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Benld sells surplus property for potential commercial development

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The Council tentatively approved a proposal from Xavier Steward, a member of Boy Scout Troop 8034, Staunton, to make repairs and improvements to Veterans Park as an Eagle Scout project.

Members of the Benld City Council on Monday night voted unanimously to accept Derek Tiburzi’s high bid of $30,000 for six lots formerly occupied by First National Bank in the 200 block of East Central Avenue. The two-story brick structure that formerly occupied the site was razed by the city last month.

Tiburzi submitted the higher of two bids for the property. Bids were opened during a special meeting of the council prior to the regular council meeting Monday evening. The unsuccessful bidder, Grant Plovich, offered to buy the property for $8,000. Under terms of Tiburzi’s proposal, Tiburzi will pay $6,000 down upon closing with the remaining $24,000 to be paid in installments of $1,000 per month for 24 months. The agreement gives Tiburzi three years to establish a business operation on the property. Additionally, the agreement requires Tiburzi to surrender the property to the city if he fails to establish a business.

“We would get it back, and we’d keep the money,” Mayor Jim Kelly explained. As part of the sale agreement, the city is committed to helping to the extent that it can to secure an entrance and exit onto East Central Avenue for Tiburzi’s business. The city has limited authority to approve a driveway onto East Central Avenue because the street also is a state highway. There was no indication regarding the type of business Tiburzi plans to develop.

The council took no action on bids submitted for vacant lots at 202 and 204 East Central Avenue, and property at 301 West Central Avenue. Plovich, who reportedly already owns the former Benld Post Office at 109 North Main Street, offered a bid of $1,200 for the two vacant lots but gave no indication regarding how he intended to use the lots.

“Without a commitment about what he’s going to do with it, I would be against it,” said Ald. Jerry Saracco regarding Plovich’s bid for 202 and 204 East Central Avenue. “It doesn’t benefit the city if they’re going to still be vacant lots that have to be mowed.”

City Attorney Rick Verticchio said the city has met its legal obligations in connection to selling the surplus property. Having advertised the properties for sale and opened bids for them, he said the city now has authority to sell the property to whoever it wants at a price to be negotiated. “You can go back to Grant and say, ‘Grant, what do you want to do with this property,” Verticchio said. “You can sell it to him without further advertisement.”

Likewise, the council took no action on a $1,500 bid from William Gancon for the purchase of 301 West Central Avenue. The vacant lot was the site of a vacant house notoriously infested with rats until a few years ago when the city acquired the property and demolished the home. Gancon’s home is located at 300 West Oak Street, immediately south of the property. He said he intends to use the lot to build a garage or possibly donate it to the Catholic Church across the street to be used for parking.

“The idea of a garage on Central Avenue doesn’t appeal to me,” Ald. Jim Tilashalski said.

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Ald. John Balzraine, however, said he would not have a problem with a garage since the address is located away from the community’s traditional business district.

“I don’t have an objection to the $1,500 but I’d like to know what he’s going to put up there,” Saracco said. Saracco said he would be amenable to a well designed residential garage but would object to a structure such as a pole barn.

Verticchio recommended taking no action on Gancon’s bid, while holding open the option to negotiate with him regarding what he plans to build. Since the sale was properly advertised and bids were opened, he said, the city could opt to sell to Gancon later without having to go through the formal procedure of advertising the property for sale a second time. Likewise the lots at 202 and 204 East Central Avenue remain available for purchase with terms to be negotiated.

During the council’s regular meeting, Monte Oberman appeared to express concerns he had about a letter he recently received from City Attorney Verticchio regarding property he owns at 215 East Central Avenue. Oberman said he found the letter threatening and suggested the city should have contacted him first about issues with the building before enlisting Verticchio to contact him.

“I’ve owned that building for 25 years and now here comes the big, powerful city saying they’re going to take it away from me,” Oberman said. “I’ve got stuff in there I don’t want to lose.”

He said he already has contacted a contractor to make repairs, including new siding, “to keep the raccoons out.” The contractor, however, has other jobs ahead of him and won’t be able to get to his building before a May 16 deadline cited in the letter.

Verticchio denied threatening to take the building.

“Nowhere in that letter did we say we’re exercising eminent domain,” Verticchio said. “If you give us a statement that you’ve gotten a bid for the work, that’s all we need.” One issue, he said, is a roof that is evidently leaking. “We just spent a ton of money on a building that was leaking and we waited too long to do something,” Verticchio said. “We’re not going to make that mistake again.”

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“We’re not coming after your property,” Mayor Kelly added. “We just want things repaired. We want evidence that you’ve gotten a bid by the 16th. We can’t continue to spend taxpayer money to tear buildings down. If you do what you say you’re going to do, we don’t have a problem.” Kelly said the city plans to photograph “everyone’s roof” to identify leading roofs so the city can be proactive in demanding repairs.

“We’re just trying to make things better,” Balzraine commented.

Saracco said Oberman’s building is an example of an ongoing issue in the city. “The problem we have is people buy these buildings with no plans to use them for anything other than storage,” he said.

Following a 10-minute executive session with Verticchio, the council voted to approve a resolution declaring 512 South First Street a public nuisance.

The council also approved Mayor Kelly’s recommendation to seek bids for demolishing a burned out house at 408 South Main Street. Kelly said the city initially planned to use maintenance workers to tear down the building but city employees are expected to be busy complying with an Environmental Protection Agency mandate to inventory residential water connections using lead pipes.

EAGLE SCOUT PROJECT

The Council tentatively approved a proposal from Xavier Steward, a member of Boy Scout Troop 8034, Staunton, to make repairs and improvements to Veterans Park as an Eagle Scout project. Mayor Kelly and several aldermen, however, asked Steward to bring drawings and a more detailed plan to a committee meeting for the city’s review.

“I’m not seeing any opposition,” Kelly told Steward. He asked for drawings and proof of insurance before giving final approval. “You do that and you’ll be good to go.”

For his project, Steward proposed maintaining and improving landscaping elements at the park, replacing landscape timbers defining the perimeter of the park, replacing swing seats and chains, adding benches for seating and possibly adding small walkways. Steward said he would approach businesses and organizations to raise funds for his endeavor, and said he would include a plaque or signage to recognize donors.

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While Steward is a member of the Staunton Boy Scout troop, he said he lives in the Benld area and grew up in Benld.

DERELICT VEHICLES

Reporting on City Property, Ald. Balzraine said a project to remodel the Civic Center is well underway. Access to the facility is restricted at this time as workers remove tile impregnated with asbestos. Balzraine said workers also uncovered an area with extensive termite damage which is being treated and repaired.

Balzraine also sparked an extensive discussion about derelict vehicles in the city. Current ordinances requires parked vehicles to either be licensed or covered. Mayor Kelly said enforcement was hampered during the pandemic because the state extended the grace period for renewing license plate stickers. He suggested that each alderman canvas their wards to identify vehicles that should be cited. Forms for notifying residents of violations are available to aldermen at City Hall, he said.

Attorney Verticchio suggested writing the word “Warning” at the top of the citation form when aldermen make first contact with property owners, after which a formal citation can be issued if the situation is not corrected.

Mayor Kelly announced that a bid opening for the city’s upcoming sewer improvement project is set for 2 p.m., May 5, at City Hall.

OTHER ACTION

In other action, the council:

  • Voted to spend $3,000 to upgrade the city’s CUSI water billing program to ensure the program will work in conjunction with a newly acquired Nepture 360 program for remotely reading water meters.
  • Authorized expenditure of up to $2,500 to replace flower planters on Central Avenue that have been damaged by vandals.
  • Authorized the Mayor to draft a letter of support for the Macoupin County Public Transit systems push to acquire additional equipment.

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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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