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County Receives $630,000

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COUNTY RECEIVES $630,000 IN FEDERAL FUNDING TO MAKE UPGRADES TO BRIGHTON-BUNKER HILL ROAD
The $700,000 project to improve the Fosterburg Road intersection will be part of a five-phase project to make upgrades to Brighton-Bunker Hill Road

Carlinville – More than three months ago, Macoupin County applied for a competitive grant with the Illinois Department of Transportation, seeking funding for a $700,000 project to improve safety standards at the intersection of Fosterburg Road and Brighton-Bunker Hill Road in southwestern Macoupin County.  The County was recently informed that its request to obtain 90% of the funding necessary to complete the $700,000 project was approved.

The County applied for the federal funding through the Illinois Department of Transportation’s (IDOT) Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) / High Risk Rural Roads Program (HRRRP).  A major goal of the HSIP is seek out projects that work to reduce fatal and serious injury crashes.  One of the specific emphasis areas within the HSIP relates to intersection projects. A stipulation of receiving the federal funds through IDOT allows the County up to 90% of the project cost (which in this case is $630,000), leaving only the remaining 10% to be produced from local funds.

“For the County to be able to access more than $2.5 million in federal funding toward this large project is a sizeable achievement in itself,” said County Board Chairman Andy Manar.  “Brighton-Bunker Hill Road is only going to become more heavily travelled in the years to come, so it is important that, with this funding, we are addressing the high-priority safety needs like the Fosterburg Road intersection as soon as possible.”

In 2006, Macoupin County received $2 million in federal funding from the High Priority Project Program (HPPP) with the assistance of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin which will be utilized to make improvements to a mile-long stretch of Brighton-Bunker Hill Road.  Combined with the proposed Fosterburg Road intersection project, the approximate $2.63 million in improvements will represent one phase of a five-phase project to completely upgrade Brighton-Bunker Hill Road.  It is estimated that construction on the project will begin in early 2013.

County Engineer Tom Reinhart said that the completion of I-255 up to Fosterburg Road in northern Madison County has brought on an increase in truck traffic on the Brighton-Bunker Hill Road.  Enhancing the overall condition and safety of the highly traveled road itself is a goal over the long run.  Reinhart noted that the entire five-phase project to upgrade Brighton-Bunker Hill Road is a $20 million project.

Manar said that the County Board is continuing to identify additional funding sources that will assist in bringing the large-scale project closer to completion.

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School board disciplines staff member; hires AD and Student Services Coordinator

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In a relatively brief meeting Monday night, the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education approved a “resolution of remedial warning” against an unidentified district teacher, and hired a new Student Services Coordinator and Athletic Director.

The actions followed an 80-minute executive session during which board members presumably primarily discussed personnel issues. The regular monthly meeting of the board was moved up by one week to fill key positions, such as the Athletic Director and Student Services Coordinator, prior to the start of the school year next month. The district was taken by surprise when former Student Services Coordinator Stephanie Bray and Athletic Director Mike Bertagnolli both announced their retirements within days of each other.

Supt. Shane Owsley said the resolution of remedial warning is a disciplinary action representing “a second strike, so to speak.” Neither the teacher or the nature of the infraction was disclosed in open session.

In other action, the board, voted unanimously to hire Shelsie Timmermeier as the district’s Student Services Coordinator for the 2024-25 school year, stepping into the vacancy created by Bray’s retirement, pending confirmation of certification and a background check. In a separate action, the board also appointed Timmermeier as an assistant high school women’s volleyball coach.

Jeremy Smith was hired, also by a unanimous vote, as the district’s Athletic Director for the 2024-25 school year. In a related matter, Smith’s resignation as middle school head baseball coach was accepted. Additionally, the board posted the coaching position as vacant for the coming school year.

On a motion by Weye Schmidt, seconded by Dennis Tiburzi, the board hired Alex Jasper as a high school social science teacher for the coming school year. The board also voted unanimously to hire Tate Wargo as a first-year, non-tenured physical education instructor, pending confirmation of certification. Both positions were vacated as a result of the sudden resignation of Dalton Barnes in April as head football coach, physical education teacher and social science teacher. 

In related matters, the board also hired Wargo Monday night as an eighth grade boy’s basketball coach, and accepted Jasper’s resignation as a district paraprofessional and posted the position as vacant.

In other personnel action, the board:

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  • Hired Amanda Ewin as a one-on-one aide.
  • Hired Anthony Kravanya as a freshman men’s basketball coach.
  • Appointed Melissa Heigert as a volunteer assistant high school softball coach.

In other action, the board gave routine approval to a list of policies provided by the Illinois State Board of Education. 

Supt. Owsley also provided a brief update on the progress being made on safety projects expected to be completed before the start of the school year, including installation of a new intercom system, a card-reader entry system and shatter-proof protective film on exterior windows.

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Gillespie Council will consider grocery tax

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Alderwoman Wendy Rolando discusses flags in the business district.

The Gillespie City Council directed City Attorney Rick Verticchio to draft a new ordinance during a sometimes contentious meeting Monday night, which would impose a grocery tax on unprepared food items sold in the city limits. Mayor John Hicks acknowledged the city no longer has a grocery store, but noted that the Dollar General store and convenience stores in the city sell a limited number of grocery items. 

“We have been notified that the city can collect a grocery tax,” Hicks said. “It’s not going to be a phenomenal amount.”

The one percent grocery tax will replace a state grocery tax that was rescinded as part of the current state budget. The tax also was suspended via executive order during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Verticchio, who participated in Monday’s meeting by phone, said he would prepare an ordinance and have it ready for council action for the council’s August meeting.

In other action, the council authorized the mayor to work with the city’s insurer to expedite repairs to the city garage, approved the final payment for the new boat dock installed at Gillespie Lake, and approved the purchase of 20 American flags for display downtown during patriotic holidays. It was a heated exchange between Street Department workers and a city alderman, however, that lent a contentious tone to the meeting.

PRIVATE USE OF CITY EQUIPMENT

A question from Ald. Dave Link about city workers using city equipment on private property sparked an angry response from Street Department workers, including Supervisor Dale Demkey. Link alleged a city worker used a mini-hoe, skidster and truck for a project on a resident’s personal property. The ensuing argument, however, reached no resolution.

“It was city equipment and a city employee who took the afternoon off for the work,” Link said. He demanded to know who authorized the equipment’s use.

“We’ve done it before,” a maintenance worker responded.

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“We put a stop to that back when I first came on the council,” Ald. Bill Hayes countered.

Link angrily denied Demkey’s allegation that Link had used township equipment to move a storage building at his downtown tavern, and to remove concrete from property owned by Link. Link said the broken concrete from his project went to the municipality for its use.

“There’s no reason a city employee can’t use that equipment,” Demkey said. “It’s not like we get paid a lot of money.”  Demkey confirmed that he authorized the use of the equipment, and accused Link of targeting the Street Department.

Ald. Hayes said Link was responding to complaints from citizens who saw city equipment being used for private purposes. He said he, too, had received complaints. “If you’re going to do this for one person, you going to have to do it for all,” Hayes said. “You’ve got to treat everyone the same.”

“It’s been this way for years,” Ald. Landon Pettit said. “It’s not the first time this has been done.”

A visitor to the council meeting suggested forming a committee to act on requests to use city equipment. The Army Corps of Engineers, he said, follows a similar practice to loan equipment for “humanitarian purposes.” Establishing such a procedure, the spectator said, would not only standardize how the decisions are made but also protect the city from liability concerns.

“I know this is the way it’s been done in the past and I ‘get’ both sides,” Ald. Dona Rauzi commented. “But is it right?”

The discussion ended with no clear resolution before the council moved on to other business.

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DAMAGE TO CITY SHED

The council voted unanimously to authorize Mayor Hicks to work with the city’s insurer to expedite repair of some $13,000 in damage to the city shed that was caused when a street sweeper malfunctioned. Reportedly, the hydrostatic system on the sweeper failed, causing the machine to go out of control and crash into the shed. More damage was caused when the operator backed the malfunctioning machine out of the wreckage.

Mayor Hicks said the city has been unable to get an insurance adjuster to view the damage and authorize repairs. In the meantime, he said, a portion of the building’s roof is in danger of collapse. “I’d like to get this done as soon as possible,” Hick said.

Demkey said the Street Department had asked the council to replace the street sweeper for several years. “No one paid any attention,” he said.

“I say we go ahead and fix it,” said Ald. Pettit, “and if the insurance company gives us any grief, we have a lawyer.”

After further discussion, Pettit’s motion to give the mayor power to act was unanimously approved. Hicks said he will contact the insurer to see if he can expedite the claim and, if the insurance company is unresponsive, take action to get the damage repaired.

“It’s a safety issue, it’s an emergency,” Pettit said. “Let’s get it fixed.”

FINAL BOAT DOCK PAYMENT

On a motion by Ald. Frank Barrett, seconded by Link, the council voted unanimously to authorize a $53,275 final payment on a new boat dock recently opened at Gillespie Lake. The payment represents the city’s share of the new dock’s $253,000 total cost. The city received a $200,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for the project.

NEW FLAGS

The council agreed to take donations from the public to subsidize the purchase of 20 American flags to be displayed on downtown utility poles during patriotic holidays such as Memorial Day and Independence Day. Ald. Wendy Rolando said she had sought to purchase new flags for the past four years but had been thwarted by the lack of a budget for the project. She said the brackets for displaying the flags already are on the poles and the Street Department had agreed to place and remove the flags when needed.

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“It’s been suggested that we have a fundraiser or offer sponsorships to purchase the flags,” she said, adding she located a source to purchase three-by-five-foot flags with poles for $75 each. 

The council informally authorized Rolando to collect donations to purchase the flags, and several people present committed to donating to the project. However, Ald. Pettit’s motion to purchase the flags outright and reimburse the General Fund with donations was unanimously approved. Pettit said the donation fund also can be used to replace flags as they become worn.

FACIAL HAIR

Ald. Pettit suggested amending future employment contracts to include a provision requiring employees to comply with OSHA standards regarding facial hair, after an extensive discussion about a Water Department employee who refused to shave his facial hair. Ald. Hayes said OSHA requires employees at the Water Treatment Plant to be clean-shaven because an emergency with water treatment chemicals could require the employees to wear respirator masks. Facial hair reportedly prevents the respirators from properly sealing around the mouth and nose.

Water Plant Operator Dave Pickett later said the issue was moot because the employee had finally agreed to shave.

Hayes said the employee initially refused to comply on the assumption the rule was an arbitrary decision from Pickett.

“Someone needs to tell him it’s not us, it’s OSHA,” Verticchio said via phone. “I’m surprised they haven’t come down on us already.”

Verticchio said an employee who refuses to comply could be written up and, if he continues to resist, be terminated.

“The only employees this would apply to are people who might have to wear masks,” Hicks noted.

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Pettit said future contracts should reference OSHA standards because OSHA rules are subject to change during the employee’s tenure. “It would save our superintendents headaches in the future,” Pettit said.,

EXTRA PAY FOR POLICE CHIEF

The council unanimously approved a resolution enabling the city to pay the Chief of Police an hourly wage in addition to his salary for hours spent on patrol. Verticchio explained the Police Chief has been putting in extra hours as a patrolman because the police force is critically short of personnel. 

“The only reason he’s on patrol is because we are short,” Vericchio said. The department currently is short four full-time officers. “This is not a permanent situation,” Verticchio said, noting the resolution authorizes the supplemental payments through October to give the city time to hire additional officers.

The measure was approved with both Link and Hayes voting “present.”

In a related matter, the council authorized Police Chief Jared DePoppe to send two new candidates to the state’s Police Academy at the end of August in an effort to fill vacancies on the police department. DePoppe said those candidates have not yet been selected but he is actively interviewing applicants. He said one current applicant is expected to complete academy training early next month.

Ald. Janet Odell-Mueller asked if there was any way the city could obligate Police Academy candidates to stay in the city’s employ for a specific period since the city pays for their training. DePoppe said there is no such mechanism, noting the city has paid to train numerous officers who later resigned to move on to other positions.

In other action, the council approved DePoppe’s request to spend $2,122 to buy new radios compatible with ambulance and fire department communication devices.

DAMAGED DUMP TRUCK

The council referred to committee the issue of whether to repair or replace a damaged dump truck assigned to the Street Department. The truck bed reportedly is rusted out and in need of replacement, and the truck cab has damage resulting from a collision with a utility pole. 

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Mayor Hicks said the city received an estimate of $14,443 to replace the truck bed and $6,470 for repairs to the cab. The cab repairs, he noted, may be subject to insurance coverage.

“That’s half of what it would cost to buy a new dump truck,” Pettit said. He asked if the Street Department could function with a F-450 or F-550 instead. 

The committee is expected to assess whether it would be more cost-effective to repair the old truck or buy a replacement.

EXECUTIVE SESSION

No action followed a 40-minute executive session to discuss personnel issues and possible real estate. Ald. Bob Fritz requested the session to discuss real estate, while Ald. Hayes asked to discuss a personnel issue. Ald. Barrett asked to enter executive session to discuss resolution to a lake lot lease issue with Don Corby, who was on the agenda to address the council earlier in the meeting. No public action was taken, however, regarding Corby’s issue.

BICYCLE ORDINANCE TABLED

The council voted to table action on a proposed ordinance to ban bicycles, skateboards, scooters and side-by-sides on all sidewalks adjacent to city streets in Gillespie. Police Chief DePoppe urged the council to revisit the ordinance and eliminate the reference to “all sidewalks.” That provision, he said, would force bicycles onto the street and create safety concerns in residential areas where young children typically ride bikes on the sidewalk.

Ald. Link said the original intent was to ban bicycles, skateboards and similar vehicles from downtown sidewalks only. Ald. Rauzi suggested that there needed to be provisions to differentiate between bicycles, skateboards and similar vehicles and mobility equipment used by disabled persons.

The action marked the third time the ordinance has been tabled. Rauzi initially proposed the ordinance because downtown signage banning the use of bicycles on sidewalks during business hours has no ordinance on the books to back them up.

On Ald. Barrett’s recommendation the council also tabled action on a resolution revising procedures for issuing lake lot leases.

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OTHER ACTION

In other action, the council approved the $2,079 purchase of eight new security cameras for the boat dock and campgrounds at Gillespie Lake.

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Benld City Council approves $1.5 million appropriations ordinance

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City resident Ben Marcacci appeared briefly before the council to propose a program to install public art pieces along the Benld-Gillespie Bike Trail.

The Benld City Council on Monday night approved a $2.2 million appropriations ordinance governing municipal spending for the current fiscal year. Council members also approved a previously tabled business license for a tax preparation service, agreed to advertise for bids for grading work at the new Benld Sports and Recreation Park, and approved a long-delayed lease for the Benld Post Office during the panel’s regular monthly meeting at city hall.

Though required by law, the appropriations ordinance is not a budgetary device. It sets spending limits for various line items for the fiscal year. In practice, most municipalities spend less than the amounts appropriated.

The appropriation approved Monday night includes $639,390.25 in proprietary funds (sewer and water funds, Motor Fuel Tax funds, and other funds that can be spent only for the purposes for which they were collected) and $1,514,612 in general funds, for a total appropriation of $2,153,002.25. The newly approved appropriation ordinance is $140,571 less than last year’s ordinance.

The $638,390.25 appropriated for proprietary expenditures compares with $1,018,820 appropriated last year. The new ordinance appropriates $165,315.50 for Sewer Department expenditures, compared with $382,320 last year, which included funding to complete the city’s sewer improvement project. A total of $318,074.75 is appropriated for the Water Department, compared with $501,500 last year. A total of $155,000 is appropriated for trash pick-up, compared with $135,000 last year. Motor Fuel Tax expenditures are capped at $111,000, compared with $105,000 last year.

The appropriation for General Funds, breaks down as follows: $272,060 for Police Protection, compared with $257,260 last year; $271,457.50 for Maintenance, compared with $171,075 last year; $208,394 for City Property, compared with $144,059 a year ago;  $41,891 for Administration, compared with $36,300 last year; $35,000 for legal fees, which is unchanged from last year; $17,450 for the city’s annual audit, compared with $15,900 last year; and $1,500 for the city cemetery, compared with $1,400 last year. The ordinance appropriates $1,200 for unemployment insurance, $7,859 for city parks, $3,500 for the public library, and $1,500 for the municipal band, all of which are unchanged from last year.

The appropriation also caps expenditures at $650,000 for development of a new sports complex on the former site of Benld Elementary School. The amount represents proceeds of an Open Spaces Land Acquisition and Development grant administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The new ordinance was unanimously approved on a motion by Finance Chair Jerry Saracco, seconded by Ald. Dustin Fletcher.

TAX PREPARATION BUSINESS LICENSE

After tabling action last month, the council voted 4-1 to approve a business license application of Ed Rieffer, who said he planned to open a tax preparation service at 207 East Central Avenue. The council tabled the issue last month because Rieffer was not present to address questions the council had about the nature of his planned business. Rieffer’s application identified the business, called Fast Cash Now, as “taxes and loans.” Council members deferred action out of concerns that Rieffer planned to open a pawn shop or pay-day loan business.

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Appearing before the council Monday night, Rieffer said he is a licensed tax preparer and planned to operate a tax preparation service at the address. He added that he “might” buy and sell real estate, using the storefront as a base of operation, and confirmed that one of his primary reasons for establishing a business is to facilitate renovating and renting three apartments in the building. City ordinance requires an operating business on the ground floor for any building on Central Avenue renting second floor apartments.

City Attorney Rick Verticchio initially recommended approving the business license.

“We told him before that we didn’t know what kind of business he wanted to start,” Verticchio said. “He’s told us that now. He’s going to prepare taxes and possibly buy and sell real estate.”

Rieffer told the council he bought the building for $5,000 and intends to renovate the structure to serve as an office and rental property. The building currently has broken windows and a frequently unsecured back door, all of which Rieffer said he planned to address contingent of the council’s approval of his business license. He said he wanted to do something downtown because “Benld is basically a ghost town.”

“If this town is a ghost town, why do you want to open a business here?” Ald. John Balzraine asked.

Rieffer said he wanted to do something to help “build up” the community. He said he plans to make his swimming pool installation business a part-time concern in order to devote full-time to the tax preparation service.

City Attorney Rick Verticchio asked if Rieffer plans to have the business open throughout the year, or if it will be open only during tax season. Rieffer said the tax preparation license requires him to be open a minimum number of hours per year. He produced a tax preparer’s license that he secured through Jackson Hewitt for the 2022 tax season. Under questioning by Verticchio he acknowledged he does not have a current license, nor is he licensed to buy and sell real estate. Rieffer said, however, that he plans to obtain both certificates before opening.

“You came to this council and told them you’re certified,” Verticchio said. ‘Then you tell us you didn’t renew your certification last year. I don’t think it’s inappropriate for the council to ask you to show them that you’re certified to do taxes now.”

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“I don’t see why he has to have a license right now for us to approve a business license,” Ald. Fletcher commented. He said the city’s ordinances would empower the city to inspect the building and apartments, and to revoke the business license if Rieffer fails to meet his commitment to the city.

“I think we should table this until he actually has his tax license or real estate license,” Ald. Saracco indicated.

“I’m not going to spend more money on the building without approval,” Rieffer responded. “I’m not going to start work until I get approval. I’ll cut the grass and board up the windows, and let it rot.”

Ultimately, the council approved the business license contingent upon Rieffer securing a license to prepare taxes and subject to city inspection of the premises in compliance with city ordinances. Council members voted 4-1 to approve the business license with Ald. Balzraine voting “no.”

“I want to tell you why I’m voting ’no’,” Balzraine told Rieffer. “I don’t trust you, pure and simple.”

GRADING BIDS

On a motion by Ald. Fletcher, the council voted unanimously to advertise for bids for grading work at the new Benld Sports and Recreation Complex on the former site of Benld Elementary School. The action is contingent upon the city engineer delivering drawings and bidding specifications for the project within the next two weeks.

Mayor Jim Kelly said HMG Engineers were working on plans to minimize the amount of grading and excavation needed to prepare the site for ball fields and other amenities. In the meantime, he said two bids have been received for playground equipment, both of which are less than the engineer’s estimate.

POST OFFICE LEASE

By a unanimous vote, the council agreed to enter into an agreement to lease a building on East Central Avenue to the U.S. Postal Service.

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The lease had been in limbo for several months as City Attorney Verticchio negotiated with the Postal Service to reach the final terms. A major sticking point was a provision carried over from the previous lease requiring the city to provide snow removal service, although the city never fulfilled that aspect of the previous contract.

The new five-year lease retains the snow removal provision and will start Oct. 1, 2025. Under the currently lease, the city receives $3,300 annually. Under the new lease, the city will net $4,794 after paying the Postal Service’s lease broker’s fee.

PUBLIC ART PROPOSAL

City resident Ben Marcacci appeared briefly before the council to propose a program to install public art pieces along the Benld-Gillespie Bike Trail, creating an “art trail” people can experience on bike or by walking. Marcacci, who creates art himself in his Benld-based studio, said he spoke with Rick Spencer, who teaches welding at Gillespie High School, and that Spencer expressed interest in involving students in the project.

Marcacci said he has traveled extensively in connection with his job to 87 countries and countless small communities, many of which turned to art to attract visitors and enhance the quality of life for local residents.

“What brings people in is art,” he said. He cited Casey as an example of a small community uniting to create public art pieces to attract visitors. Casey gained notoriety as the home of the “world’s largest” wind chimes, world’s largest golf tee, world’s large mailbox and other “world’s largest” attractions. “Casey is two miles off the interstate, we’re three,” Marcacci said.

Ald. Balzraine expressed concerns about vandalism.

“That would be taken into consideration,” Marcacci said, adding that the sculptures he makes are made from quarter-inch steel. “I’d be more concerned about people climbing on them.”

Marcacci said the council would have approval of subject matter for all the sculptures. Additionally, he pointed out other communities have had success with public art projects ranging from murals to sculpture parks or art trails.

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“Other people are doing this, guys,” he told the council.

PUBLIC NUISANCES

Following a 20-minute executive session, the council took action to declare as public nuisances properties located at 200, 209 and 211 East Central Avenue. In a separate action, the council voted to declare 215 East Central Avenue a public nuisance, and tabled consideration of acquiring the property.

BUILDING INSPECTOR SALARY

Voting 4-1, the council approved a measure to increase the building inspector’s compensation from $40 per inspection to $55. Ald. Saracco cast the sole negative vote, later explaining he had concerns about the number of inspections performed.

Mayor Kelly asked aldermen to make a list of properties in need of inspection and turning it over to the building inspector.

“That was my concern,” Saracco said. “That’s why I voted ’no’.”

OTHER ACTION

  • Set a special meeting for 3 p.m., Monday, June 24, to discuss possible uses for the city’s $51,000 share of a multi-community Climate and Equitable Jobs Act grant administered by the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
  • Thanked the Italian Club for purchasing a new stove for the city park pavilion.
  • Approved purchase of $5,559.60 in materials for the Maintenance Department.

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