37 to Curry and Associates Engineers for work completed to date on the ongoing water infrastructure replacement project.
- Approved lake lease transfers as follows: Allan and Teresa Pettit, 9 Bishop Drive; Landan Pettit and Allison Dukes, 10 Bishop Driver; Rob and Angela Sandretto, 11 Bishop Drive; Frank and Karrie Lenihan, 3 Oak Lane; Rob and Tammy Masiero, 4 Oak Lane; Gary and Pam Sanner, 2 Walnut Lane; Brian and Judith Johnson, 2 Vegher Lane; Jody Siar, Sr., Picnic Lot 401-New Lake; and Stevie and Jeremy Johnson, Picnic Lot 382-New Lake.
- Approved payments from the TIF fund for materials used for improvements to the city garage.