Members of the Gillespie City Council on Monday night approved a $394,102 tax levy for 2022 property taxes collectible in 2023 and, with one dissenting vote, authorized a substantial pay increase for Gillespie Police Chief Jared DePoppe. The council also approved a $250 resolution for the 2023 motor fuel tax street maintenance program, agreed to particpate in the state’s Illinois Funds investment program, hired a full-time police dispatcher and accepted a bid to exterminate termites at the city’s water treatment plant.
During a brief public hearing prior to the regular council meeting, City Treasurer Dan Fisher said the city is seeking a levy that is 4.988 percent in excess of what the city levied last year. A public hearing is required when the proposed tax levy exceeds the previous year’s tax extension by more than five percent. Last year, the council levied $375,371 for 2021 property taxes collectible in 2022.
Because Macoupin County is a tax cap county, taxing bodies are prohibited from receiving more than five percent or the consumer price index, whichever is less, in excess of their previous year’s tax extension. This year, for the first time since voters adopted tax caps in 1995, the consumer price index exceeds five percent, meaning taxing bodies can receive up to five percent more in property taxes than the received last year. The actual tax rate and the tax extension, the amount the taxing body actually receives, is determined by the County Clerk on the bases of the proposed levy and the current equalized assessed valuation of property subject to taxation. For this reason, most taxing bodies levy for more money than they actually will receive in order to maximize their property tax revenue.
Broken down by various funds, the newly approved levy calls for a levy of $64,637 for corporate purposes, compared with $61,565 last year; $27,829 for Police Protection, compared with $25,247 last year; $37,704 for Streets and Bridges, compared with $35,912 a year ago; $10,771 for Emergency Services and Disaster Administration (ESDA), compared with $10,259 last year; $62,841 for Liability Insurance, compared with $59,854 last year; $16,158 for Parks, compared with $15,390 last year; $3,592 for the Municipal Band, compared with $3,258 last year; $113,116 for Social Security, compared with $107,740 last year; and $57,454 for the Public Library, compared with $52,123 a year ago.
The levy represents about 10 percent of the entire municipal budget, according to Fisher.
“Our total budget is about $4 million a year,” Fisher advised, “so property taxes are a relatively small part of our budget.”
SALARY INCREASE FOR POLICE CHIEF
On a motion by Ald. Dona Rauzi, the council agreed to raise Police Chief DePoppe’s salary from $65,500 to $72,000. In addition, DePoppe will receive a $2,000 bonus to be paid in two installments from federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) money the city received last year. Rauzi said other employees received the bonus last year and it seemed right that the Police Chief should receive it as well.
Rauzi said the recommendation emerged from a meeting that included other Police Committee members, the Mayor, City Treasurer and DePoppe.
“The Chief has not had a pay raise or requested one in the past 12 years,” Rauzi said.
Mayor Hicks said because DePoppe had not received a raise in more than a decade and the Lieutenant’s salary was approaching DePoppe’s level of pay. In addition, he noted, DePoppe is on call 24/7 unlike other Police Department employees.
Ald. Rick Fulton, the only alderman to oppose the action, did not offer an explanation for his vote.
Council members voted unanimously to approve DePoppe’s recommendation to hire part-time dispatcher Lily Pullen as a full-time dispatcher, replacing Ellen Collman, a full-time dispatcher who recently accepted a position with the Macoupin County Sheriff’s Office and submitted her resignation, effective Dec. 10. DePoppe said Collman is continuing to work for Gillespie as a part-time dispatcher for the time being but indicated he probably will return to the council with a recommendation to fill Pullen’s position at a later date.
City aldermen gave Chief DePoppe permission to buy three new taser units from Axon at a cost of $9,000 before the end of the year. DePoppe said the department has two tasers that are seven to eight years old. The industry recommendation is to replace units every five years, DePoppe said. DePoppe told the council Axon will buy the department’s two outdated units for a total of $2,000 if the city purchases its new tasers before Jan. 1 but will not offer the buy-back option after Jan. 1.
According to DePoppe, the additional taser is needed because the department has more officers than it had when the older units were purchased.
“They are a valuable tool for our officers,” he said.
In other police-related business, the council approved an intergovernmental agreement to continue to provide police protection services to the Village of East Gillespie at a cost of $600 per month.
Ald. Rauzi briefly reported on progress being made toward moving the police department into space at the Civic Center vacated by the Gillespie Fire Department. The Fire Department has moved its equipment and offices to the former Cavallo Coach garages on the north side of East Gillespie. Meanwhile, Rauzi said the Police Committee has been working with Staunton architect Dennis Schuette to create a design for converting the old fire department facility to house the Police Department, and is working with an electrical engineer to determine electrical needs.
Rauzi said the committee will be getting more information on the cost of the project and advised the council the city may have to take out a loan to pay for the renovation.
A proposal presented by Chief DePoppe to lease squad cars from Enterprise Car Rental was referred to committee for further study with an eye toward the council taking final action at a later meeting. DePoppe recalled that the city bought additional used squad cars to service Benld when the city agreed to provide police protection to the neighboring community. Of the seven squad cars in the current fleet, five are in need of replacement due to the age of the vehicles, mileage and excessive maintenance cost. According to DePoppe, the department spent $21,000 over the past three years on vehicle maintenance.
Leasing vehicles, he said, would cost $1,000 per month per vehicle. At the end of the lease, Enterprise would take back the vehicles and sell them with the proceeds of the sale going to the city. New vehicles would then be provided and the lease agreement would continue. The city would be responsible for routine maintenance such as oil changes but major repair costs would be borne by Enterprise.
At issue is whether or not the lease agreement would be more cost-effective than a traditional purchase.
“Let us chew on this a little more,” Mayor Hicks told DePoppe, recommending that the issue be referred to committee.
On a motion by Ald. Frank Barrett, the council voted to buy $100 Visa cards from United Community Bank to be distributed to city employees in lieu of a traditional Christmas bonus. The action followed a lengthy discussion during which Ald. Dona Rauzi reported that if the council approved a traditional bonus, employees would be unlikely to get their checks prior to the Christmas holiday.
Rauzi said the city’s accountant has advised in recent years that the city should deduct income tax from bonus checks the same as if the bonus was part of the employee’s regular salary. Allowing time for the accountant to calculate the income tax and deduct it from the checks would push distribution of the checks until after Christmas, she said.
Several aldermen expressed concerns over the fact the city’s 26 employees would not get the full $100 bonus authorized by the council.
After further discussion, it was decided to buy Visa cards for employees as a way to preclude any delay and circumvent the tax issue.
MOTOR FUEL TAX RESOLUTION
On the recommendation of City Treasurer Fisher, the council approved a $250,000 motor fuel tax resolution, but did not go into details about specifics of how the money will be used. Ald. Rauzi had opened the discussion by asking about including slag to apply to streets after oiling next summer in response to complaints about dust associated with the gravel the city used this year. Fisher, however, said it was too early to seek bids for slag and other materials.
“There are three parts to the process,” Fisher said. “First, you have to pass a resolution for the motor fuel tax program.” Without knowing how specific streets will fare through the winter, Fisher said the city would need to wait until spring to choose the streets to be resurfaced and make decisions about what materials will be used. He recommended passing an amended resolution later in 2023 to seek bids for materials and determine which streets will be included in the maintenance program.
Rauzi said she misunderstood the deadline and had brought up the slag because she thought the council needed to make that decision before the end of the year.
ILLINOIS FUNDS ENROLLMENT
Also on Fisher’s recommendation, the council voted unanimously to authorize the treasurer to invest city funds in Illinois Funds, a program administered by the Illinois State Treasurer’s Office that allows public entities to pool money for investment. Pooling money from multiple taxing bodies allows the state to secure a better rate of return.
Fisher said the city plans to invest about $1 million in the fund, which currently is paying a return just under four percent.
AMBULANCE DISPATCHING CONTRACT
Council members unanimously authorized City Attorney Rick Verticchio to contact the Gillespie-Benld Area Ambulance Service to advise the ambulance board that the city will increase its fee for providing dispatching services to $1,500 per month as of Jan. 1. Verticchio said the city agreed to continue providing dispatching services at a lower rate eight months ago after the ambulance service promised to obtain dispatching services from another provider.
“It’s been eight months and they haven’t moved,” Verticchio explained.
Following a half-hour executive session to discuss litigation, the council voted to authorize City Attorney Verticchio to file suit against the owners of four nuisance properties who failed to bring their properties into compliance after receiving citations.
Additionally, the council agreed to hire a structural engineer to examine properties at 109 South Macoupin (former Dollar General location) and 300 South Macoupin. Both properties were declared nuisance properties last month and Verticchio said he had contacted the owners, both of whom asked the city to document what needed to be done to bring the properties into compliance. Verticchio said the engineer will examine the roofs and determine if any structural damage needed to be addressed. In the event the properties remain in nuisance status, Verticchio said a lien could be placed against the properties to recoup the cost of the engineer.
Council members accepted a bid of $1,200 Tank’s Pest Control, Gillespie, to treat a garage at the Water Treatment Plant for termites. Justin Thornhill, owner of Tank’s Pest Control, reportedly inspected the termite infestation and concluded that no structural damage had been done to the building. His bid was for a one-time, lifetime treatment.
One other bid was received from Garrella Pest Control which proposed an ongoing program costing $590 for the first year and $315 for subsequent treatments.
At the urging of Treasurer Fisher, Ald. Bill Hayes amended his motion to accept the bid contingent upon certifying that the chemicals the vendor uses are cleared for usage in close proximity to a water treatment plant.
CREDIT CARD FEE
After several minutes of discussion, the council rescinded its previous action to impose a fee for customers of the city using credit cards to make payments to the city. Last month, the council voted 7-1 to impose a three percent fee for persons using credit cards to make payments to the city.
Monday night Treasurer Fisher, who argued in favor of the fee last month, reported that the city’s bookkeeping program does not have an option for adding a credit card fee. “It will let us add a late fee, but it doesn’t allow us to add a credit card fee without adding a patch to the program,” he said. There was no mention of what it would cost to have a programmer create a patch for the program.
Ald. Wendy Rolando questioned whether or not the cost of imposing the fee would outweigh the financial benefit of collecting it. “What’s it going to cost us in extra accounting fees,” she asked, “or adding a computer patch?”
“I’d rather just eat that three percent or shop around for a bank with a better rate,” Mayor Hicks commented.
Ald. Landon Pettit, who moved to rescind the fee, reiterated his position that the fee should be considered part of the cost of doing business.
“You’re talking about a couple of hundred bucks a month,” Pettit said.
Following a lengthy discussion, a divided council voted to reduce a water bill incurred by Bill and Nanci Grandone. Early in the meeting, Nanci Grandone reported to the council that the couple’s reported water usage inexplicably soared from 3,000 gallons per day to more than 32,000 gallons a day for several days in late July and early August. Joe Allen, who does maintenance work for the Grandones, said he investigated in the crawlspace of the couple’s home and searched the yard for evidence of a water leak but was unable to find anything.
“If there was a leak with that much water, she would have noticed it,” Allen said.
Dave Pickett, Water Plant Supervisor, said he checked the couple’s water meter and determined it to be accurate.
“I think it was a failure on our part,” said Ald. Pettit, who moved to reduce the bill from $679.45 to $339.73—essentially sharing the liability between the city and the couple. “We should have acted faster.”
Others on the council argued against setting a precedent of reducing excessive water bills, but Ald. Frank Barrett recalled the city had negotiated water bills in the past.
“I think she’s liable for it,” said Ald. Bill Hayes, who voted present on Pettit’s motion to reduce the bill.
Brought to a vote, Pettit’s motion was approved with Ald. Rauzi voting “no,” and Ald. Hayes and Ald. Fulton voting “present.”
In other action, the council:
- Approved an ordinance making the intersection of Osie and Green streets a four-way stop, and authorized Verticchio to write a draft ordinance to make the intersection of Plum and Western streets a four-way stop.
- Agreed to contract with Feeley Tree Service to remove a tree at 515 Park Avenue, contingent upon Feeley also removing the stump as part of the contract.
- Authorized a payment resolution to authorize payment of $19,962.14 to Korte & Luitjohan Contractors, $2,725.41 to Curry & Associates Engineers, $7,425 to Erb Equipment, $2,500 to Mark Ranger Excavating, $128,527.03 to Schultz Supply and a $6,461 reimbursement to the City of Gillespie for work completed on the renovation of the city’s Water Treatment Plant.
- Authorized payment of $4,200 from Tax Increment Finance funds to Dennis Schuette Design for work completed on developing plans for renovating the former Fire Department facility to house the Police Department.