Gillespie city officials apparently are exploring the possibility of creating a new Tax Increment Financing District that would encompass parts of the city’s northwest side and possibly dovetail with a tentative project to expand the existing solar field at the water treatment plant to supply power for a residential subdivision.
City Attorney Kevin Polo and City Treasurer Dan Fisher both emphasized the issue is tentative at this time but opened discussion during a meeting of the city council Monday night in the interest of transparency and to ensure city residents are informed early in the process. Polo said an existing TIF district that basically encompasses the downtown business district has several years before it expires. The potential new TIF district could retain the existing boundaries and be expanded to include the new areas. Fisher said he has been in contact with the city’s TIF district consultants and confirmed representatives of the consulting firm are likely to make a presentation to the committee in about two weeks.
TIF districts encourage development by capturing increases in property tax revenue for a Tax Increment Financing Fund which can then be used for infrastructure development within the district. Other taxing bodies, such as the school district, often object to the creation of TIF districts because they essentially freeze property tax revenue they receive at the level they are receiving at the time the district is created. Since much of the proposed TIF district area is comprised of vacant lots, future development on those lots could result in substantial revenue for the TIF Fund.
“We would have to include the school in the discussion,” Polo said, because the Community Unit School District 7 tax base would be impacted and because it owns some of the vacant lots that would be included in the new district.
The possibility of creating a new TIF district dovetails with a possible grant application to expand the water plant solar panel field to supply power to a subdivision. Fisher said a local developer has expressed an interest in building a subdivision featuring energy-efficient homes that would draw electrical power from the aggregate solar field.
While Fisher said both the TIF district and solar energy grant application are “very tentative at this point,” he encouraged the council to consider applying soon for the grant. “We probably need to move expeditiously,” Fisher said. “Any time money is available it makes sense to apply early.”
Formal action on creating a new TIF district could be several months away if the council decides to proceed with the plan.
RESIDENTS VOICE DAMAGE COMPLAINTS
Monday night’s regular meeting of the council was a marathon session lasting about three hours with nearly a third of that time devoted to hearing complaints and comments from visiting residents. Mayor John Hicks and Fisher told residents the city is maintaining a file of complaints about damage allegedly caused by contractor activities associated with the water infrastructure replacement project. Most of those complaints apparently involve damage to yards and driveways, but some residents are reporting more substantial damage.
Katrina Eiffling told council members her home was damaged when the contractor accidentally broke a sewer line, causing raw sewage to pour into the basement of her home. Eiffling said they discovered the situation fairly quickly because the family was having work done on the home’s furnace and the repairman heard sewage pouring in. The line has since been repaired, but Eiffling said she and her family have dealt with substantial damage.
She said insurance coverage was capped at $5,000. “We have spent way beyond what insurance will pay for,” she said. Repairs included gutting and replacing a bathroom, replacing damaged ceiling tiles and other items. ServPro cleaning personnel spent eight days on-site, according to Eiffling, and she said the home reeked with the smell of sewage through Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays.
Hicks said the contractor is contesting the claim. Ultimately, he said the city may pay her for damages to the home and withhold that amount from the city’s final payment to the contractor.
“We’ve been consistent in telling them it’s their fault,” Fisher said. “They still aren’t acknowledging it. At some point they will make a business decision whether it is cheaper to pay for it or turn it into their insurance.”
Hicks told Don Dobrino that the contractor has acknowledged damage to Dobrino’s truck that occurred Nov. 20 and will pay for repairs. Dobrino told the council he was going to pick up his granddaughter from school when the truck drove into a trench that had been cut across the street. He said workers on the scene used a piece of equipment on-site to lift the vehicle and allow him to back out of the trench. When he took the vehicle in for repairs, Dobrino said he learned the frame was sprung from the way in which it was lifted.
“They are going to pay your claim because they know they were wrong because it (the trench) wasn’t barricaded,” Hicks said.
Fisher acknowledged that the city clerk’s office is compiling a file of damage claims from residents that will be presented to the contractor.
HERITAGE FOOD FESTIVAL
On a motion by Ald. Dave Tucker, the council agreed to waive the rental fee for the Civic Center and to pay the cost of Dram Shop insurance for a March 28 Heritage Food Festival sponsored by the Grow Gillespie organization. The measure is a step better than what the organization initially requested.
Madison Heyen, a senior anthropology student at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, asked the council to waive the rental fee for the event, which was planned and developed by an SIU Envision class that is cooperating with Grow Gillespie as a class project.
“These kids have been working on this for several months,” said Renee Katich, a Grow Gillespie member. “This is their senior project. They developed the entire plan and budget.”
Styled after popular “Taste of” events held in many metropolitan areas, the event is set to take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For $10, persons attending the event will be able to taste foods presented by local restaurants as well as food items once available from local restaurants no longer in business. “When it says ‘heritage,’ it’s also historical memorabilia and foods from restaurants that are no longer here,” Katich said. The event also will feature wine tastings.
“This community is rich in ethnic food,” Katich noted. The Plavi Dunav Tamburitzins Croatian band will provide live music along with recorded background music during the event.
Tucker said he moved to include Dram Shop insurance in his motion even though the group asked only for a rental fee waiver.
“I think that’s the least we can do for the amount of work they’ve put into it,” Tucker said.
In a somewhat related matter, the council approved a motion by Ald. Dona Rauzi to cover the cost of tickets for any city employee who wants to attend in lieu of sponsoring an employee appreciation dinner. Rauzi said she polled employees earlier and learned there was little interest in an employee dinner.
CITY PROPERTY REPAIRS, IMPROVEMENTS
As the council either approved or referred to committee two projects to improve city-owned buildings, City Treasurer Fisher urged the council to develop a comprehensive capital improvement plan. “We have a number of building projects coming up,” Fisher said. “I would like to group them together and develop a plan.” The plan would include not only how to pay for the improvements but also ensure that “one project fits with another.”
Fishers comments came moments before the council voted to give the Public Safety Committee power to act on awarding a contract for a remodeling project at the city police station. Two bids were received—$9,600 and $10,240—to reconfigure the lobby area to reduce the size of the waiting area and increase the space available for dispatchers.
Council members also gave committee members the power to act on awarding a contract to install a handicapped-accessible automatic front door at city hall to comply with the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A low bid of $2,354 was submitted by Overhead Doors of St. Louis, Mo., with a higher bid of $2,570 submitted by Stanley Access Technology. Committee members are expected to study both bids to confirm they address project specifications before awarding the contract.
On a motion by Ald. Tucker, the council voted to accept a $1,750 contract to replace doorknobs with lever-type handles on interior doors at city hall, also in compliance with ADA. The bid includes 16 keys, some of which will fit locks for secured rooms such as the mayor’s office and city clerk’s office.
Ald. Rauzi said both projects are required under terms of the grant agreement the city signed with USDA Rural Development to secure financing for the ongoing water infrastructure replacement project.
No action was taken after Rauzi reported she was called to the city garage during a recent heavy rainstorm to see the severity of rainwater entering the building as a result of roof leaks. She said she was told workers sometimes have to stand on boards when operating electric welders to guard against the risk of electrocution. “We need to do something to either repair the roof,” she said, or build a new building.
Fisher said the city could access TIF funds to replace the building, but only if it is the same size and constructed on the same footprint. If a new building was constructed on the same site, Ald. Jerry Dolliger said the city could use the existing concrete pad and save several thousand dollars on construction costs.
“I know we have a limited amount of money,” said Rauzi, who also has advocated for roof repairs at the Civic Center. “Maybe it’s something we all need to start thinking about. How would we pay for it? Would we be better off to build a new building or repair the old one?”
205 FRANCIS STREET OFFERED FOR SALE—AGAIN
On a motion by Ald. Tucker, seconded by Ald. Rauzi, the council voted to again offer 205 Francis Street for sale to the highest qualified bidder. The derelict home was acquired by the city as a result of a public nuisance action. The city attempted to sell the property a month ago but was unsuccessful in attracting bidders.
Polo told the council last month that bidders may have been deterred by provisions in the sale contract that would have kept the property in the city’s name while the buyer purchased the property contract-for-deed. Since the property would have still been technically owned by the city, the buyer would have been required to comply with prevailing wage provisions for contractors hired to make improvements to the house.
The measure approved Monday night calls for an outright sale of the property, which will circumvent the prevailing wage requirements.
Earlier in the meeting, Kim Young, whose home is adjacent to 205 Francis, complained about conditions at the home. She said she was promised last year that city workers would trim brush at the property but that work was never done. Large quantities of debris fill the garage and basement, and animals are basically free to enter the house.
“I have raccoons and possums all the time,” Young said.
Mayor Hicks told Young the city will attempt a second time to sell the property. “If it doesn’t get sold, it will be ours to take care of,” he said.
Also referred to committee was an ordinance proposal developed by Polo regarding wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. Polo said he had prepared an ordinance governing the use of wood-burning fire pits in the downtown area, but since that time the city received complaints about excessive smoke from a wood-burning stove. In that instance, the low-hanging smoke apparently resulted from a chimney that is not high enough to properly draft.
Polo said he wanted to refer the ordinance to committee “because there’re a lot of discretionary things, a lot of blanks to fill.” Among other things, the new ordinance will impose minimum heights for chimneys.
At the request of Police Chief Jared DePoppe, Polo also plans to develop a proposed ordinance adopting a zero-tolerance policy regarding cannabis for police officers. Initially, as a result of Illinois’ new law allowing recreational cannabis usage, employers would be prohibited from disciplinary employees for using cannabis when not on the job. A rider to the bill added later, however, allows local governments to impose zero-tolerance for police officers and first responders.
Polo said the new ordinance will not affect city employees who do not work in law enforcement or emergency services capacities.
No action followed an executive session convened to discuss collective bargaining issues and real estate.
In other action, the council:
- Approved a building permit for a $3 million public housing development planned by the Macoupin County Housing Authority on the city’s southwest side.
- Approved a contract to sell water to the Village of Wilsonville over the next 40 years at the same rates specified for other satellite water users. The contract is subject to approval by the Wilsonville Board of Trustees before taking effect.
- Entered into an inter-governmental agreement with the Village of Sawyerville to provide water for a term of 40 years.