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Benld Council authorizes Civic Center repairs, approves lead water service line inventory

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Members of the Benld City Council on Monday night approved upward of $14,000 of work to correct a long-standing problem with wall dampness at the rear of the Benld Civic Center and entered into a $30,000 contract to inventory residential water service lines using lead pipes. Council members also debated a proposed ordinance to govern Air B&Bs in the city limits and approved partial payment for a recently completed water tower painting and maintenance project.

Ald. John Balzraine said the Civic Center work will correct a problem with moisture wicking into the back wall of the Civic Center from the ground. The ongoing problem has caused damage to the plaster interior finish. Balzraine told the council he obtained quotes from Woods Basement Systems, Collinsville, and Watson Construction, Gillespie, to correct the problem and replace concrete, tile and damaged plaster.

Woods Basement Systems plans to jackhammer out concrete at the base of the wall and install a sump pump at a cost of $4,948.08. Watson Construction will oversee the project, repair the damage, and build a closet in the northwest corner of the Civic Center to house equipment.

Woods “guaranteed this will fix the problem,” Balzraine said. “It’s a 100-year-old building that nothing has been done to fix it.”

LEAD SERVICE LINE INVENTORY

On a motion by Ald. Dustin Fletcher, the council voted unanimously to enter into a $30,000 professional services contract with HMG Engineers for grant-funded project to inventory the number of residences in the city that are service by lead water service lines. Justin Vonder Haar, an engineer with HMG Engineers, Breese, told the council the grant cannot be used to reimburse city expenditures. Provisions of the grant require the money to be paid to third-party providers such as HMG.

The goal is to identify homes with lead water service lines with an eye toward replacing those lines with non-toxic materials in the future. Vonder Haar said the state legislature currently is trying to identify funds to assist with the cost of water line replacement statewide. Lead leaching into drinking water through lead service lines is detrimental to human health with long-term exposure.

Now that a contract has been approved, Vonder Haar said HMG would submit an application to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to release the first $15,000 of the grant funds.

He said a first step will involve sending a flier to Benld residents encouraging them to voluntarily report to the city whether or not they rely on lead water service lines. Depending upon the initial response, Vonder Haar said HMG may retain a local plumber to canvass door-to-door at non-responsive residences to identify lead service lines. The initial inventory will to involve digging up lines to examine them. In instances where it cannot be determined whether a line is lead or not, surveyors will make a projection based on the nature of other service lines in the immediate area.

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When grant funds become available to replace lines, Vonder Haar said the grant award will be based on the number of lead lines identified during the initial inventory.

“At that time, if you dig up a line and it turns out to not be lead, that money can be used to replace other lines,” he said.

On Vonder Haar’s recommendation, the council approved a payment of $72,018 to Neuman Company Contractors for a recently completed painting and maintenance project on the city’s water storage tower, but retained a payment of $19,200 remaining on the contract pending resolution of a problem with a telemetry sensor on the tower. The sensor monitors the water level in the tower and controls a valve to maintain the appropriate level.

PHASE TWO BIDS SOUGHT

The council voted unanimously to advertise for bids from contractors to complete the second phase of work on developing the former site of Benld Elementary School as a sports park facility. The second phase will include installation of underground utilities, including sanitary sewer lines, storm sewers and water lines, along with grading work in advance of construction of park facilities. Upon completion, the park will include a softball field, baseball field and soccer/football field, along with other amenities.

In association with the non-profit Benld Sports Association, the city is developing the 11-acre site as a sports and outdoor recreation park. Community Unit School District 7 transferred the property to the city several years after a mine subsidence event destroyed the then seven-year-old Benld Elementary School. With the city acting as the sponsoring agency, the project was awarded a $600,000 Open Spaces Land Acquisition and Development Grant through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Once construction is complete, maintenance and operation of the facility will be the responsibility of the Sports Association.

AIR B&Bs

Council members spent several minutes discussing provisions they want included in a new ordinance governing the operation of short-term rental properties popularly known as Air B&Bs within the city limits. Mayor Jim Kelly said at least one property owner is operating as a short-term rental facility already.

City Attorney Rick Verticchio is expected to draft a proposed ordinance for action at the council’s October meeting.

Among the provisions council members directed Verticchio to include:

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  • A license application fee of $50 per property, which is the same fee that applies for a business license.
  • An initial housing inspection at a cost of $75, plus a $50 housing inspection every six months thereafter.
  • A city tax of four percent of revenue or $20 per rental day, whichever is less.
  • A provision requiring tenants to be 18 years old or older.

The proposed ordinance also will provide for the owner to lose their license to operate if the property is found to be a public nuisance by a court of law. That provision is expected to control issues such as loud music, parties or criminal activity.

Verticchio suggested that zoning could be an issue, but the consensus of the council was that the city could not ban Air B&Bs from operating within areas zoned as residential areas.

Ald. Balzraine asked if the city could simply ban the practice of short-term rentals completely, but Verticchio said the municipality was not empowered to dictate what types of businesses could operate in the city as long as the business is otherwise legal.

CITY COMPTROLLER HOURS

The council approved an amendment to an ordinance to increase the number of hours for which the City Comptroller can be paid from a maximum of 40 hours per month to 60 hours. City Clerk Terri Koyne currently serves as the City Comptroller by appointment by the mayor. The ordinance provides for the comptroller to be paid minimum wage as established by Illinois law. Kelly said Koyne has been required to devote more time to the position because of grant application writing and grant administration duties.

MINIMUM SEWER CHARGE

On a motion by Ald. Fletcher, seconded by Ald. Mickey Robinson, the council unanimously approved a measure to set the minimum fee for sewer services at $20 per month. Mayor Kelly said provisions of a grant used for recent sewer improvements require the city to collect at least a minimum fee for all residences with a sewer connection. Monthly bills include charges for water, plus a charge for sewer based on the volume of water used. However, Kelly said there are some residents who are not connected to water services and who claim to bring in water for drinking, cleaning and flushing toilets—which precludes the city from determining how much waste that household contributes to the sewer system. The new fee structure will require such households to pay $20 monthly for sewer services despite the lack of city water service.

ORDINANCE VIOLATIONS

No specific action followed a 10-minute executive session requested by Ald. Jerry Saracco.

City Clerk Koyne announced that she plans to have a binder available at city hall in which to record ordinance violations issued by city aldermen. She asked that the responsible alderman report back as to whether or not the violation had been corrected by the deadline specified by the citation. Violations that have not been corrected by the deadline can then be referred to the City Attorney for further enforcement.

Koyne also announced that a Clean-Up Day for city residents has been set for Oct. 14. Residents who have refuse to be picked up should have their items on the curb for pick-up by 6 a.m.

TRICK OR TREAT

Annual trick or treating hours were set at 6 to 8 p.m., Oct. 30 and 31 by a unanimous vote of the council.

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School board deals with personnel issues during special meeting

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Stephanie Bray

Meeting in special session Monday night, members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education accepted “with regrets” the resignation for purposes of retirement of Stephanie Bray, one of the district’s three technology integration specialists, effective June 4.

The board called a special session to deal with the apparently unexpected resignation before the board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting later this month. However, board members tabled action on approving a revised job description for the Student Information System/Data Integration Specialist position, pending further discussion.

The board also tabled action on posting the newly created vacancy and tabled posting a district-level secretary’s position.

In February of 2022, the board accepted “with regrets” Bray’s announcement of her retirement “no later than the end of the 2025-26 school year.” There was no indication of why Bray moved her retirement date up by two years.

On a motion by Weye Schmidt, seconded by Amanda Ross, the board voted unanimously to accept Bray’s resignation. The action followed a 50-minute executive session to discuss personnel issues behind closed doors. The public portion of the meeting lasted less than 10 minutes.

In other action, the board voted to renew the district’s One Room contract to offer a remotely taught Spanish class to fulfill the district’s foreign language requirement for the 2024-25 school year. This will be the second year an off-site teacher will teach foreign language at GHS, using remote communication technology. Supt. Shane Owsley said the district had no applications for the vacant teaching position last year. This year, an applicant from Brazil explored the possibility of teaching in Gillespie but ultimately accepted a tutoring position at Greenville University. Owsley said hiring the applicant could have become cumbersome because she was not yet certificated to teach high school Spanish. He said he recently changed the job description from Spanish to foreign language to expand the pool of potential applicants.

In other personnel action, the board approved the maternity leave request of Amber Allan, BenGil Elementary physical education teacher, effective Aug. 28 through Jan. 20.

In separate actions, the board accepted Nathan Henrichs resignation as Gillespie High School freshman football coach, posted the position as vacant, and appointed Henrichs as a varsity assistant football coach. The board also voted unanimously to appoint Alex Jasper as an assistant freshman football coach. The board unanimously accepted Wayne Ireland’s resignation as a volunteer assistant football coach, and voted unanimously to appoint Jarrod Herron and hire Trenton Cleveland as volunteer assistant football coaches.

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The board voted unanimously to hire Michael Rodriguez as a high school volunteer assistant women’s basketball coach.

On a motion by Schmidt, seconded by Kelli Vesper, the board hired Alexis Ollis as a head cook and kitchen staff member, pending documentation of certification and a background check. The board also Brittany Hughes as a district kitchen staff worker, pending documentation of certification and background check.

On a motion by Vesper, the board voted unanimously to post a vacancy for a one-on-one paraprofessional aide.

Board members voted unanimously to accept the resignation of Jessica Kelly as a middle school assistant track and field coach and voted unanimously to hire Jay Weber as the high school head track and field coach.

The regular monthly meeting of the board is set for 6 p.m., Monday, June 24, at the district’s administrative office.

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Americana festival set for July 4 at Benld Park

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Jess Barker, The Lodge Brothers, and The New Prairie Drifters are set to take the stage at Benld City Park on Thursday, July 4 as part of the Americana Festival.

The music festival intends to celebrate the birthday and spirit of America with thriving local culture of music, food, and art. It is scheduled to begin at 12 noon and end at 6 pm.

Food will be available for purchase from The Barracks American Table, a new Gillespie restaurant, and skincare products will be available from Nature’s Bliss, a Benld gift shop.

The park is located at 305 North Main Street in Benld. Admission is free.

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Macoupin County Fair underway until Sunday

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Rides, tents, food trucks, music, animals, and plenty of other offerings fill the grounds at the Macoupin County Fair for the 172nd year. The fair is held June 4 through June 9 at the Macoupin County Fairground north of Carlinville.

The oldest county fair in Illinois, the Macoupin County Fair welcomes thousands of guests to the area and unites agriculture, family, and community. The fair continues through Sunday with highlights every evening.

The fair also meets the needs of families on a budget, for just $10 per person you get parking and all-access to the carnival rides. The cost-friendly fun draws in visitors and locals who get to embrace the county’s namesakes.

Tracy Lawrence and Walker Montgomery are set to take the stage Thursday evening, June 6, at 7:30pm. Friday evening features the tractor and truck pull, and Saturday evening is the crowd-favorite demolition derby.

The fair opens every morning at 8am and closes at 12 midnight. For a full list of schedule of events or to pre-pay for entry, visit the fair’s website here.

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