After a lengthy and sometimes terse discussion, Gillespie Mayor John Hicks told Rick Verticchio, attorney for the Village of Lake KaHo, that the city would produce a counteroffer to a Lake KaHo proposal under which the village would continue to purchase water from the City of Gillespie. In other action, the council voted during its regular meeting Monday night to amend a recently approved contract providing police protection services to the City of Benld. The amendment clarifies how revenue from traffic tickets and ordinance fines will be split between the two municipalities.
Because of COVID-19 pandemic precautions, the meeting was conducted via the Zoom online video conferencing platform. City attorney Kevin Polo, Ald. Jerry Dolliger and Ald. Frank Barrett attended from the Gillespie Civic Center wearing face masks and practicing social distancing, along with visitors Gary Thornhill, Dale Demke, Dale Demke Jr., and a local reporter. Mayor Hicks, Treasurer Dan Fisher and other aldermen participated from their homes, including Ald. Wendy Rolando, who remained on quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19 by a family member who tested positive for the virus.
Lake KaHo and the Village of Dorchester are the only two of the Gillespie Water Department’s former satellite customers that declined to sign a 40-year contract offered by the City of Gillespie earlier this year. Dorchester expects to start buying water from the Central Illinois Alluvial Water cooperative before the 40-year term of the contract expired. Lake KaHo declined the contract, having installed infrastructure to buy water from the Litchfield Water Department. On Monday night, Verticchio gave notice that the Village of Lake KaHo would be willing to continue buying some water from Gillespie under certain circumstances.
“We’re obligated to buy 500,000 gallons from Litchfield,” Verticchio said. “We would agree to buy anything over 600,000 gallons from Gillespie as long as the price is lower than what Litchfield charges.” The proposed agreement presupposes that Gillespie would sell water to Lake KaHo at the same rate as it charges satellites that signed onto the 40-year contract. After failing to sign the long-term contract, Gillespie raised the rate charged to Dorchester and Lake KaHo by about five percent. As part of the proposal, a previously executed 17-year contract would remain in force.
Verticchio said Lake KaHo’s usage averages 800,000 gallons and can be as high as 1.4 million gallons in the summer months. “So we would be buying quite a bit of water from Gillespie,” he said.
Mayor Hicks objected to the demand to sell water at a lower rate and worried about how Lake KaHo would prevent water from Litchfield back flushing into the Gillespie system.
“We sent out a contract and everybody that signed it got the lower rate,” Hicks said. “I don’t think we can sell it to Lake KaHo for less than Dorchester. That wouldn’t be fair to Dorchester.” Hicks was reassured by a representative of Lake KaHo that the village’s water system has a check valve that would prevent backflushing.
“Why would we give Lake KaHo a cheaper rate?” asked Ald. Dona Rauzi.
“It’s not a cheaper rate,” Verticchio said, noting the rate Lake KaHo seeks is the same rate charged to other satellites. “We’re coming to you with this proposal. If you say ‘no,’ we’ll turn off the spigot and buy all our water from Litchfield.” He acknowledged Gillespie could, if it wants to, prepare a counteroffer to Lake KaHo. The proposal presented Monday night had the approval of the Lake KaHo board of trustees and could be ratified Monday night if Gillespie concurred with the terms.
Tempers flared with Treasurer Fisher suggested Lake KaHo made an arbitrary decision to pay the lower rate last month while withholding the five percent increase. Money to cover the increase supposedly was placed in escrow pending negotiations with the City of Gillespie. The Gillespie Council discussed last month the possibility of shutting off the water supply to Lake KaHo if the village refused to pay the increased rate.
“That wasn’t an arbitrary decision,” Verticchio bristled, asserting that because Lake KaHo declined to sign the new 40-year contract it remained bound by the previously signed 17-year contract, which specifies a lower rate than the rate Gillespie seeks to impose. “Right now, that doesn’t amount to that much money. If either party thinks its enough to sue over remains to be seen. We’re not going to pay Gillespie a higher rater than we pay Litchfield. My understanding is that you’re in the business of selling water. If you don’t want to sell water to us, we’ll shut off the spigot.”
On Hicks’ recommendation, the council agreed to refer the matter to committee with an eye toward drafting a counter-proposal for Lake KaHo to consider.
Also referred to committee was a dispute over a proposal to develop additional camping lots at Gillespie Lake. Greg Dallier led a contingent of lake residents who say the new lots would have no direct access to the water other than through existing lots already leased by others.
Hicks recommended referring the issue to committee and he recommended that city aldermen personally visit the area to review the objections first hand. He acknowledged the council could not do that as a group until after the COVID-19 precautions are lifted. “Let’s postpone doing anything out there until after the COVID-19 exposure so we can go out there as a group,” he said. In the meantime, he asked Dolliger to prepare a list of grievances for City Attorney Polo to present during a committee meeting scheduled in two weeks.
POLICE CONTRACT AMENDMENT
With minimal discussion, the council unanimously approved an amendment to a previously approved police protection contract to provide police patrols in the City of Benld. Presented by Attorney Polo, the amendment calls for revenue from fines collected to be split evenly between the City of Benld and City of Gillespie. The original contract reportedly addressed disbursement of fines resulting from state law infractions, such as traffic tickets, but did not address fines resulting from ordinance violations.
Police Chief Jared DePoppe said the transition is “proceeding as planned” with the Benld Police Department remaining in place until the end of June. In the meantime, he sad the Gillespie Police Department is providing patrols for shifts the Benld Police Department is unable to fill because of staff shortages.
DePoppe said he has hired three new officers in order to be fully staffed for providing 24/7 patrols in Benld. Those new officers include Alex Dodge, a former Bunker Hill police officer; Josh Montean, a Mount Olive police officer originally trained by the Gillespie Police Department; and Robin Simpson, a former Sergeant for the Girard Police Department. He said a position was offered to Benld Police Chief Jim Zirkelbach, who declined and opted to take an alternate employment opportunity.
The new officers all have completed Police Academy training and will start training with the Gillespie Police Department on Monday. They will then serve two weeks of patrolling side-by-side with experienced officers and be ready to patrol solo before the Benld Police Department is officially disbanded.
MEMORIAL DAY OBSERVANCE CANCELLED
Mayor Hicks announced that Memorial Day observances have been cancelled this year in both Gillespie and Benld due to the COVID-19 pandemic prohibition against public gatherings of more than 10 people. He said he and Benld Mayor Jim Kelly are discussing the possibility of an observance honoring area veterans in the fall featuring a band concert and other activities.
Hicks also announced a special meeting of the council at 10 a.m. Saturday morning to consider applications from local businesses for financial relief to help cover losses arising from the COVID-19 emergency.
WATER METER SWAP REJECTED
The council rejected a proposal from Tim Loveless, owner of several rental properties in Gillespie, asking the city to add a water meter at a rental duplex he owns on Macoupin Street in consideration for removing a water meter at a location in the 300 block of East Elm Street where he plans to build a large shed for storage and repair work.
Fisher said terms of the Rural Development loan and grant being used to improve the water distribution system in the city requires Loveless to pay a tap-on fee for the Macoupin Street water meter.
“It may be that Tim thinks it’s an even swap but that’s not what I told him,” Fisher said. He said the council could vote to waive the rule but under current rules, Loveless would have to pay the fee.
“We’ll send him a letter saying that,” Hicks commented.
The council agreed to publish an ad asking residents to remove garbage cans from the street within 24 hours after pick-up even though there apparently is no ordinance requiring compliance.
“I have them in my neighborhood,” Hicks said. “They’re out there all the time and it looks terrible.”
Ald. Dona Rauzi, however, pointed out that no ordinance exists to require residents to remove garbage cans from the curb.
“I remember the discussion,” said Polo, indicating that he thought such an ordinance existed. “Both Dona and I looked for it and we couldn’t find it.”
“If we make it an actual rule, then we’ve got something to back it up,” said Ald. Rolando.
In the meantime, the council agreed to publish an ad asking residents to voluntarily move garbage cans from the curb within 24 hours after pick-up.
In other action, the council:
- Agreed to pay $7,000 for a Tax Increment Finance District feasibility study. Polo said the expenditure will come from the overall budget for the project and will not increase the total cost of establishing a new TIF District. “It will give us facts and figures we need to go discuss with the school district,” he said.
- Voted unanimously to declare 508 Park Avenue as a public nuisance.
- Approved four lake lot lease transfers.
- Gave the Mayor power to act on accepting or rejecting bids for the purchase of a surplus truck and surplus camper.
- Hired Jared Link as summer help at Gillespie Lake with a provision for him to also work as a mower in the city limits.
- Approved a resolution to expend funds from the TIF fund for repairs and improvements to the city garage.
- Approved pay requests totaling $707,967.49 for work completed on the water infrastructure project by Haier Plumbing and Heating, and Curry and Associates Engineers.