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Gillespie Council approves $14.7 million appropriation, eyes development of 45-acre solar array field

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The projected location of a 45-acre community solar panel array.

Members of the Gillespie City Council on Monday night approved an appropriation ordinance of about $14.7 million, voted to direct the Zoning Commission to schedule a public hearing on a variance requested by a solar power company, and approved the appointment of a new council member to represent Ward 4.

During a public hearing prior to Monday night’s council meeting, City Treasurer Dan Fisher again pointed out the appropriation, which covers expenditures from May 1 this year through April 30, 2024, is not a budget. Instead, the document merely sets the maximum amount the city is authorized to spend for specific line items.

“It’s kind of a formality, but it’s also a requirement,” Fisher said.

Coming in at a total of $14,655,990, the fiscal 2024 appropriation is about $1 million more than last year but nearly double the appropriation from two years ago. Fisher said the appropriation total is inflated by $4.5 million for a long-anticipated streetscape program and $1.2 million for water infrastructure improvement, both of which will be grant-funded if they take place during the coming year. Stripped of those two grant-funded programs, the appropriation would amount to about $11,000—up $4 million from the appropriation approved for fiscal 2022.

Broken down by individual funds, the appropriation ordinance authorizes expenditures of up to $4.5 million for the downtown streetscape program and up to $3,391,500 for the Water Department, including up to $1.2 million for water line improvements. Last year, the city appropriated $3,208,500 for the Water Department.

“We won’t spend $3 million (in local funds) for the Water Department,” Fisher said. “We might spend $1 million.”

Janet Odell-Mueller was appointed to the vacant ward 4 alderman seat.

The new ordinance appropriates $1,341,500 for General Administration expenses, compared with $1,313,400 last year; $1,281,000 for the Police Department, compared with $1,172,500 last year; and $1,120,500 for the Sewer Department, compared with $759,160 a year ago.

The new ordinance appropriates $961,500 for the Sewer Department, compared with $759,160 a year ago. A total of $500,000 is appropriated from the Motor Fuel Tax Fund for street maintenance, compared with $350,000 last year. The spending cap for Parks and Recreation is set at $553,300, more than double the $190,000 appropriated last year. For the $190,000 appropriation for Parks and Recreational Land includes $100,000 for park improvements, and is identical to last year’s appropriation.

The ordinance appropriates $270,000 in potential expenditures from the Tax Increment Finance Fund, which is the same amount appropriated last year.

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The ordinance sets a spending ceiling of $210,100 for the Administrative Building, compared with $201,300 last year. The document also sets spending limits of $40,670 for the Public Library, $33,900 for Emergency Services and Disaster Administration, $5,000 for the Municipal Band, $150,000 for FICA, $65,000 for Liability Insurance, and $42,020—all of which are identical to last year.

Freshman Ald. Dave Link asked about the purpose and limits of the proposed ordinance before voting on it.

“We are authorized to spend this amount, but we are not budgeting for this much?” Link asked.

Letitia Lew, an engineer with Cypress Creek, discusses details of the proposed Cypress Creek solar energy project with members of the Gillespie City Council on Monday night.

Fisher confirmed the document is a formality required by law that only sets the maximum amount that can be spent from specific funds. Typically, in most years, actual expenditures do not approach the appropriated amount, except in the event of an emergency. Though rare, the council can amend the appropriation before the end of the year if the city is forced to exceed the appropriated amount in a specific fund. Technically, the appropriation is not a budgetary device but simply sets the amount of spending the city cannot legally exceed.

POTENTIAL SOLAR FIELD PROJECT

Council members voted 4-2 to direct the Zoning Commission to convene a public hearing to consider a petition from Cypress Creek Solar to rezone property that is technically located outside the city limits but subject to the city’s zoning ordinance. The hearing would be an initial step toward paving the way for Cypress Creek to develop a 45-acre solar panel field on Washer Road.

Fisher pointed out a public hearing requires a 15-day notification from the time of publication, meaning the earliest opportunity for a hearing would be about three weeks from Monday.

Headquartered in Durham, NC, Cypress Creek Renewables has plans to develop a 45-acre solar field on the south side of Washer Road, essentially adjacent to the city limits. Nick Standefer, who identified himself as a zoning attorney, told the council the company secured the approval of the Macoupin County Board to launch the project but were advised to consult with the City of Gillespie because the site is within 1.5 miles of the city limit. Gillespie’s zoning code addresses lands within a 1.5-mile radius, zoning those parcels as “open lands.”

Impetus for the project is the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act passed in Illinois two years ago, according to Standefer. The legislation sets a target of meeting 50 percent of the state’s energy needs with renewable energy sources by 2040, and establishes a 10-year ramp-up to build community solar projects capable of generating five megawatts each.

Standefer told the council Cypress Creek wants to ask the Zoning Commission to change the classification for the property in question from open lands to either “permitted use” or “conditional use.” Permitted Use would allow Cypress Creek, or any other company, to proceed with a project simply by acquiring a permit. A conditional use designation would require developers to petition the Zoning Commission on a case-by-case basis.

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“They would like us to make it a Permitted Use, meaning anyone could do a project at any time as long as they have a permit,” City Attorney Rick Verticchio said. “Instead of Permitted Use, I’d recommend making it Conditional Use” which would require the applicant have a hearing before the Zoning Commission and demonstrate how the project will benefit the community.”

Nick Standefer, a zoning attorney representing Cypress Creek Renewables, proposes a zoning change for a parcel of land located just outside the city limits on Washer Road.

Letitia Lew, an engineer for the project, which will be known as the Corfee Solar Project, told the council the company will conduct studies to ensure the project does not threaten endangered plant or animal species, and would conduct an archaeological survey to ensure no archaeological sites are threatened. While the project will take about 50 acres of farmland out of production, Lew said the project will “give the land an opportunity to rest for a bit.” During the estimated 40-year life of the solar field, the land under the solar panels will be seeded with plants utilized by pollinator species.

At the end of the 40-year lifespan of the solar field, Lew said the company is obligated to remove the solar panels and all associated equipment—essentially returning the land to its original condition.

Upon completion, the $10 million project will be capable of generating enough power to service 1,100 single-family homes. Local residents will be able to “subscribe” through their local utility provider to participate in the project. Lew said project subscribers should realize a savings of about 10 percent on their monthly electrical bill.

Cypress Creek expects to spend $4 million locally during construction and provide 21 local jobs during construction. When the system is operational, the company estimates it will contribute $40,000 annually to the local economy.

Ald. Landon Pettit questioned the provision for equipment removal at the end of the lease. “If your company goes bankrupt or you sell to another company, what guarantee do we have that everything will be removed?”

Lew reiterated that her company would be obligated by contract to remove the equipment. In the event the facility was sold to another company, according to Standefer, the new owner would have to petition the Zoning Commission and affirm it would comply with contract provisions calling for equipment to be removed.

Ald. Link had questions about the possibility of a fire at the facility. Lew said most fires associated with solar fields are related to batteries used to store power. The Gillespie facility will have no such storage devices. Instead, it will upload power to the grid as it’s generated. Moreover, she said, the facility will be remotely monitored 24/7 and local emergency service providers will be trained to respond to emergencies at the solar field.

Brought to a vote, the measure to direct the Zoning Commission to schedule a public hearing was approved by a vote of 4-2 with both Pettit and Ald. Wendy Rolando, voting “no.”

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“We just received this resolution tonight,” Pettit noted. “I don’t think there is anyone sitting around this table who is prepared to vote on this.”

Gillespie High School Baseball team member Brian Jubelt accepts a framed proclamation recognizing the team’s record breaking season from Mayor John Hicks during Monday night’s meeting of the City Council.

Verticchio pointed out the council was voting to schedule a hearing, not approve the project. “You can delay the vote if you want,” he said, “but I strongly recommend that you approve this tonight.”

NEW COUNCIL MEMBER

On Ald. Pettit’s recommendation, the council voted to appoint Janet Odell-Mueller to replace Ald. Larry Greene, an appointee named to the council in 2021. Pettit recommended Odell-Mueller, saying she lives in a part of the city that needs representation on the council and has a background that would make her an asset to the council.

Verticchio pointed out the procedure for filling a vacant seat is for the Mayor to make an appointment to be ratified by the full council. Mayor John Hicks initially asked Odell-Mueller if she would like to meet with him and other council members individually before he formally appointed her, but changed his mind when several council members noted they had either met or knew her already. Her appointment was unanimously approved after Pettit moved to accept the mayor’s appointment of Odell-Mueller.

A civil engineer in the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Collinsville District, Odell-Mueller will replace Greene, who stepped down after serving two years.

Odell-Mueller will be formally sworn-in during next month’s regular monthly meeting but was allowed to take her seat on the council immediately after her appointment was affirmed.

ATHLETES RECOGNIZED

Early in the meeting, Mayor Hicks presented the Gillespie High School baseball team with a mayoral proclamation recognizing the team’s record-breaking season. This year’s team broke the school record of 29-0 with the most consecutive wins in the school’s history. The team also tied for an all-time IHSA record with 11 consecutive wins.

City Treasurer Dan Fisher presents details of the annual appropriation ordinance during a public hearing prior to Monday night’s meeting of the Gillespie City Council.

Reading from the proclamation, Hicks cited Coach Jeremy Smith and Assistant Coaches Adam Tallman, Tim Margo, Dan Smith and Tate Margo, along with team members, faculty members and students at GHS who “were integral in guiding the team to victory through their unwavering support.”

Further, the proclamation encourages Gillespie citizens to congratulate and support team members, coaches and parents.

“They have proven that they are individuals stringing for and obtaining success in their endeavors,” Hicks read. “They have already started down the path to fulfilling their dream of multiple accomplishments and becoming valuable young leaders in our community.”

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MOTOR FUEL TAX RESOLUTION

On the recommendation of City Treasurer Fisher, the council voted unanimously to approve a supplemental Motor Fuel Tax resolution increasing the amount of the appropriation for this summer’s street maintenance program from $250,000 to $500,000. The council approved the original resolution in December, anticipating the amount would be increased as estimated prices for materials were ascertained. Streets scheduled for resurfacing have not yet been identified.

EXECUTIVE SESSION

Following a 30-minute executive session with Chief of Police Jared DePoppe and Lake Manager Gary Thornhill, the council voted unanimously to discipline an unidentified employee in accordance with the union contract for an unspecified infraction.

The council also voted to ban two individuals from Gillespie Lake property for unspecified infractions.

SURPLUS PROPERTY

On a motion by Ald. Bob Fritz, the council voted to declare as surplus and offer for sale the following pieces of city-owned property: 2007 Chevrolet Silverado pick-up truck, Air 225/200 amp wasp ac/dc welder mounted to a four-by-eight-foot trailer, Leaf Vac-Agri-Fab Mow-N-Vac with a Briggs and Stratton engine, Stone four-inch water pump with an 18 horsepower engine mounted on wheels, and two ceiling-mounted Reznor natural gas heaters.

The items will be sold “as-is,” and will be advertised for sale by sealed bids.

OTHER ACTION

In other action, the council:

  • Voted 5-1 to approve payment of $400 to Schuette Architectural Design, Staunton, for design work related to a possible new Street Department Garage. Ald. Frank Barrett voted against the measure.
  • Authorized payment of $187,213.78 to Visa-Sewer, St. Louis, for renovation work done to downtown sewers in preparation for the Streetscape Program.
  • Approved a $935 project to run a water line and install a lockable hydrant on the north side of the Civic Center.
  • With one dissenting vote, retroactively approved payment of a $15,000 invoice to TDI Concrete for concrete work done to bring a fuel storage tank into compliance with OSHA regulations. Ald. Link voted “no,” presumably objecting to the fact the bill was paid before it was approved.
  • Approved an $8,000 project at Big Brick Park to install a water line and two hydrants.
  • Approved purchase of a $3,300 1.5-ton trailer for the Lake Department which will be used primarily for maintenance work on the hiking trail. Ald. Pettit said the trailer can be pulled with an ATV and is “big enough to do what we need but small enough to get down the trail.”
  • Approved payment of a $5,000 invoice submitted by Sylvia Newingham for the repair of damage done to her yard during a sewer repair project.
  • Approved a donation of $100 to the Fire Department to sponsor a hole for the Department’s upcoming golf tournament.
  • Referred to the Police Chief the issue of drafting a stop sign ordinance for stop signs at Francis and West Elm Streets.

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Progressive Club to celebrate 90th anniversary

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Benld Entreprise

The Wilsonville Progressive Club will celebrate and host a 90 year Anniversary Party on Saturday, May 11. The party will include a catered dinner, a live band, and fireworks.

Doors will open at 2 pm with a catered dinner being served at 4 pm.  The Shane Kessinger Experience (live band) will play at 5 pm, and a grand fireworks display will be held at dusk.

The Progressive Club was originally established in 1934 by the Progressive Miners and was located on the northwest side of Wilsonville’s main street. The Club moved to their new building in January of 1949 and today this is still the current location at 212 Wilson Street in Wilsonville.

Wilsonville was founded in 1917 when Superior Coal Co. Mine No. 4 was sunk and this was the most modern mine in the Superior field. At that time, the little settlement which grew up around the mine was called Wilson. One day a worker paused and asked, “What are we going to name this town?” President Wilson was in office, thus the town was then and there named Wilson until 1919 when it was incorporated and the name expanded to Wilsonville.

The Wilsonville Progressive Club is operated and maintained by an elected panel of trustees and loyal members.  The Club is open to the public and membership is always welcome.  The large outdoor covered pavilion and manicured grassy side lot offer an attractive and convenient venue for any event along with inside facilities. 

If you are interested in renting for any kind of event, call 217-835-3122 during open hours which are Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 4 pm to close, and Sunday doors open at 2 pm.  Every Sunday afternoon at 4 pm is the Queen of Hearts drawing and the Club is on Facebook as well.

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Gillespie Police Report: April 14-20, 2024

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SUNDAY, APRIL 14, 2024

An officer was dispatched to the 100 block of East Oak Street in reference to a dog bite.

An officer was dispatched to the 700 block of Abba Street to pick up a found item.

An officer was dispatched to the 100 block of East Maple Street in reference to a domestic dispute.

An officer was dispatched to the 400 block of West Chestnut Street in reference to a burglary.

An officer was out in the 200 block of North Macoupin Street in reference to a motorist assist.

An officer was dispatched to the 700 block of Schmidt Street in reference to a 911 call.

An officer was dispatched to the 300 block of South 1st Street in Benld in reference to a domestic dispute.

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An officer was dispatched to the 500 block of Broadway Street in reference to a medical call.

An officer was dispatched to the 400 block of South Illinois Street in Benld in reference to illegal burning.

An officer was dispatched to the 200 block of South 5th Street in Benld in reference to an animal complaint.

An officer was dispatched to the 500 block of Horizon Street in reference to a 911 call.

MONDAY, APRIL 15, 2024

An officer was dispatched to Gillespie Police Department to speak with a male in reference to a theft in the 100 block of South Main Street in Benld.

An officer was dispatched to the 500 block of West Osie Street in reference to a violation of an order of protection.

Nicholas O. Landolt, 36, of Gillespie was arrested on multiple warrants including one out of St. Clair County for possession for methamphetamine, a second one out of Montgomery County for failure to appear for driving while license was revoked, and a third out of Macoupin County for failure to appear for methamphetamine.

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An officer was dispatched to East Walnut Street in reference to a suspicious noise.

An officer was dispatched to the 700 block of Abba Street in reference to a juvenile issue.

An officer was dispatched to the 500 block of Broadway Street in reference to a medical alarm.

An officer spoke with a male at Gillespie Police Department in reference to a theft in the 200 block of West Oak Street.

An officer spoke with a female at Gillespie Police Department in reference to criminal damage to her property.

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

An officer spoke with a female in the 100 block of North 7th Street in Benld in reference to a neighbor dispute.

An officer spoke with a female at Gillespie Police Department in reference to a violation of an order of protection.

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An officer was dispatched to the 200 block of Southern Street in reference to a suspicious person.

TUESDAY, APRIL 16, 2024

An officer was dispatched to the 1100 block of South Macoupin Street in reference to criminal damage to property.

An officer was dispatched to the 900 block of South Macoupin Street in reference to a domestic dispute.

An officer was dispatched to the 700 block of East Walnut Street in reference to criminal trespass to property.

An officer was dispatched to the 600 block of North 7th Street in Benld in reference to criminal trespass to property. Melissa J. Hughes, 49, of Benld was arrested on a Montgomery County warrant for theft/larceny.

An officer was dispatched to the 100 block of East Maple Street in reference to criminal trespass to property.

An officer was dispatched to the 300 block of Francis Street in reference to a traffic crash.

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An officer spoke with a female at Gillespie Police Department in reference to a civil issue in the 700 block of Rose Street in Benld.

An officer was dispatched to the 200 block of South 5th Street in Benld in reference to a domestic dispute.

An officer was dispatched to the 300 block of East Pine Street to assist the Department of Children and Family Services.

An officer was dispatched to the 400 block of Broadway Street in reference to reckless driving.

An officer was dispatched to the 300 block of East Central Avenue in Benld in reference to a 911 call.

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 17, 2024

An officer spoke with a female at Gillespie Police Department in reference to fraud in the 200 block of South Macoupin.

An officer was dispatched to a business in the 500 block of East Elm Street in reference to criminal trespass to property.

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An officer was dispatched to Route 4 and Staunton Road in reference to reckless driving.

An officer was dispatched to the 600 block of Gillespie Street in reference to unwanted solicitors.

An officer was dispatched to High Street and Gillespie Street in reference to a suspicious noise.

An officer was dispatched to the 300 block of High Street in reference to unwanted solicitors.

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

An officer was flagged down at Elm Street and Clinton Street and spoke with an individual in reference to a civil issue.

An officer was dispatched to the 200 block of Mt. Olive Road in Eagarville in reference to a domestic dispute.

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

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THURSDAY, APRIL 18, 2024

An officer was dispatched to a business in the 400 block of South Macoupin Street in reference to a panic alarm sounding.

An officer was dispatched to the 1300 block of South Second Street in reference to a civil standby.

An officer was dispatched to the 400 block of West Osie Street in reference to a dog bite.  Heather L. Kimberlin, 47, of Gillespie was issued a citation for dog at large.

An officer was dispatched to the 400 block of West Baker Street in reference to a juvenile issue.

An officer was out with a suspicious vehicle in the alley in the 500 block of Park Avenue.

An officer was dispatched to East Walnut and South Main Street in Benld in reference to reckless driving.

An officer was dispatched to the Veterans Memorial Park in Benld in reference to a suspicious vehicle that had been parked there for a couple of days.

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Gillespie Police Department was requested for traffic control by the Gillespie Fire Department for a fire on Eagarville Road.

FRIDAY, APRIL 19, 2024

An officer was dispatched to the 700 block of East Walnut Street in reference to a traffic crash.

An officer was dispatched to the 300 block of South Street in Gillespie in reference to a juvenile issue.

An officer was dispatched to the 700 block of Litchfield Road in East Gillespie in reference to a suspicious person at the storage units. Kathy J. Henderson, 49, of Sawyerville was arrested on a Macoupin County warrant for failure to appear for bad checks

An officer initiated a traffic stop at Maple Street and Macoupin Street. Kenny L. Fults, 18, of Belleville was issued a citation for possession of cannabis.

An officer was dispatched to the 200 block of Mt. Olive Road in Eagarville in reference to civil standby.

An officer was dispatched to the 500 block of West Burton Street in reference to an animal complaint.

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SATURDAY, APRIL 20, 2024

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

An officer was dispatched to the 400 block of North 7th Street in Benld in reference to criminal trespassing. Timothy J. Dalpozzo, 57, of Benld was arrested for criminal trespassing to residence and a Macoupin County warrant for criminal trespassing to a residence.

An officer initiated a traffic stop at South Street and Chestnut Street and charges are pending crime lab results.

An officer was dispatched to the 100 block of East Maple Street in reference to reckless driving.

An officer was dispatched to Macoupin Street and Elm Street in reference to reckless driving.

An officer was dispatched to the 400 block of Osie Street in reference to a dog at large.

An officer was dispatched to the 600 block of North 8th Street in Benld in reference to medical assist.

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An officer was dispatched to the 200 block of West Spruce Street in reference to a suspicious person.

An officer was dispatched to the 400 block of West Baker Street in reference to criminal trespass to property.

An officer was dispatched to the 300 block of Park Street in Benld in reference to a medical call.

An officer spoke with a male at Gillespie Police Department in reference to an ordinance issue.

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

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HSHS St. Francis Hospital offers volunteer opportunities for feens

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LITCHFIELD, Ill. — HSHS St. Francis Hospital is offering service opportunities to area teens this summer through the 2024 Junior Volunteer Program. Applications are being accepted now through May 1.

Applicants must be high school students maintaining at least a “C” average, be a minimum of 14 years of age by June 1 and be willing to volunteer at least two hours per week during the summer program. Junior volunteers will perform a variety of duties in various hospital departments. 

Registration materials are available on the hospital’s website volunteer page at https://www.hshs.org/st-francis/community/volunteer.

All participants in the program will be required to present proof of immunizations for MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella), and Varicella (chicken pox). An additional requirement includes attendance at a hospital orientation.

A limited number of positions will be available. For more information, contact HSHS St. Francis Hospital at 217-324-8200.

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