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Benld Council hires new sewer operator, increases rental rates for city facilities

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Ed Saracco provided an overview of how veterans’ photos and biographies from the Civic Center are being curated at the Benld Public Library.

The Benld City Council on Monday night ratified the Mayor’s hiring of Ethan Martin as the city’s sewer system operator and voted to approve adjustments to rental rates for city facilities.

The action to hire Martin followed a 35-minute executive session to discuss personnel, legal issues and contracts. Martin will replace Randy Gross, who resigned from the position last month.

Also following the executive session, the council voted to proceed with cleaning up the site of the former Cross Church, 311 North Fifth St., currently owned by Holy Dormition Russian Orthodox Church. City Attorney Rick Verticchio said the court had given the city authorization to clean up debris on the site following the demolition of the property. The city will seek bids for a contractor to remove the debris and clean up the site, and a lien will be placed filed against the property in the amount of the clean-up costs.

The council also authorized Verticchio to contact business owners who have not purchased a municipal business license or who have failed to renew an existing license. Those who continue to operate without a license will be subject to court action aimed at closing down the business.

Ald. John Balzraine submitted several folders documenting alleged nuisance properties which the council voted to turn over to Verticchio for legal action.

RENTAL RATES AND CIVIC CENTER PROJECT

The council unanimously voted to approve the committee’s recommendation to adjust rental rates for city facilities. Under the new fee structure, the city will charge $150 to rent the Civic Center for benefits or fundraisers, $125 for small events such as birthday parties or bridal showers, $300 for large events such as family reunions or wedding receptions, and $75 for funeral dinners. The rental rate for the city park and gazebo is set at $100. A $150 damage deposit will be required for all locations, and events at which alcohol will be served must provide documentation of proper Dram Shop insurance.

Ed Saracco provided an overview of how veterans’ photos and biographies from the Civic Center are being curated at the Benld Public Library. The eight-by-ten photos and accompanying biographies were part of a display installed inside the Civic Center for the Benld City Centennial under the leadership of former Benld resident Bill Frensko. As part of the ongoing Civic Center renovation project, the materials were removed and transferred to the city library.

Saracco said the existing photos and biographical materials have been organized into binders that can be reviewed by the public on the library premises. Additionally, the library board is working on collecting additional photos and/or biographies of local veterans who were not included in the original display 

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“We gotten ten of 15 people who were not on the original wall,” Saracco said. He said he has been in contact with family members of other veterans who were overlooked in hopes or acquiring additional photos and biographies. Some of the Benld veterans have no surviving family members, he said, and for those individuals he hopes to at least develop a written record of their military service.

The binders include an honor roll of 850 veterans, about 600 of whom are represented with photos and information. As additional photos and information are acquired, those veterans will be added to the index for the convenience of researchers. 

The work also has yielded other materials, Saracco said, including a copy of a 1946 dedication program for a brass plaque commemorating World War II veterans from Benld High School who died in the war. That plaque originally was installed at Benld High School and has since been moved to Benld City Cemetery.

“A couple of people have contacted me because they have medals awarded to family members that they want to donate to the library,” he said.

In the meantime, head librarian Mary Newman is in the process of digitizing the photos and biographies and uploading them to the library’s website.

“More people are going to be able to see this now,” Ald. Dustin Fletcher noted. Saracco agreed, noting that only a handful of people had asked to be admitted to the Civic Center to see the display in recent years. Eight persons have already accessed the information on the library website, he said.

Ald. Balzraine reported that renovation work on the Civic Center is nearing completion and the facility should soon reopen to the public. Ed Saracco approached the council a year ago with an offer from former Benld resident and 1976 Rick DeStefane who agreed to underwrite the $8,000 renovation of the facility.

The council approved Balzraine’s request to use money from about $2,200 in surplus funds to purchase new chairs for the Civic Center. Balzraine said the city cleared about $1,000 on the sale of surplus property from the Civic Center and is receiving a $1,200 donation earmarked for new chairs. The city will initially purchase 60 folding chairs with heavy duty plastic backs and seats.

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In a related matter, the council voted to accept a $4,200 contract from MJ Handyman Service for exterior work on the Civic Center/City Hall building. The council had accepted a bid of $2,600 last month from a different contractor but later rejected the contract because the contractor did not have adequate insurance coverage.

POLICE PROTECTION RATE INCREASE

Aldermen voted unanimously to agree to a $2,000 per month hike in the fee the city pays to the City of Gillespie for police protection services. The new rate is $20,000 per month. Gillespie city officials said the rate increase was needed to cover the expense of a recent wage increase authorized for Gillespie city police officers.

EMPLOYEE INSURANCE

The council voted unanimously to renew employee health care coverage for Maintenance Department workers with Blue Cross-Blue Shield. The city’s share of the premium cost will be $187.89 for employees already on the plan. That amount could increase in October if the council chooses to move a half-time employee to full-time status.

NEW BUSINESS LICENSES

Council members agreed to issue two new business licenses—one to Clark’s Candles and one to B & B Mobil Kitchen.

Brooklyne Claro attended the meeting and told council members she is making soy-based scented candles in her home which she plans to sell online and through local shops and boutiques. There are no plans for a storefront business at this time.

B & B Mobil Kitchen is a food truck business owned by Roberta Carmickle, Royal Lakes, and currently located behind Dano’s on Central Avenue.

GAY HARDWARE PROPERTY

The council heard briefly from Catherine Young, owner of the former Gay Hardware building at 409 E. Central Avenue. Young appeared before the council last month to discuss either repairing or demolishing the building and returned to report on the status of the property. She said she had pumped out water from the basement and discovered the floors are beyond repair. She has secured two bids for demolishing property but first has to remove personal items stored in the structure.

“I’d like to get my stuff out before the weather gets bad,” she said.

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“We’d like to see it down before the end of the year,” Mayor Kelly advised, to which Young replied that she was “shooting for October or November.”

OTHER ACTION

In other action, the council:

  • Accepted a $1,900 bid from DeLaurent Construction Co., Wilsonville, to grind down bumps on Old Route 4.
  • Gave permission for the Public Library to use the city park for a Truck or Treat event on Oct. 23.
  • Approved a mandated prevailing wage ordinance that binds the city to hiring contractors who pay their employees prevailing wages as set by the Department of Labor. `

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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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