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Forum to Fund Small Business & Community Projects

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Macoupin Economic Development Partnership along with the Macoupin Mayor’s Council will host a Community Funding Forum Wednesday, August 31 from 5:30 – 8:00 p.m. The multi-county forum will be held at the Benld Civic Center located at 201 East Central Ave., Benld, IL. Counties invited to participate in the forum include Macoupin, Greene, Jersey, Montgomery, Christian and Madison.

 This year’s forum will offer business assistance government agencies along with community development agencies. Some of the participating agencies include: Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Ameren, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, PGAV Planners – St. Louis, Frank Bertelli Benld Public Library, and Macoupin County. A full list of the invited agencies can be found at macoupinpartners.com. 

 The purpose of the forum is to showcase creative financing tools for local projects, provide an opportunity to meet with state, federal and local agency representatives, provide business assistance and network strategies with other community/business leaders in the region. 

 The evening will begin with networking and refreshments. This will be followed by agency introductions, community project discussions or small business questions. The forum will conclude with agencies discussing program offerings and areas of assistance.

 If you are a member of a municipal, education, economic development, local planning, parks and recreation, or business organization, small business or just an interested citizen, this forum is for you. Registration is $10.00 and can be mailed to MEDP 18400 Shipman Rd, Carlinville, IL 62626. Please include with your name, title, organization, address, and phone/cell number. You may also register at macoupinpartners.com and pay at the door.

 For more information regarding the Forum or MEDP please contact Courtney Wood at courtney@macoupinpartners.com or (618)409-6044.

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Members of the Gillespie City Council on Monday night approved the appropriation ordinance for fiscal 2025, rescinded a housing inspection ordinance approved last month, and took steps toward condemning a former commercial building in downtown Gillespie.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