Members of the Gillespie City Council voted Wednesday night to resume water shut-offs for delinquent customers as of Nov. 14. The council also approved a deal with Adam Tallman, owner of Dingers batting cages, to expand the parking lot at the Gillespie Police Department station, agreed to investigate a complaint about alleged stormwater diversion from the site of a new Macoupin County Housing Authority Development and agreed to look into alleged noise ordinance violations on the city’s north side.
The meeting was moved from its regular time on Monday night to Wednesday due to the Columbus Day Holiday.
After he gaveled the meeting to order, Mayor John Hicks asked to observe a moment of silence in memory of former Gillespie Mayor Howard Carney who died earlier in the week at the age of 86. Carney served as mayor for two decades, presiding over the construction of the current Gillespie Civic Center and other improvements. The front door of the city hall was draped in black Wednesday in memory of Carney.
“We probably won’t be able (to go to the cemetery or funeral home) to show our respects because of this COVID thing,” Hicks commented.
During the regular order of business, Hicks recommended resuming water turn-offs and penalty assessments for water customers who are delinquent on their water bills. Penalties and shut-offs have been suspended since March per order of Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker due to financial hardships created by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The motion to resume “regular business” practices regarding water bills was made by Ald. Dave Tucker, seconded by Dona Rauzi, was unanimously approved.
Ald. Frank Barrett questioned whether the city should resume at this time since some city residents remain unemployed as a result of the pandemic. “We have some people who haven’t been paid since March,” Barrett said.
Hicks, however, said many of the water accounts that are currently delinquent belong to customers who were habitually late prior to the pandemic restrictions. “They’re taking advantage now,” he said.
POLICE PARKING DEAL
While a formal resolution will be prepared for the council to consider in November, council members agreed in principle to a deal between the city and Tallman to increase the size of the parking lot at the city police station. Tallman’s Dingers batting cage business property backs up to the rear of the police station property. Under the agreement, the city will approve a $13,500 facade improvement grant to Tallman to be funded from Tax Increment Financing district funds. In return, Tallman will transfer a 55-by-70-foot parcel to the north of the police station and will pay to have the area rocked and fenced for use as a parking lot by the police department. As part of the agreement, Tallman will have a first right of refusal if the city should ever opt to sell the current police station building. The deal should result in additional parking space for as many as six cars.
“It’s going to be a big help for us with the way our department has grown and with people coming to the station,” Police Chief Jared DePoppe said.
“Adam is going to pay all the expenses to develop that area for parking,” City Treasurer Dan Fisher noted. “It’s not just rock. He’ll have it excavated to put down a base and he will hire local contractors.”
WATER DIVERSION ISSUE
Mayor Hicks agreed to contact the Macoupin County Housing Authority and consult with city engineers Curry and Associates after hearing concerns from Richard Fenton, who lives on Easton Street near a new housing authority development on the city’s southeast side. Fenton said he favors the development, believing it ultimately will increase property values in the area, but he expressed concerns about the volume of water he believes will be diverted from the building site to lower areas in the neighborhood which already are prone to flooding. He said paved parking lots and downspouts from expansive roofs on the housing development buildings will increase the volume of water down Handy Street and ultimately Easton Street where he resides.
“They are increasing the flow of water,” Fenton said. “What they’re doing there is not in compliance with any law or rule.” State law, he said, precludes property owners from making changes that will change the flow of water to lower adjacent lands. The increasing flow, he continued, will likely result in damage to streets for which the city ultimately will be responsible.
“They’re increasing the water flow illegally,” Fenton said. “If my property gets flooded, I will sue somebody.”
In addition to the increased water flow, Fenton said the Housing Authority plans to install P-traps in the ditch which will result in standing water and promote mosquito populations in an area already plagued with mosquitos in the summer.
Ald. Wendy Rolando said the city should take responsibility for working with the Housing Authority to resolve any potential problems with the water floor.
“With it being a county project, I don’t think he (Fenton) should have to be the go-between between the city and the county,” she said. She added it would be prudent to address the issue and resolve it while the project is still under construction.
“I think we have a responsibility to protect him (Fenton) as much as possible,” Ald. Rick Fulton said.
Ald. Jerry Dolliger said he talked with a contractor on the project and asked where the water is going to go. “He said, ‘I don’t know’,” Dolliger reported, adding the contractor said he believes the Housing Authority will have to build a release pond to collect and slow the discharge of water.
Fisher said the city will need to consult with its engineers to determine how much of a problem exists and how it can be best addressed. “There’s no more water being generated from that site but the velocity of the water is the key factor,” he said. “We have to rely on someone like Roger Curry to check the numbers and see if he agrees (with the Housing Authority) and, if not, tell us where we need to go from there.”
Ald. Rauzi agreed to contact a resident in the 700 block of North Clinton Street regarding neighbors’ complaints of excessive noise. A neighbor appeared before the council said the resident plays music at high volume “every day.” At times the music can be heard as far as four blocks away and “rattles the windows” of residents’ homes. Another neighbor said the lyrics of some of the music the resident plays includes profanity. Because the resident reportedly has a history of becoming aggressive with neighbors who have complained in the past, Rauzi said she would take a police officer with her when she approaches him.
WATER METER COMPLAINT
The council took no action on concerns expressed by Dave Link regarding the policy for reconnecting water meters that are being replaced as part of the expansive water infrastructure improvement project. Link said he owns seven lots, primarily in the downtown area, that previously had water meters. One of the lots has a building on-site and two others, Link said, will soon have buildings on them. The others are vacant. Link said he had previously been told that if a property had a water meter at the time of the infrastructure project, the meter would be replaced as part of the project. More recently, however, he learned that if the meters are replaced at this time, he will be charged a $29 minimum usage fee each month even though the meters are not active. The alternative, he said, would be to wait until the meters are needed and pay a $300 per meter tap-on fee for each connection.
“I asked the question, ‘If we have meters now will we have meters when they’re done?’ and I was told ‘yes’ by Dan Fisher,” Link said. He strongly objected to paying another tap-on fee because “those properties have already paid a tap-on.”
Fisher said the city is bound by rules established by the USDA’s Rural Development program which is financing the bulk of the water infrastructure project. Those rules preclude the city from reconnecting inactive meters.
“I’ve talked to the engineers a couple of times because you are not the only one in this situation,” Fisher said. “Rural Development says that the property has to be capable of producing income and my understanding is that your lots are not.”
“We’re trying to develop a healthy downtown,” said Ald. Tucker. “Whether it’s in the guidelines or not, I don’t think charging another tap-on fee is in keeping with that. If this came to a vote, I would vote to waive the fee.”
Tucker acquiesced when the issue was discussed under the regular order of business. Fisher further explained that Link was one of nine property owners facing the same situation. Seven of the nine have already either paid tap-on fees or started paying minimum monthly billing.
“If we change the policy, we’d have to refund that money,” Fisher said. In addition, the city would need to either extend the contract or hire another contractor to reinstall the meters that were the focus of Link’s complaint.
“So,” Tucker concluded, “we’re stuck with the USDA guidelines.”
AMBULANCE DISPATCHING BILL
Without taking a formal vote, the council agreed to send a follow-up invoice to the Gillespie-Benld Ambulance Service in the amount of $15,000 for dispatching services during the year. In the past, the Ambulance Service “donated” $5,000 to the city annually, ostensibly to defray the cost of dispatching services. The last $5,000 donation was received in October last year. Because of the additional burden on dispatching services created by the Ambulance Service extending its service area into Mount Olive and Carlinville, the city asked for compensation in the amount of $15,000.
The issue has been a point of controversy between the ambulance service and the city for several months. The ambulance service counter offered to pay $10,000 and reported it is exploring an alternative resource for dispatching ambulances.
“I think we ought to send another bill,” said Ald. Tucker. “That’s what the council voted for. That puts the ball in their court.”
The council met in executive session for 15 minutes to discuss personnel issues at the request of Police Chief DePoppe. Later, the council returned to executive session to discuss personnel issues at the request of Ald. Tucker. No action followed either closed-door session.
In other action, the council:
- Voted to spend $1,058 for two self-closing doors on the shower house at Gillespie Lake. Plans are to install another two doors next fiscal year.
- Voted to install a door on the north side of the Illinois Coal Museum building at a cost of $2,400 with the Grow Gillespie organization to pay half the cost.
- Voted to formally close the city’s Revolving Loan Fund program, paving the way for a $327,000 reimbursement from the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
- Voted to approve payments totally $416,272.97 to Haier Plumbing and Heating and Curry and Associates Engineers for costs associated with the water infrastructure improvement project.