Members of the Gillespie City Council voted unanimously Monday night to adopt a new appropriations ordinance to govern spending during the current fiscal year. Though not a budgetary document, the state-mandated annual appropriations ordinance sets spending ceilings for specific line items for the fiscal year. This year’s ordinance authorizes expenditures of $7.2 million, compared with $17.2 million last year.
This year’s appropriation is less than half of last year’s ordinance, primarily because last year’s ordinance included $10 million in anticipated expenditures for the city’s water infrastructure improvement project, which has since been completed. Still, the new ordinance authorizes up to $2 million in new spending for capital improvements, according to City Treasurer Dan Fisher. Those potential expenditures include $1 million for a streetscape project to improve the appearance and function of the downtown business district and $1 million for a potential sewer improvement project. Both projects would be subsidized with grant funds.
The appropriation also includes authorization to spend some $70,000 to $80,000 in remaining USDA funds awarded for the water infrastructure improvement project on improvements to the water treatment plant.
Approval of the appropriation ordinance was preceded by a required public hearing conducted 15 minutes prior to the council’s regular monthly meeting. There were no comments or discussion during the hearing and no questions from members of the public or council.
The new appropriation ordinance totals $7,229,050. Despite completion of the water infrastructure project, the Water Department still represents a lion’s share of anticipated spending for the fiscal year, coming in with an appropriation of $1,983,500, compared with last year’s appropriation of $12,177,500 last year.
Other line items with appropriations in excess of $1 million are General Administrative Expense with an appropriation of $1,308,400, compared with $1,296,400 last year; and the Police Department with an appropriation of $1,081,500, compared with $1,059,500 last year. The General Administrative Expense includes $1 million in Capital Project grant funds authorized by the State Legislature two years ago and earmarked for the Streetscape project. The Police Department appropriation topped $1 million last year for the first time to allow for additional expenditures associated with extending police protection services to the City of Benld.
The Street Department appropriation totals $978,000, compared with $891,000 last year. Up to $604,160 in expenditures is authorized for the Sewer Department, compared with $545,160 last year. The appropriation for Recreation and Parks is $478,100, compared with 450,200 last year.
Other appropriations for the current fiscal year are as follows: TIF Fund, $215,000; Motor Fuel Tax Fund, $200,000; FICA, $110,00; Administrative Building, $66,300; Liability Insurance, $50,000; Salaries of Elected and Appointed City Officials, $42,020; Library, $40,670; ESDA, $21,400; and Municipal Band, $3,000.
In a related matter, Fisher discussed the possibility of raising the minimum charge for sewer services from $8.50 per month to $12 per month. The extra $3.50 per customer, he said, would generate $63,000 in new revenue annually. The increase, he said, would pave the way for the city to seek a grant and/or loan to subsidize a sewer improvement project.
“In conversations with other communities and DCEO (Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, you have to demonstrate you’ve done all you can to raise $1 million,” Fisher said. “Then they’ll come in to help. To be eligible for a DCEO grant, we’d need to raise our minimum sewer rate by $3.50.”
The City of Benld, Fisher noted, raised sewer rates last year primarily to facilitate that community’s application for a sewer improvement grant.
With the new revenue, the city conceivably could leverage a $1 million low-interest, long-term loan, according to Fisher. He said interest rates on such loans are at a historic low at the moment which is unlikely to reoccur in the future.
“A million dollars doesn’t go as far as you’d think,” Fisher pointed out. He said replacing aging sewer lines would require crossing a number of streets in the city. Boring under those streets is cost-prohibitive, meaning workers will have to cut trenches to install new lines. “You’ll have an eight-inch PVC line at the bottom of an eight-foot trench. Just the rock to fill that trench to street level is about $800. That’s just the cost of the rock, not the cost of dumping it, compacting it and resurfacing. That’s $800 for each crossing, and how many crossing do we have in town?”
Fisher said he was not asking the council to immediately approve a rate increase, but he wanted council members to start thinking about it. He said he will ask for the issue to be on the agenda at a later date.
Ald. Wendy Rolando said residents are likely to complain about an increase of any kind, but she said $3.50 a month factors out to $42 a year.
“If you have a private septic system, it’s going to cost you a lot more than $42 a year,” she said, “and look at what we can do with that $42.”
Later in the meeting, the council also approved the final payments to Haier Plumbing and Heating and to Curry and Associates Engineers for work done on the now completed water infrastructure improvement project. Final payment to Haier was in the amount of $25,000 and final payment to Curry amounted to $7,668.53.
AMBULANCE DISPATCHING CONTRACT
The council spent several minutes debating a counteroffer to the Gillespie-Benld Area Ambulance Service on a contract to provide dispatching services through the Gillespie Police Department. The potential contract has been a focus of controversy for more than a year. In previous years, the Ambulance Service voluntarily “donated” money to the City of Gillespie in return for dispatching services, usually in the amount of $5,000. With the expansion of the Ambulance Service’s service area to include Mount Olive and Carlinville, however, the pressure on Police Department dispatchers increased, and city officials sought a formal contract with the Ambulance Service.
City officials initially asked for $24,000 annually, indicating that the price was based on the cost of providing the service. Ambulance runs dispatched by the Gillespie Police Department primarily are non-emergency nursing home or hospital transfers. Medical emergencies, such as heart attacks or other acute distress, are dispatched via the county’s 911 emergency telephone system. Still, the Gillespie Police Department handles 150 to 200 dispatch calls monthly.
Ald. Dona Rauzi presented a tentative contract with a counteroffer price structure offered by the Ambulance Service. She said she, Police Chief Jared DePoppe and Treasurer Fisher had been in negotiations with the Ambulance Service since March 2020. In the tentative contract, the Ambulance Service offered to pay $12,000 annually for dispatching services. The term on the proposed contract is three years.
“I’m in favor of having a written agreement,” Rauzi said. “However, the council has to approve.”
Rauzi said the Ambulance Board of Directors is set to meet next Tuesday, If the terms of the contract had been acceptable to the council, she said, the ambulance board seemed poised to approve the contract next week.
Fisher, however, objected the pricing and terms of the proposed contract. The $12,000 figure was substantially below the $15,000 counter offer the city had offered. Moreover, he objected to the lack of language enabling the city to pass on cost increases. Fisher said the city’s compromise for a three-year contract offer had been $15,000 the first year, $17,500 the second and $24,000 for the third.
“You should have increases for each year. We have wage increases for those dispatchers for each of those three years,” he said. “We’ve talked for two years. If we’re going to reach an agreement, we might as well have an agreement worth having.”
Ald. Landon Pettit said the Ambulance Service had “met in the middle” between the Ambulance Service’s original offer of $10,000 and the city’s counter-proposal of $15,000. “Why not add $1,000 a year for each year,” he said. “If their call volume goes down, they can terminate the contract. Whether we take those calls or not, we still have to have that dispatcher there 24 hours a day.”
But Fisher insisted the city should not sell services to other entities below cost. “Twenty-four thousand dollars doesn’t cover the cost of one part-time dispatcher,” Fisher said. “We need to be cautious about how we enter into agreements with other entities because we are subsidizing other units of government. It should not be a number based on ‘we all agree to this.’ It should be a number based on the actual cost.”
Ald. Rolando commented that the city’s proposal was reasonable and other dispatching services were unwilling to provide services for less money than the city proposed. She said $30,000 a year was common, with some ranging up to $80,000. “I’m sure they shopped around and realized that what we were asking was reasonable,” she said.
Ultimately, on a motion by Ald. Rolando, the council directed City Attorney Dan O’Brien, Mayor John Hicks and Fisher to continue working with the Ambulance Service. Ald. Bob Fritz voted “present” because he serves on the Ambulance Board. There was no consensus on pricing structure, though Fisher recommended $15,000 for the first year, $20,000 for the second, and $25,000 for the third.
On O’Brien’s advice, the council declined to vote on a letter from the Assembly of God Church offering to donate the Canna Theater building to the city. Ethan Fogg, Peace Corps Fellow, presented the proposal, saying the church is in the process of having the remaining mortgage on the building transferred to its actual church building nearby. Until that transfer is complete, however, O’Brien said there “is nothing to vote on.”
Fogg had recommended accepting the donation, saying the building is deteriorating and likely to be in need of demolition. Getting court permission to demolish a nuisance building, however, typically necessitates the city suing the owner.
“The way the city can take care of buildings like that is to take control of it,” Fogg said. “Accepting the donation will save the city money.”
Fogg also briefly discussed ongoing work on developing a six-mile hiking trail on the north side of Gillespie Lake. He said he has been working with Blackburn College, which owns farmland on the north side of the lake.
“They’ve shown great interest in the trail and are helping in any way they can,” he said. One of the college’s concerns is making sure the trail does not pass so closely to the farmland that hikers might encroach on the fields.
Council members voted unanimously to adopt a revised Zoning Map prepared by Fogg. Fogg researched zoning changes from the last 50 years to create a map that reflects current zoning provisions. The map had not been updated since the city first adopted zoning in 1961.
MUNICIPAL BAND FUNDS
Council members agreed to place on the July agenda action on a proposal by Treasurer Fisher to utilize Municipal Band Funds to pay for concerts on city property. He said the Municipal Band Fund currently has $22,000. The city could dip into the fund, he said, to pay for bands to perform on city property, providing recreational opportunities and attracting interest for downtown events.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Ald. Rauzi commented.
“It promotes things in the community,” Ald. Pettit added.
The council stopped short of voting on a motion to donate $500 retroactively to the Black Diamond Days Committee to defer the cost of bands that performed at the recent Black Diamond Days festival at Gillespie Lake. Attorney O’Brien pointed out that no vote could be taken because the issue was not on the previously published agenda.
Council members voted unanimously to accept high bids for the sale of surplus property. Rosentreter Brothers submitted a successful bid of $8,660 for a surplus road grader and Steve Spencer was the successful bidder for Case International Tractor with a brush hog attachment. A total of six bidders competed for the tractor. Three bidders submitted offers for the grader.
WATER PLANT EQUIPMENT
On the recommendation of Water Committee Chair Pettit, the council approved the purchase of new pumps and sensors to be installed at the water treatment plant. Pettit said the option he recommended was slightly more expensive than an alternate option.
“If we go with the lower one, we’re kind of stuck where we are,” he said. “The higher one is a step up in terms of technology. It allows for remote monitoring.”
In separate actions, the council also approved Pettit’s recommendations to declare a truck currently owned by the Water Department as surplus in order to trade it in on the purchase of a replacement 2021 Chevrolet pick-up from Freedom Chevrolet, Virden, at a cost of $25,594 with the trade-in.
In other action, the council voted to close portions of Montgomery and Chestnut Streets for an event to be held in conjunction with a 5K race on the first Saturday in September.