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Get Vaccinated!

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Fever? Aches? Chills?

Not anymore!

Get vaccinated by Michelle’s Pharmacy at Randy’s Market in Benld on Saturday October 1st from 9am-1pm or Wednesday October 12th from 9am-1pm in Gillespie!

Vaccinations will be for Flu and Pneumonia.

Medicare/Public Aide: No Charge!
All others is by cash or check only.

Contact: (217) 854-4022 with any questions!

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Gillespie Council attempts to mediate between feuding lake residents

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Two families feuding at Gillespie Lake appeared before the council Monday. Julie Gerecke (right) and William Jolene Mermis (left) have an agreement to not talk to one another and leave each other alone.

Gillespie City Council’s Lake Committee will conduct a hearing in an attempt to mediate between two feuding families who hold lot leases at Gillespie Lake after both couples appeared during the council’s regular monthly meeting Monday night.

Before either party addressed the council, Lake Committee Chair Ald. Frank Barrett told the council, “This is about two families who don’t get along at the lake.” Over the past two years, Barrett said, he, other Lake Committee members and Lake Manager Gary Thornhill have attempted unsuccessfully to resolve the dispute. “Neither one of them has really done anything wrong,” Ald. Landon Pettit, a former Lake Committee member, said. “They just don’t get along. They really don’t need to be next to each other.” Neither party, both of whom lease double lots, has any interest in moving to another location.

Julie Gerecke, who holds a lake lot lease with her husband, Tony, said her family and the neighboring family, William and Jolene Mermis, have an agreement to not talk to one another and leave each other alone. Despite that agreement, however, Gerecke alleged the Mermises have called the city to complain about the Gereckes on 60 different occasions. Gerecke claimed the complaints ranged from the Gerecke’s mowing their grass to their children saying “hello” to the neighbors. The complaints, she said, were all unfounded except one when she forgot a bag of trash. Before she could retrieve the bag, however, the neighbors photographed it and reported it to the city.

Gerecke further complained that Jolene Mermis sometimes drives past their cabin and “growls” at her children.

“We don’t go back and forth and we don’t converse,” Gerecke said. “We had an agreement not to talk and for us to be left alone. We’re tired of it and finally brought it to you. We’re trying to enjoy our time with our kids.”

Bill Mermis told the council that none of Gerecke’s allegations were true.

“The stories being told here are wildly inaccurate,” Jolene Mermis concurred. She claimed a friend of Julie Greece verbally belittled her younger son while she and her son were floating on the lake in front of their cabin.

Both couples alluded to an incident last weekend when the Mermises hosted an ice hockey event on the lake at their cabin. Their adult sons are professional hockey players and reportedly participated in the event. “We thought it would be fun to host an event for the community,” Jolene Mermis said.

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Neither couple was able to describe what actually happened as the council turned the discussion to resolving issues between the two families.

“This is a court matter,” City Attorney Rick Verticchio advised. “There’s nothing this body can do other than possibly take a vote to not renew either of your leases. Short of that, there’s nothing we can do here. The court will issue a no-contact injunction, and if either of you violates the injunction, you will go to jail. That generally is enough to stop the problem.”

Mayor John Hicks suggested a hearing before the Lake Committee.

“I think the Lake Committee should have a hearing,” Verticchio agreed. “But they may decide these people can’t get along and we don’t want that at the lake, and revoke both of your leases.”

Ald. Barrett told the couples who would notify them when a hearing is scheduled. The committee includes Barrett, Ald. Bill Hayes and Ald. Dave Link. Verticchio said he also will attend the hearing.

The council also referred to the Lake Committee to rule on whether or not to rescind a ban issued two decades ago. Former resident Casey Smith, who now lives in Tennessee near Gatlinburg, said he recently inherited his grandmother’s mobile home at the lake and needs to have access to the property to remove her personal property and either sell or renovate the mobile home.

Smith said his grandmother, Rita Smith, took him in soon after his father drowned at the lake in 1993 while the father and son were fishing together. When he was 17, he said, the city banned him from the lake due to repeated behavior issues.

“I put her through hell and I regret that, but she never gave up on me,” Smith said. Now 37, he pledged to the council that he is “not the 17-year-old” he was 20 years ago. He said he is married and raising children of his own.

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Rita Smith died Oct. 29 as a result of injuries sustained in a motor vehicle crash. She left her mobile home to her grandson.

“I want to pay the lease for at least one year, and by next year, I’ll decide whether to sell it or keep it for a vacation spot,” Smith said, noting that he lives eight hours away.

In a related matter, the council voted unanimously to give the Lake Committee authority to decide whether to seek a “soft” background check or a more detailed state police background check for applicants seeking to lease lake lots. Ald. Barrett said the more extensive state police check can take weeks to complete, while the “soft” checks can be done in-house.

Ald. Pettit noted said Gillespie is the only lake around that does a background check on lessees.

“We’re the only lake around that does a background check,” Ald. Pettit noted. He recommended adding a clause to the lease agreement to inform renters they may be subject to a background check, and that their lease will be revoked if it is discovered they misrepresented their background.

In other action, the council approved an ordinance to eliminate limits on the number of liquor licenses the city can issue, approved an ordinance establishing the fee for lake residents to tap onto a new water line at the lake, and authorized the Chief of Police to send two candidates to the police academy for full-time officers, with an eye toward filling two existing vacancies on the police force.

LIQUOR LICENSES

After brief discussion, the council voted unanimously to amend the city’s ordinance regarding liquor licenses to eliminate limitations on the number of licenses issued. The amendment enables the city to issue as many licenses as it deems appropriate on a case-by-case basis.

Earlier in the meeting, the council approved issuing the city’s last liquor license to Gotcha Latte. Ald. Dona Rauzi said the owner doesn’t plan to add a bar to his business but wanted the ability to offer his customers Irish coffees.  Without amending the existing ordinance later in the meeting, the city would have no more liquor licenses available for issuance.

Ald. Link, who holds a liquor license for his downtown business, voted “present” on the issue.

WATER TAP FEES

On a motion by Ald. Pettit, seconded by Ald. Barrett, the council voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance to establish tap-on fees for a new water line under construction at Gillespie Lake. Under terms of the ordinance lake residents can pay a tap-on fee of $600 prior to May 31, 2025. After May 31, 2025, the fee will increase to $2,000—the same as the tap-on fee for residents within the city limits.

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The provisions are designed to encourage lake residents to commit to tapping onto the line while it is under construction to eliminate unnecessary excavation.

The council also voted unanimously to approve an ordinance formalizing an action it took last month to increase water rates. The ordinance calls for the addition of a $1 surcharge, increasing by $1 for the next six months and culminating in a total $12 surcharge on the base, minimum water bill. The ordinance also contains provisions to increase the bulk rate charge to satellite communities, which satellites presumably will pass on to their customers.

WATER BILL ISSUES

Ald. Dona Rauzi reported the city has experienced problems with the timely delivery of water bills in the mail. The problem appears to be with the St. Louis Post Office through which mail from Gillespie is routed before coming back for delivery.

“If you don’t receive a water bill by the first of the month, please contact the city,” she advised water customers.

POLICE HIRES

Following a 20-minute executive session to discuss personnel issues, council members unanimously approved Police Chief Jared DePoppe’s request to send two candidates to the police academy for full-time officers, with an eye toward filling existing vacancies on the police force. The identities of the candidates were not disclosed. Typically, full-time officers are recruited from the pool of part-time officers.

The council also informally authorized DePoppe to solicit bids for equipping all local officers with body cameras. DePoppe said state law requires all municipal police officers to have body cameras as of Jan. 1, 2025. He said there are at least two grant programs available to subsidize the cost of the new cameras, but both programs are “reimbursement” grants that will require the city to purchase the cameras upfront with local funds.

According to DePoppe, tentative cost estimates range from $10,000 to $15,000 for the cameras. His plan is to apply for grant funding early this year to avoid a possible glut of applications in October, November and December as other municipalities race to comply with the law by Jan. 1.

AIRBNBs & NUISANCE PROPERTY ISSUES

On the recommendation of the City Attorney and Ald. Rauzi, the council adopted an ordinance identical to one approved by the Benld City Council to govern operation of short-term residential rentals, commonly known as Airbnbs.

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Rauzi said her goal was to ensure such units are inspected by the housing inspector at least once a year. “The Airbnbs need to be inspected at least once a year, just like regular rental properties,” she said.

“What works for Benld should work for us, plus it will make it easier for our police officers to enforce,” Ald. Pettit commented. Verticchio also serves as Benld City Attorney and drafted the ordinance adopted in Benld. Gillespie Police patrol the City of Benld under a contractual agreement between the cities.

Provisions of the new ordinance include:

  • A mandatory $100 annual license for each person operating one or more Air B&Bs.
  • An initial housing inspection at a cost of $75, plus an annual $50 inspection thereafter for each property offered for short-term rental.
  • Units must be rented a minimum of two nights with a maximum of 14 nights to be considered short-term rentals.
  • A hospitality tax of four percent or $25 per night, whichever is less.
  • A minimum of $500,000 in liability insurance with the city named as secondary insured.

Council members voted unanimously to execute a special municipal deed conveying a city-owned residential property at 608 Adams Street to Nick Harrison for $3,750. The residence was acquired by the city via court order after the council declared it a public nuisance. Verticchio said the city agreed to sell it to Harrison on the condition that he renovate the derelict house to abate the nuisance. The $3,750 represents what the city had spent on the property for legal expenses.

The council also voted unanimously to accept a bid of $2,000 from Felix and Cynthia Bertolino to purchase city-owned property at 503 West Chestnut Street.

A burned-out house at 806 Rotary Street was declared a public nuisance by a unanimous vote. The owner reportedly is currently incarcerated in Macoupin County Jail. Verticchio said he plans to talk to the owner about the possibility of him simply donating the property to the city to avoid the legal costs associated with condemnation proceedings.

REVISED MFT RESOLUTION

On a motion by Ald. Bob Fritz, the council unanimously an approved a revised Motor Fuel Tax resolution presented by City Treasurer Dan Fisher. Fisher initially presented a resolution last month but the council declined to approve it after Fritz and other aldermen pointed out what appeared to be errors in calculating the minimum amount of money needed for the city’s annual street maintenance program. Among other issues, Fritz alleged the engineering firm who prepared the resolution underestimated the cost of petroleum-based materials.

The revised resolution increases the appropriation request from $525,000 to $600,000. The resolution now goes to the Illinois Department of Transportation for final approval.

SEWER REPAIR REIMBURSEMENT

The council voted to reimburse Brad and Jamie Bunn $400 they spent to resolve a sewer issue that ultimately turned out to have been caused by a blockage in the main sewer line. The issue was referred to the committee last month after Brad Bunn appeared before the council. At that time Bunn reported he hired Ranger Excavating to dig up his sewer line after the sewer backed up into his basement. It was later determined the main line was clogged, requiring city workers to jet the line three times to dislodge the blockage.

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City Treasurer Fisher said last month that the city’s policy in the past has been not to reimburse homeowners in such situations.

“This wasn’t our fault,” Bunn told the council Monday night. “As soon as the main line was unclogged, our line cleared out.”

Fisher told the Bunns that the sewer line serving their home is likely to be replaced sometime in the future. He said the city is planning to apply for grant money to undertake a major project to replace sewer lines throughout the city, but he admitted that project is probably four to six years in the future. Fisher again noted city policy prohibits paying for back-ups.

“We probably need to review that policy so we can deal with situations like this on a case-by-case basis,” Fisher said. “I think we ought to reimburse them, but we need to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s. We need to have documentation so we can be consistent in the future.”

Ald. Pettit moved to reimburse the Bunns and refer the existing policy to committee for review. That motion passed with Ald. Wendy Ottersburg voting “present.”

OTHER ACTION

In other action, the council:

  • Approved an intergovernmental agreement between the city and Community Unit School District 7 allowing the school district to capture a percentage of the proceeds from a newly established Tax Increment Financing district. Under the agreement, the school district will get one percent of the first $25,000, plus 20 percent of proceeds in excess of that amount.
  • Voted to approve an amendment to an agreement with Macoupin County, the cities of Bunker Hill, Staunton, Carlinville and Gillespie, and the Village of Royal Lakes, which facilitates an expansion of an existing Enterprise Zone in the City of Staunton.
  • Discussed proposed construction of a new 7,200-square-foot city garage. Mayor Hicks said he is awaiting plans to establish bidding specifications for the project. The new building will have six overhead garage doors facing the street, along with a truck-washing bay. Fisher said the city may be able to use surplus COVID relief funds to pay for the building.
  • Set the date and time for the city’s annual Easter Egg Hunt for 10 a.m., Saturday, March 23, at Big Brick Park.
  • Agreed to purchase an ad in the Gillespie High School yearbook.

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Benld Council makes final payment on water tower project, approves $78,000 motor fuel tax resolution for 2024

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Members of the Benld City Council on Monday night approved a final payment of about $19,000 to the company that repainted the city’s water tower earlier this spring, even though a telemetry sensor continues to malfunction. Mayor Jim Kelly said the city’s engineers, HMG Engineers, recommended making the final payment after determining it could not be proven the painting company was responsible for the sensor failure.

City aldermen voted unanimously to approve the final payment of $19,200, less $80 the city spent for electronic testing done on the sensor, to Neuman Company Contractors. The council had previously paid $72,018 to the contractor but withheld the retainer on the advice of the engineers.

The telemetry sensor monitors the water level in the water tower, which impacts water pressure throughout the city. Because of the sensor failure, city employees are monitoring the level manually, resulting in fluctuating water pressure for Water Department customers.

“We can’t leave the sensor on because it could cause the tower to overflow,” Kelly said. As a temporary measure, the city may bypass the tower and run the system off the Gillespie water system. That move would stabilize the water pressure, though the pressure would be lower than normal.

Vandeventer Engineering, Inc., St. Louis, Mo., who provided the sensor, has been on site but failed to resolve the issue. Vandeventer reportedly plans to bring in yet another consultant to inspect the sensor and offer a solution to repair the malfunctioning equipment.

MFT RESOLUTION

Also on the recommendation of the city engineers, the council approved a Motor Fuel Tax resolution in the amount of $90,000. The resolution, essentially an appropriation for the city’s annual street maintenance program, projects the amount of materials that will be needed and their approximate cost. Mayor Kelly pointed out the resolution could be amended next year, if necessary, to reflect material quantities and price fluctuations.

The resolution projects an expenditure of $37,308.50 for 12,035 gallons of road oil, $12,640.50 for 477 tons of rock chips, $9,329 to spread and roll the chips, $1,825 for 100 tons of bituminous patching material, $12,000 for 100 tons of CA-6 rock (also for patching), and $5,170.66 for engineering costs.

The resolution will be submitted to the Illinois Department of Transportation for final approval. Bids for materials will be secured next year, prior to the maintenance program. Streets to be resurfaced will be determined at a later date.

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FOOD TRUCK AMENDMENT

Council members voted unanimously to amend the city’s food truck ordinance to make property owners responsible for food trucks on private property for one-day events. Under terms of the amendment, property owners who have a food truck on site for an auction or social event will be required to pay a $25 permit fee, and will be held responsible for fines assessed if the food truck does not have a permit.

PAID TIME OFF ORDINANCE

The council directed City Attorney Rick Verticchio to prepare an ordinance governing requests for paid time off from city employees that will bring the city into compliance with a new state law set to take effect on Jan. 1. The new ordinance will require employees requesting paid time off to submit the request a minimum of 48 hours in advance of the leave. Additionally, the employee must request a minimum of two hours per request.

City Clerk Terri Koyne said the ordinance will affect only one city employee.

ORDINANCE VIOLATION FINES

Council members voted unanimously to formally adopt an ordinance increasing fines for ordinance violation citations. The council had voted to increase fines earlier but had not yet adopted the ordinance.

Under the ordinance, the fine assessed for a first offense is no less than $200, nor more than $500. A second violation of the same ordinance within a three-year period will result in a minimum fine of $750 up to $1,000. The minimum fine for a third violation of the same ordinance within three years is $1,250 and can go as high as $1,500.

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Benld Council authorizes Civic Center repairs, approves lead water service line inventory

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Members of the Benld City Council on Monday night approved upward of $14,000 of work to correct a long-standing problem with wall dampness at the rear of the Benld Civic Center and entered into a $30,000 contract to inventory residential water service lines using lead pipes. Council members also debated a proposed ordinance to govern Air B&Bs in the city limits and approved partial payment for a recently completed water tower painting and maintenance project.

Ald. John Balzraine said the Civic Center work will correct a problem with moisture wicking into the back wall of the Civic Center from the ground. The ongoing problem has caused damage to the plaster interior finish. Balzraine told the council he obtained quotes from Woods Basement Systems, Collinsville, and Watson Construction, Gillespie, to correct the problem and replace concrete, tile and damaged plaster.

Woods Basement Systems plans to jackhammer out concrete at the base of the wall and install a sump pump at a cost of $4,948.08. Watson Construction will oversee the project, repair the damage, and build a closet in the northwest corner of the Civic Center to house equipment.

Woods “guaranteed this will fix the problem,” Balzraine said. “It’s a 100-year-old building that nothing has been done to fix it.”

LEAD SERVICE LINE INVENTORY

On a motion by Ald. Dustin Fletcher, the council voted unanimously to enter into a $30,000 professional services contract with HMG Engineers for grant-funded project to inventory the number of residences in the city that are service by lead water service lines. Justin Vonder Haar, an engineer with HMG Engineers, Breese, told the council the grant cannot be used to reimburse city expenditures. Provisions of the grant require the money to be paid to third-party providers such as HMG.

The goal is to identify homes with lead water service lines with an eye toward replacing those lines with non-toxic materials in the future. Vonder Haar said the state legislature currently is trying to identify funds to assist with the cost of water line replacement statewide. Lead leaching into drinking water through lead service lines is detrimental to human health with long-term exposure.

Now that a contract has been approved, Vonder Haar said HMG would submit an application to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to release the first $15,000 of the grant funds.

He said a first step will involve sending a flier to Benld residents encouraging them to voluntarily report to the city whether or not they rely on lead water service lines. Depending upon the initial response, Vonder Haar said HMG may retain a local plumber to canvass door-to-door at non-responsive residences to identify lead service lines. The initial inventory will to involve digging up lines to examine them. In instances where it cannot be determined whether a line is lead or not, surveyors will make a projection based on the nature of other service lines in the immediate area.

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When grant funds become available to replace lines, Vonder Haar said the grant award will be based on the number of lead lines identified during the initial inventory.

“At that time, if you dig up a line and it turns out to not be lead, that money can be used to replace other lines,” he said.

On Vonder Haar’s recommendation, the council approved a payment of $72,018 to Neuman Company Contractors for a recently completed painting and maintenance project on the city’s water storage tower, but retained a payment of $19,200 remaining on the contract pending resolution of a problem with a telemetry sensor on the tower. The sensor monitors the water level in the tower and controls a valve to maintain the appropriate level.

PHASE TWO BIDS SOUGHT

The council voted unanimously to advertise for bids from contractors to complete the second phase of work on developing the former site of Benld Elementary School as a sports park facility. The second phase will include installation of underground utilities, including sanitary sewer lines, storm sewers and water lines, along with grading work in advance of construction of park facilities. Upon completion, the park will include a softball field, baseball field and soccer/football field, along with other amenities.

In association with the non-profit Benld Sports Association, the city is developing the 11-acre site as a sports and outdoor recreation park. Community Unit School District 7 transferred the property to the city several years after a mine subsidence event destroyed the then seven-year-old Benld Elementary School. With the city acting as the sponsoring agency, the project was awarded a $600,000 Open Spaces Land Acquisition and Development Grant through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Once construction is complete, maintenance and operation of the facility will be the responsibility of the Sports Association.

AIR B&Bs

Council members spent several minutes discussing provisions they want included in a new ordinance governing the operation of short-term rental properties popularly known as Air B&Bs within the city limits. Mayor Jim Kelly said at least one property owner is operating as a short-term rental facility already.

City Attorney Rick Verticchio is expected to draft a proposed ordinance for action at the council’s October meeting.

Among the provisions council members directed Verticchio to include:

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  • A license application fee of $50 per property, which is the same fee that applies for a business license.
  • An initial housing inspection at a cost of $75, plus a $50 housing inspection every six months thereafter.
  • A city tax of four percent of revenue or $20 per rental day, whichever is less.
  • A provision requiring tenants to be 18 years old or older.

The proposed ordinance also will provide for the owner to lose their license to operate if the property is found to be a public nuisance by a court of law. That provision is expected to control issues such as loud music, parties or criminal activity.

Verticchio suggested that zoning could be an issue, but the consensus of the council was that the city could not ban Air B&Bs from operating within areas zoned as residential areas.

Ald. Balzraine asked if the city could simply ban the practice of short-term rentals completely, but Verticchio said the municipality was not empowered to dictate what types of businesses could operate in the city as long as the business is otherwise legal.

CITY COMPTROLLER HOURS

The council approved an amendment to an ordinance to increase the number of hours for which the City Comptroller can be paid from a maximum of 40 hours per month to 60 hours. City Clerk Terri Koyne currently serves as the City Comptroller by appointment by the mayor. The ordinance provides for the comptroller to be paid minimum wage as established by Illinois law. Kelly said Koyne has been required to devote more time to the position because of grant application writing and grant administration duties.

MINIMUM SEWER CHARGE

On a motion by Ald. Fletcher, seconded by Ald. Mickey Robinson, the council unanimously approved a measure to set the minimum fee for sewer services at $20 per month. Mayor Kelly said provisions of a grant used for recent sewer improvements require the city to collect at least a minimum fee for all residences with a sewer connection. Monthly bills include charges for water, plus a charge for sewer based on the volume of water used. However, Kelly said there are some residents who are not connected to water services and who claim to bring in water for drinking, cleaning and flushing toilets—which precludes the city from determining how much waste that household contributes to the sewer system. The new fee structure will require such households to pay $20 monthly for sewer services despite the lack of city water service.

ORDINANCE VIOLATIONS

No specific action followed a 10-minute executive session requested by Ald. Jerry Saracco.

City Clerk Koyne announced that she plans to have a binder available at city hall in which to record ordinance violations issued by city aldermen. She asked that the responsible alderman report back as to whether or not the violation had been corrected by the deadline specified by the citation. Violations that have not been corrected by the deadline can then be referred to the City Attorney for further enforcement.

Koyne also announced that a Clean-Up Day for city residents has been set for Oct. 14. Residents who have refuse to be picked up should have their items on the curb for pick-up by 6 a.m.

TRICK OR TREAT

Annual trick or treating hours were set at 6 to 8 p.m., Oct. 30 and 31 by a unanimous vote of the council.

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