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Black Diamond Days may return to downtown for 2024

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Downtown Gillespie was flooded with people yesterday for Black Diamond Days. (Photo by Angelia Fenton)

Gillespie’s Black Diamond Days festival could return to the downtown commercial district if the city council approves a resolution seeking permission from the Illinois Department of Transportation to close a section of Illinois Route 4 to accommodate the struggling festival.

Ald. Landon Pettit, who also serves as a member of the Black Diamond Days Committee, said bringing the festival back downtown was a possibility during the regular monthly meeting of the city council Monday night.

“We were told that once we lost our permit to close Macoupin Street, we could never come back,” Pettit said. “It turns out that that is not true.” To return to the downtown area, he said, would only require the city council to seek IDOT’s permission to close a section of Illinois Route 4, which coincides with Macoupin Street.

“I’m dead set against it,” said Ald. Dave Link, who owns Lumpy’s Bar and Grill downtown. “For all the years it was downtown, we were basically shut down for the weekend.” He suggested contracting downtown merchants to see whether or not they favor bringing the festival back.

“Don’t do that,” City Attorney Rick Verticchio counseled. “Have a public meeting. That way, if they want to come up and talk to us, they can.”

Mayor John Hicks said he would set a date for a public meeting in October, official notice of which will be published in local news outlets.

City Treasurer Dan Fisher said another issue could be the start of construction on a long-anticipated Streetscape Project to improve downtown aesthetics. Fisher was confident, however, the festival could be worked around any construction that might be underway.

Promoted as “Macoupin County’s Original Festival of Coal,” the festival began as an annual summertime ritual more than 40 years ago. It was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, a group of volunteers attempted to revive the festival, relocating it to Old Gillespie Lake. A last-minute cancellation forced the festival to open without a carnival for the first time this year. Organizers brought in inflatable “bounce houses” to entertain younger festival-goers as an alternative to traditional carnival rides.

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“Being out at the lake, we’ve lost substantial amounts of money every year, trying to keep it going,” Pettit said. “Every year we hear that people want it back downtown.”

He said the committee has been bolstered by several new members who “have stepped up to help us.”

Council members voted unanimously, with Ald. Pettit voting “present,” to waive the vendor permit fee for vendors participating in Spooky Halloween Fright at Gillespie Lake in October. Teresa Pettit told the council that the organizing committee would ask vendors to voluntarily donate $20 to be given to the Lake Fund. She also notified the council that the group is securing a $1 million liability insurance policy as required by the city.

The event is set for Friday evening, Oct. 20, and all day on Saturday, Oct. 21, and Saturday, Oct. 28. In addition to vendors, the event will feature bounce houses, games and crafts for kids, a chili cook-off, a wings cook-off, a fishing tournament, bonfires, and a “haunted” trail. There will be a cakewalk, best costume contests and a best decorated campsite contest. Additional activities include a scavenger hunt, pumpkin decorating, raffles, 50/50 drawings, a trunk or treat event and a costumed Halloween parade.

Pettit said she wasn’t previously aware that the organizers needed city permission for the event.

“Like so many things, it comes down to communication,” Verticchio said, advising Pettit to approach the city in advance for future events on city property. “You come up here and tell them what you want to do and chances are is no one is going to say ‘no,’ because this looks like a very nice event that is going to make the community better.”

NUISANCE PROPERTIES

The council met in executive session for 35 minutes before addressing the agenda. The closed-door session officially was called to discuss personnel, litigation, real estate and collective bargaining, but may have focused on the status of litigation against several nuisance properties.

Upon returning to open session, resident Ellen Collman complained about her property being declared a public nuisance without prior notice. She said she has been making progress toward cleaning up the property and said she would like to have the declaration withdrawn.

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“Not one person sitting at this table has spoken to me about this,” Collman said.

Ald. Link, who asked for the nuisance declaration originally, said the property owners had cut grass and weeds in the back and removed most of a dilapidated fence, but there was still trash and debris that remained to be removed. He said he had talked with neighbors who told him the property had been in a state of poor maintenance for as long as nine years.

Verticchio told Collman there was no reason to withdraw the nuisance declaration, describing it essentially as an incentive for property owners to clean up their property to avoid litigation. While the notice gives the property owners 30 days to comply, he said it was common practice to give the owners more time if they are actively working to abate the nuisance.

“My experience is that when the city issues a formal notice, the property owner goes out and fixes it,” Verticchio said. “If you do that, that’s it. When it’s cleaned up, you’ll get a letter telling you the property is no longer a nuisance.  I guarantee you that as long as you keep working on it, this group is not going to have me file an action in court because they don’t want to spend any more money on me to do that.”

In other action, the council declared property at 411 West Chestnut and 503 West Chestnut as public nuisances.

Later in the meeting, the board authorized payment of Tax Increment Financing Funds in the amount of $1,385 to Netemeyer Engineering, Aviation, for completing engineering evaluations for buildings at 109 South Macoupin and 300 South Macouipin. Both buildings have previously been declared public nuisances. The owner of 109 South Macoupin reportedly offered to donate the building to the city but city officials wanted to confirm what it would cost to stabilize the building before accepting it.

Ald. Dona Rauzi reported that the tax-buyer that acquired a nuisance property at 508 Park Avenue is exploring the feasibility of razing the structure.

Council members also briefly discussed the status of the former Canna Theater, recently acquired by a private party who has plans to renovate the building as a performance venue. Fisher reported that he talked to the new owner and learned she expects to first repair the roof and a water damaged wall to stabilize the building, and is in the process of cleaning out the interior.

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GOLF CART RULES

After several minutes of discussion the council voted unanimously on separate motions to require golf courts operated in the city limits to be fitted with seatbelts, and to reduce the minimum age for golf court operators from 18 to 16, with the provision that the operator has a valid driver’s license. Both provisions will take effect on Jan. 1 when golf court permits are renewed.

Ald. Landon Pettit questioned whether or not young children riding a passengers in golf courts should be secured in a car seat. He said he had observed young children riding in golf carts who were simply strapped in with a seatbelt. He said he worried about a child slipping out from under the belt and being injured.

Verticchio advised that city police charged with enforcing such an ordinance could not be certified to determine whether the seat is properly installed because golf cart seats are not designed to accommodate a child safety seat.

Fritz asked if the city could be held liable for a child’s injury or death if it did not require child safety seats.

“You’d have greater liability if you require car seats and some kid gets bounced out,” Verticchio said. “Some smart lawyer would say, ‘Hey, the kid would have been fine if the city hadn’t said they had to be in a car seat’,”

PARKING ON LJ AVENUE

On the direction of the council, Verticchio said he would prepare an ordinance which, if approved, would ban parking on LJ Avenue during sporting events.

Ald. Janet Odell-Mueller initially asked for new No Parking signs to replace faded signs on LJ Avenue, but asked that the new signs to ban parking at all times rather than during school hours. The street runs between the Gillespie High School campus and the football field, and becomes congested with parked cars during football games.

“People park on both sides and it basically becomes a one-way street,” she said. “I don’t know how many times I’ve had a kid run out in front of me from between parked cars.”

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Verticchio said he would prepare a draft ordinance for the council’s consideration in October. In the meantime, Mayor Hicks said he would contact the school to see if they would agree to barricade the street during sporting events.

Ald. Fritz also suggested approaching the school district to see if it would consider donating a couple of half-lots on Park Avenue, previously listed as surplus, to the City of Gillespie. The district apparently received no bids from private buyers to acquire the half-lots. Having them, Fritz said, would give the city access to Bear Creek to cut brush and otherwise maintain the waterway. Verticchio said the school district could transfer the properties via an intergovernmental agreement if it so chooses.

MFT BID LETTING

An announcement by City Treasurer Fisher that the Illinois Department of Transportation is letting bids for the Motor Fuel Tax program on Oct. 21 sparked a brief discussion about the type of rock used for the city’s street maintenance program. Fisher said IDOT will open bids for furnace slag to be used on city streets because it causes less dust than traditional rock chips.

Ald. Pettit, however, said he had seen a product called “purple rock” in use and deemed it equal to or superior to slag. Purple rock, also called Iron Mountain Track Rock, is considered an alternative for slag since sources for furnace slag are dwindling.

Fisher said the bidding specifications approved by the council earlier call for slag and that it might be possible to seek bids for purple rock next year.

CHESTNUT CULVERT

The council referred to the Street Department a request to install a new culvert at Chestnut and Handy streets for correct a water flow issue that arose after the construction of a public housing complex in the area.

Ald. Pettit said the new intake is above the level of the water flow, causing rain water to back up into neighboring yards. He said it may take as many as four culverts to correct the issue. Mayor Hicks asked the Street Department to assess the issue and determine the best and most cost-effective way to address it.

OTHER ACTION

In other action, the council:

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  • Agreed to set the standard fee for business licenses at $25 per year to streamline bookkeeping. The city formerly had a schedule of fees ranging from $12 to $25 depending upon the type of business.
  • Accepted a new lease agreement for a cellular tower at Gillespie Lake under which the tower owner wills pay $1,000 per month, an increase of $250 from the previous contract.
  • Accepted a bid of $300 to repaint pedestrian striping on Kelly Street at BenGil Elementary School.
  • Agreed to donate an old communications tower at the former Gillespie Police Department to the Gillespie-Benld Area Ambulance Service.
  • Gave the Mayor power to act on accepting bids for 21 surplus radio units previously used the Police Department.
  • Agreed to pay an outstanding bill from TDI Concrete from Tax Increment Financing Funds, provided the contractor provides proof of paying its employees prevailing wages.

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Macoupin County man arrested on child pornography charges

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Attorney General Kwame Raoul charged a Macoupin County man with dissemination and possession of child pornography. The case is part of Raoul’s ongoing work, in collaboration with federal law enforcement agencies and local law enforcement officials throughout Illinois, to apprehend offenders who download and trade child pornography online.

The Attorney General’s office charged David Crane, 34 of Brighton, in Macoupin County Circuit Court with one count of dissemination of child pornography of a victim under 13 years old, a Class X felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison; and 10 counts of possession of child pornography, Class 2 felonies, each count punishable by up to seven years in prison. Sentences must be served consecutively and are ultimately determined by the court. Crane is currently detained at the Macoupin County Jail. His next court appearance is July 9.

“Children who survive exploitation can face a lifetime of trauma, which is why we must help them receive justice by holding the offenders who commit these horrific crimes accountable,” Raoul said. “I will continue to work with state and local authorities to ensure these individuals are unable to victimize other innocent children.”

Raoul’s investigators, along with officers from the Brighton Police Department, Macoupin County Sheriff’s Office and the Illinois State Police (ISP) South Central Illinois Drug Task Force conducted a search of Crane’s residence in the 600 block of Brown Street in Brighton on June 13. Crane was arrested when investigators discovered evidence of child pornography.

“Illinois State Police special agents continuously investigate cases where there is evidence of child sexual abuse, and we will do everything in our power to arrest predators and protect our children and youth,” said ISP Director Brendan F. Kelly.

Raoul’s office is co-prosecuting this case with the Macoupin County State’s Attorney’s office.

The public is reminded that the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Raoul’s office, with a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, runs the Illinois Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force that investigates child exploitation crimes and trains law enforcement agencies. The task force receives CyberTips, or online reports of child pornography, from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Over the last several years, CyberTipline reports have steadily increased. In 2023, reports to the ICAC increased by 46% over 2022.

Illinois’ ICAC Task Force is one of 61 ICAC task forces throughout the country and is comprised of a network of more than 185 local, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Since 2019, the Attorney General’s ICAC Task Force has received more than 46,150 CyberTips and has been involved in more than 755 arrests of sexual predators. Since 2006, the Attorney General’s ICAC Task Force has been involved in more than 2,145 arrests of sexual predators. The task force also has provided internet safety training and education to tens of thousands of parents, teachers, students and law enforcement professionals.

Attorney General Raoul is reminding the public that child sexual exploitation can be reported online at cybertipline.com and child abuse at dcfsonlinereporting.dcfs.illinois.gov. In addition, local child advocacy centers can be found at childrensadvocacycentersofillinois.org.

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Assistant Attorney General Jenifer Peck is prosecuting the case for Raoul’s High Tech Crimes Bureau.

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Gillespie Police Report: June 2-8, 2024

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SUNDAY, JUNE 2, 2024

An officer was dispatched to a business in the 100 block of North Macoupin Street in reference to an aggravated battery.

An officer was dispatched to an accident at Springfield Road and Elm Street in East Gillespie. Gregory A. Ferrel, 55, of Bethalto was arrested for driving under the influence and improper lane usage.

An officer was dispatched to the 200 block of 8th Street in Benld in reference to a theft.

An officer was dispatched to Farley Lane at Gillespie Lake in reference to a battery.

An officer was dispatched to a business at the 900 block of North Hard Road in Mt. Clare in reference to an alarm sounding.

An officer was dispatched to the 700 block of East Walnut Street in reference to an animal complaint.

An officer was dispatched to Charles Street and Staunton Road in reference to a well-being check.

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An officer was dispatched to the 300 block of North Kentucky Street in Benld in reference to an ordinance issue of illegal burning.

An officer was dispatched to the 100 block of Cahokia Street in Benld in reference to juvenile issues.

An officer was dispatched to Route 4 and Pingolt Road to assist the Macoupin County Sheriff Department with a well-being check.

An officer spoke with a female at Gillespie Police Department in reference to harassment.

MONDAY, JUNE 3, 2024

An officer spoke with a male at Gillespie Police Department in reference to a theft in the 700 block of Western Street.

An officer was dispatched to the 200 block of East Maple Street in reference to a domestic dispute.

An officer was dispatched to Springfield Road and Elm Street in East Gillespie in reference to a traffic crash.

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An officer was dispatched to the 200 block of North Lincoln Avenue in Eagarville in reference to a 911 call.

An officer was dispatched to the 500 block of Central Avenue in Benld in reference to a suspicious person.

An officer was dispatched to the 100 block of South Main Street in Benld in reference to a 911 call.

TUESDAY, JUNE 4, 2024

An officer was dispatched to the 600 block of Charles Street in reference to criminal damage to a property and domestic dispute.

An officer initiated a traffic stop at Springfield Road and Illinois Avenue in East Gillespie. Kaleb N. Beck, 24, of Benld was arrested for violation of an order of protection.

An officer was dispatched to the 600 block of North 7th Street in Benld in reference to a battery. Merrill L. Vanvleck, 49, of Benld was arrested for battery and aggravated assault.

An officer was dispatched to the 800 block of Madison Street in reference to a domestic dispute.

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An officer was dispatched to a business in the 100 block of the South Hard Road in Mt. Clare in reference to criminal trespassing.

An officer was dispatched to the 400 block of Park Street in Benld in reference to a domestic dispute.

An officer was dispatched to the 600 block of North 7th Street in Benld in reference to a civil stand-by.

An officer spoke with a male at Gillespie Police Department in reference to a battery.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 5, 2024

An officer was dispatched to North Main and Willow in Benld in reference to an item found in the creek.

An officer was dispatched to the 700 block of Abba Street in reference to a domestic dispute.

An officer was dispatched to the 600 block of Broadway Street in reference to illegal parking.

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An officer was dispatched to the 500 block of West Baker in reference to an animal complaint. Heather L. Kimberlin, 48, of Gillespie was issued a citation for dog at large.

An officer was dispatched to the 300 block of East Central Avenue in Benld in reference to criminal damage to property.

An officer was dispatched to the 300 block of South Illinois Street in Benld in reference to a domestic dispute.

THURSDAY, JUNE 6, 2024

An officer initiated a traffic stop at Central Avenue and 4th Street in Benld. Roger C. Conlee Jr. 52, of Gillespie was issued a citation for suspended registration and operating an uninsured motor vehicle.

An officer was dispatched to Gillespie Police Department to speak with a female in reference to identity theft.

Ashley N. Goth, 39, of Highland was arrested on a Macoupin County warrant for failure to appear for a traffic offense.

An officer was dispatched to the 400 block of South Kentucky Street in Benld in reference to a domestic dispute.

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An officer initiated a traffic stop at Springfield Road and Illinois Avenue in East Gillespie. Michael A. Gagnon, 46, of Edwardsville was issued a citation for speeding.

An officer was dispatched to Springfield Road in East Gillespie in reference to a controlled burn.

An officer was dispatched to the 200 block of South 8th Street in Benld in reference to a suspicious person.

An officer was dispatched to Eagarville Road and the railroad track in reference to juvenile issues.

An officer was dispatched to the 300 block of East Pine in reference to an animal complaint.

An officer was dispatched to Baker and Abba Street in reference to an animal complaint.

An officer initiated a traffic stop at Springfield Road and Illinois Avenue in East Gillespie. Amanda K. Ewin, 33, of Mt. Clare was issued a citation for speeding.

An officer was dispatched to the 100 block of Fulton Street in reference to juvenile issues.

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An officer was dispatched to the 100 block of Shelby Street in reference to a noise complaint.

FRIDAY, JUNE 7, 2024

An officer was dispatched to Route 138 South of Ameren in Mt. Clare to assist with an injured animal in the roadway.

An officer was dispatched to the 700 block of Adams Street in reference to a battery.

An officer was dispatched to the 100 block of South 4th Street in Benld in reference to criminal trespass to property.

An officer was dispatched to the 100 block of East Maple Street in reference to illegal burning.

An officer was dispatched to the 100 block of West Maple Street in reference to a suspicious person.

An officer spoke with a male at Gillespie Police Department in reference to an alarm in the 200 block of North 2nd Street in Benld.

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An officer was dispatched to the 700 block of Spring Street in reference to a noise complaint.

An officer was dispatched to Central Avenue and 5th Street in Benld in reference to reckless driving.

SATURDAY, JUNE 8, 2024

An officer was dispatched to the 200 block of South 2nd Street in Benld in reference to a domestic battery. Douglas C. Blodgett, 39, of Benld was arrested for domestic battery.

An officer was dispatched to the 700 block of East Walnut in reference to an animal complaint. Angela M. Waugh, 52, of Gillespie was issued a citation for dog running at large.

An officer initiated a traffic stop at Sawyerville Hills Road and Route 138 in Mt. Clare. Brittany N. Stinnett, 33 of Bethalto was arrested for driving while her license was suspended and operating an uninsured motor vehicle.

An officer initiated a traffic stop at Macoupin Street and Pine Street. Dylan M. Swank, 21, of Gillespie was issued a citation for operating an uninsured motor vehicle.

An officer was dispatched to Park Street and 2nd Street in Benld in reference to juvenile issues.

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An officer was dispatched to the 600 block of Osie Street in reference to a medical assist.

An officer was dispatched to the North Hard Road in Mt. Clare in reference to reckless driving.

An officer initiated a traffic stop at Central Avenue and Main Street in Benld. Liberty D. King, 22, of Gillespie was issued a citation for operating an uninsured motor vehicle.

All subjects are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

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Gillespie Council approves $17.1 million appropriation ordinance

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Members of the Gillespie City Council on Monday night approved the appropriation ordinance for fiscal 2025, rescinded a housing inspection ordinance approved last month, and took steps toward condemning a former commercial building in downtown Gillespie.

The newly approved appropriation ordinance authorizes expenditures of up to $17,130,799 during the fiscal year that began May 1. Unanimous approval of the ordinance came after a 10-minute public hearing held immediately prior to the council’s regular monthly meeting.

The appropriation sets spending ceilings for expenditures from specific line item funds, Treasurer Dan Fisher told the council, but it is not an indication the city will spend anywhere near the total appropriation amount. While this year’s appropriation is in excess of $17 million, Fisher pointed out, actual annual expenditures for the city are expected to hover around $3 million to $4 million.

“The appropriation is the first step in a three-part process to allocate expenditures,” Fisher said. “The best way to think of the appropriation is, ‘What would be the most we would spend on any line item if we found the money?’  It doesn’t mean we are going to spend that much.”

Once appropriated, Fisher said the funds cannot be expended until the council approves individual expenditures during the course of the fiscal year. A final step in the three-part process comes when the council formally approves payment to projects and programs previously approved by the council.

“Appropriation, authorization, and payment,” Fisher said. “This is just the first step.”

Ald. Dave Link questioned a line item authorizing up to $350,000 for a new building.

“What new building?” he asked.

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Fisher said the appropriation was included in the event the council moves on building a new Street Department building or remodels existing space at the Civic Center to house the Police Department. Neither project is a certainty, he said.

“We try to think of things we might do if we have the money,” Fisher said. “That’s what this is.”

The fiscal 2025 appropriation ordinance exceeds last year’s appropriations of about $14.7 million by more than $2 million. Part of that increase is accounted for by $4.5 million appropriated for the city’s ambitious Streetscape Program and $1.3 million Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) grant the city will receive but immediately parcel out to other agencies. Excluding the appropriations for the Streetscape Program and CEJA grant, the lion’s share of the new appropriation is devoted to the Water Department and Police Department, followed by General Administration, Street Department and Sewer Department, all of which have appropriations exceeding $1 million.

The Water Department appropriation totals $2,845,700, down from last year’s appropriation of $3,391.500, which was inflated by the injection of grant and loan funds for the city’s water infrastructure replacement project.  A total of $2,316,000 is appropriated for the Police Department, compared with $1,281,000 last year. The appropriation for General Administration Expenses totals $1,356,500, compared with $1,341,500 last year. Funds appropriated for the Street Department total $1,281,500, compared with $1,120,500 a year ago.

The new ordinance appropriates $846,000 for Recreation and Parks, compared with $553,300 last year. Up to $600,000 in expenditures are authorized from the Motor Fuel Tax Fund, compared with $500,000 last year. Expenditures of up to $280,000 are authorized from the Tax Increment Financing Fund (TIFF), compared with $270,000 last year. A total of $200,000 is appropriated for Parks and Recreation Areas, compared with $190,000 last year. 

The ordinance sets a spending limit of $220,000 for the Administrative Building, compared with $210,100 last year; $160,000 for FICA, compared with $150,000 a year ago; and $42,020 for Elected and Appointed City Officials’ Salaries.

The ordinance sets spending ceilings of $65,000 for Liability Insurance, $40,670 for the Public Library, and $33,900 for Emergency Services and Disaster Administration—all of which are unchanged from the previous year.

INSPECTION ORDINANCE RESCINDED

On a motion by Ald. Bob Fritz, seconded by Ald. Bill Hayes, the council unanimously voted to rescind an ordinance approved last month which would have required annual housing inspections for all rental properties in the city. Mayor John Hicks called for the vote before proceeding with the regular order of business. Several rental property owners who attended the meeting and asked to publicly address the council, left the council chambers immediately after the vote.

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Hicks said council members did not realize the city already had an ordinance governing housing inspections when it voted 7-1 to approve a new ordinance last month. The existing ordinance calls for an inspection before a new tenant moves in after a former tenant moves out.

“If you have a good renter and they stay for several years, we don’t need to have an inspection,” Hicks said. 

The council apparently approved the rescinded ordinance in an effort to make inspection requirements for long-term rental properties the same as those recently approved for short-term rental properties.

Later in the meeting, Tim Loveless, a local landlord, questioned why the council doesn’t announce proposed ordinances before acting on them. That practice, he said, would give residents an opportunity to voice concerns before an ordinance is actually ratified by the council.

City Attorney Rick Verticchio said municipalities used to place ordinances on a “first reading” before taking formal action the following month. Ordinances approved by the council, however, do not take effect for 30 days, Verticchio said, which essentially gives interested persons time to object or comment before the ordinance is enforced.

NUISANCE PROPERTY DESIGNATION

Council members voted unanimously to declare a property at 118 West Chestnut Street as a public nuisance after hearing a complaint from Christine Blank, Macoupin County Public Health Department Administrator. Blank said MCPHD owns a neighboring property at 112 West Chestnut Street, which the department currently is offering for sale.

“We have some major problems with the property next door, which attaches directly to ours,” Bland said.

“We’ve been watching it closely for the last two years.”

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Blank said the owner of the neighboring property established a fenced-in area for storage, essentially closing off an alleyway between the two buildings. Within the fenced-in area, the owner placed a storage unit but more recently has allowed trash to accumulate inside the fenced area. Because of the accumulation of trash and junk, she said, the area has become infested with rodents. Moreover, she said, there are indications that one or more homeless persons are “squatting” in the area. Additionally, trees that have been allowed to grow up in the alleyway, encroaching on the foundation of the MCPHD’s building and allowing water to enter the agency’s building.

Blank said the building itself is open to the elements and there is evidence animals are living inside.

Blank said at least one person has expressed interest in buying the MCPHD building as well as the neighboring property but the neighboring property owner has been uncooperative.

Ald. Bill Hayes said he sent the property owner an ordinance violation notification, demanding that he owner clean up the property.

“All an ordinance does is impose a fine,” Verticchio said. “If he’s not taking care of the property, he’s not going to pay the fine.”

Verticchio recommended declaring the building a public nuisance with an eye toward eventually getting permission from the court to raze the building and clean up the site.

“Declare it a nuisance,” he said, “and give them 30 days to fix it. They won’t do that. They can’t do that. It can’t be fixed, so the court will give the city permission to tear it down. The problem with that, of course, is that it’s expensive.”

Since MCPHD has an interested buyer for both properties, Verticchio said the city might be able to get a court order to take possession of the nuisance property and sell it to a new owner with the provision that the new owner will tear down the old building.

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“Someone else might be interested in that property,” said Ald. Dave Link.

“No problem,” Verticchio replied. “We can advertise it for bids.”

Blank also complained about the deteriorating condition of the sidewalk in front of the MCPHD property. Fisher said the sidewalk already is scheduled for replacement and bids will be let next month.

IMRF ISSUES

Without taking formal action, the council gave Fisher permission to negotiate with city employees to come up with a way to make retroactive payments of the employees’ shares into the Illinois Municipal Retirement System. City employee participation in IMRF became effective March 1, but the city was not immediately notified, according to Fisher. As a result, six pay periods went by with no IMRF payments being made into the system.

Fisher said the amount owed will be about $650 to $700 per employee. In addition, the retirement system is owed the city’s share for the same period.

“I would recommend that we come up with a method for us to pay the employees’ share and for them to pay us back,” Fisher said. Even such a straight-forward solution could become complicated, however. Fisher said that if employees draw on their deferred compensation funds to repay the loan, the payments would be taxable. Deducting a repayment plan from future paychecks will avoid the tax issue but will result in complicating bookkeeping procedures.

“We need direction from the council on how you want us to do this,” Fisher said. “It’s not going to be easy from a bookkeeping standpoint. Once we’re caught up, it will be much easier.”

Fisher said the issue may be further complicated by the fact the nearest pay period started on March 3—two days after IMRF membership became effective. He said he is trying to find out now if IMRF is going to demand a prorated contribution for two days. 

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Council members generally agreed the city should cover the back payments for employees and give the employees the option of determining how they wish to pay back the funds.

“This is not the employees’ fault,” Fisher noted, “but I don’t feel it’s our fault either.”

CEJA GRANT

Fisher informed the council that an application for a federal CEJA grant has been awarded by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the agency responsible for administering the program. Gillespie was the lead agency among 16 area units of government that collectively applied for the award. Fisher said the total grant amounts to $1.1 million, of which Gillespie will retain $70, 248.57.

Under terms of the grant, the City of Gillespie will receive the entire grant, then be responsible for disbursing funds to other participating units. 

Other participants that will receive funding include: Village of East Gillespie, $51,654.72; City of Benld, $58,721.50; Village of Eagarville, $50,684.28; City of Staunton, $80,929.61; Gillespie Public Library, $70,248.57; Benld Public Library, $58,721.50; Gillespie Township, $73,458.48; Cahokia Township, $69,004.42; Community Unit School District 7, $98,167.33; North Mac CUSD 34, $98,584.12; Gillespie-Benld Ambulance Service, $133,202.60; Village of Royal Lakes, $51,038.87; City of Bunker Hill, $60,102.51; Village of Mount Clare, $51,878.67; and Brushy Mound Township, $53,919.08.

The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act is a federal program to mitigate against economic conditions that result as the nation moves away from fossil fuels to embrace renewable, “green” energy sources. The local grant award is related to job losses resulting from the idling of Shay Mine No. 1, formerly Monterey Mine No., 1. Each entity was awarded $50,000 plus additional funds based on “job loss” and “revenue loss” factors.

Fisher said he planned to meet with representatives of the other applicants on Tuesday night. In the meantime, he recommended council members think about how the city will use its share of the grant money. He said there had been previous discussion about using it for park improvements, but he also recommended setting aside three percent for administrative costs, including the cost of additional auditing services. Macoupin County, which also is receiving a CEJA grant, plans to use its award for economic development, and Fisher recommended that the city also use at least 10 percent of the award for economic development purposes.

OTHER ACTION

  • Declared a pumper truck used by the Street Department as surplus property and voted to offer it for sale to the highest qualified bidder. While the truck is operable, the water tank is rusted out and incapable of being repaired.
  • Donated $100 to the GHS cross-country program.
  • Approved allowing the CeeJo’s tavern and grill to offer bingo gaming to its patrons.
  • Gave the mayor power to act on either repairing a broken beer tap appliance at the Civic Center, or buying a new one at a cost of $2,184 if the old one cannot be repaired.
  • Learned that the local Masonic Lodge recently donated $3,000 to the city to be used for park improvements. 

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