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Gillespie Council approves FOP contract, considers tax-supported police pension plan

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Wade Hendricks being congratulated by Chief DePoppe upon being named School Resource Officer.

Gillespie city aldermen voted unanimously Monday night to authorize the Mayor and City Clerk to sign a new contract with the Fraternal Order of Police which authorizes substantial wage increases for city police officers. Additionally, the council set a special meeting for 6 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 16, to vote on whether or not to submit a tax referendum to voters that would support a place pension plan for local police. Both measures appear to be aimed at retaining officers.

The vote to approve the FOP contract followed a 25-minute executive session to discuss personnel issues. Police Chief Jared DePoppe met with the council for about half of the closed-door session. 

The newly approved two-year contract is retroactive to May 1 and will increase starting wages police officers from $18.03 per hour to $22 per hour. The wage goes to $22.25 with one year of service, $22.50 after two years, and $22.75 after three years. Wages were increased by $1.50 per hour for Lieutenants, 75 cents for Sergeants and 25 cents for the school resource officer.

Under the agreement, the contract can be reopened in March to possibly adjust wages, contingent upon the city’s revenue estimates at that time, to take effect upon the contract’s anniversary date. Ald. Dona Rauzi, Police Committee Chair and one of the lead negotiators, said the new contract has been in development since March.

Rauzi told the BenGil Post the new contract will make Gillespie Police wages more competitive with surrounding communities with an eye toward keeping officers on the payroll. Police officers accepting jobs in other communities has been a perennial problem for Gillespie and other small towns. Officers often choose to move on after the city has expended money for training and police cadet certification.

“Officers were leaving because of pay,” Rauzi said.  

In a related matter, the council set a special meeting for next Tuesday to consider whether or not to seek a tax referendum to support a pension plan for city police. Officer Justin Klopmeier appeared before the council to ask aldermen to approve language to appear on the ballot for the referendum. Klopmeier said a decision is needed by Aug. 22 in order to qualify for a position on the November ballot.

Local police are interested in the program, Klopmeier said, “to help retain officers and keep them here by providing a good retirement.” The initiative would allow local police to participate in a statewide retirement pool for full-time police officers. Officers would contribute to the fund and the city would provide matching funds.

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“It’s going to be an expense,” City Attorney Rick Verticchio said. “It’s going to be a cost to the city. Basically, it will be a tax. It will only go into effect if it passes as a referendum in the November election.”

Klopmeier said he did not have exact numbers for what the city’s contribution would be, but he estimated it would amount to about 10 percent of the current payroll costs for the Police Department.

City Treasurer Dan Fisher said the city should consider other employees if it chooses to participate in the police pension program. Verticchio pointed out that the pension plan being promoted by local police is open exclusively to full-time police officers in Illinois.

“I don’t think we should make a decision tonight,” Fisher said. ‘I think we should have a special meeting. We have to be fair to all our employees.”

Mayor Hicks said the week delay between Monday and next Tuesday will give aldermen time to review information and make a more informed decision. “We’re not against it,” he said. “We just want people to know what’s going on.”

In other action related to the Police Department, the council accepted Chief DePoppe’s recommendation to hire Wade Hendricks, Benld, as the school resource officer, effective immediately. Hendricks, a veteran of local police departments, will take the place of Roby Irby, Hillsboro, who was hired last August to take the place of Jassen Stinnett who had retired from his position as the school resource officer. Irby reportedly transferred to street patrol this summer.

“I think he’ll be a great asset for the school district,” DePoppe said of Hendricks.

DePoppe reported that a full-time dispatcher recently resigned and he is in the process of accepting applications for a replacement. The Department also is taking applications for a full-time police officer position.

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Also on DePoppe’s recommendation, the council declared as surplus two patrol cars—a 2015 Ford Taurus and a 2012 Chevrolet Impala. Both cars will be advertised for sale via competitive bids.

FOOD TRUCK PERMITS

Council members unanimously adopted an ordinance that for the first time will govern the operation of food trucks in the City of Gillespie. Mayor Hicks asked City Attorney Verticchio to draft the ordinance last month after he received a request from a food truck operator wanting to know the rules for food truck operation in the city. 

Under terms of the ordinance, food trucks must be parked on a privately owned location. 

Klopmeier addressing the council about the police pension plan, which will be the subject of next week’s special meeting.

After a brief discussion, the council reached a consensus to set the permit fee at $100 for an annual permit good for four days of operation. Additional days of operation will be permitted for a fee of $25 per day. 

The new ordinance also applies to food trucks operating at Gillespie Lake.

Food operations sponsored by charitable or civic organizations as a fundraiser are excluded from the permit requirement.

Verticchio said he plans to present an ordinance at the council’s next monthly meeting dealing with residential fencing that will take into account input from the council. Among the issues to be resolved are setback requirements for fences between neighboring properties. Verticchio said ordinarily, fences must be set back three feet from the property line. “If you have a fence that’s set back three feet and your neighbor has a fence that sets back three feet, that leaves six feet between,” he said. As an alternative, he proposed allowing neighbors to mutually agree to a single fence on the property line. The written agreement, he said, would be recorded at the Macoupin County Courthouse so future property owners would know there is an agreement that mutually recognizes the location of the boundary for purposes of fencing. 

He also suggested fine-tuning restrictions for fencing at the front of the property. Ideally, the front fence should be five feet back from the street, but he suggested the city could be more flexible for fences that are “see-through” fences such as a picket fence or low chain-link fence.

CIVIC CENTER IMPROVEMENTS, MAINTENANCE

The council accepted a bid of $15,000 from Patrick Riley, Chatham, to repaint the Civic Center exterior. The contract calls for power washing, priming rusted areas and repainting the entire building with acrylic paint. The bid was the lowest of four bids submitted by contractors from throughout the state. Tiles and Styles, Chicago, bid the project at $25,720; El Greco Painting, South Holland, submitted a bid of $27,200 and Jay Dingus, St. Charles, Mo., offered to do the project at a cost of $29,800.

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Council members also approved a $1,380 contract with Young’s Roofing, Litchfield, to replace damaged downspouts. Young’s was the only bidder for the project.

Ald. Bob Fritz said he looking into the cost of a canvas awning to go across the front of the building, which would be installed once the painting project is completed.

Ald. Rauzi reported that an architect had done a walk-through to the area vacated by the Gillespie Fire Department. The architect is expected to submit a tentative plan for the council’s review to convert the vacated space into space to house the Gillespie Police Department. The plan, Rauzi said, should be available for the next monthly meeting of the council.

The council approved two resolutions to make payments to contractors from the Tax Increment Financing fund for work done to the Civic Center. Those payments included $390 to Hawkeye Steel Sales for replacing damaged steel siding and $1,500 to Bolash Roofing and Construction, Inc.

LIBRARY AIR CONDITIONING

Acting on a request from Steve Joyce, librarian for the Gillespie Public Library, the council voted to spend $4,300 for an air conditioning unit at the library. Joyce said the library has undergone extensive improvements in recent months, including $2,000 for plumbing, $1,500 for lighting improvements and nearly $14,000 for new carpeting. The failure of an air conditioning unit last week came as an unexpected expense the library could not afford.

Joyce said the expenditure will replace the outside condenser unit, which is 14 years old and covers one-half of the downstairs.

“The inside unit is okay,” Joyce said.

OTHER ACTION

In other action, the council:

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  • Voted to enter into a $2,200 contract with Bill Claro, Gillespie, to repaint parking space lines, handicapped parking spaces and yellow curbing on Macoupin Street. Verticchio said the council could enter into the contract without seeking bids by affirming the painting project is an emergency situation for public safety.
  • Voted to allocate $500 to the Lions Club to hire a band for a chili cook-off event. The 100 block of Chestnut Street and one block of Montgomery will be closed for the event.
  • Voted to donate $100 to sponsor a hole for a golf tournament sponsored by the Gillespie Fire Department in October at Timber Lakes Golf Course near Staunton.

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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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Macoupin County Fair underway until Sunday

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Rides, tents, food trucks, music, animals, and plenty of other offerings fill the grounds at the Macoupin County Fair for the 172nd year. The fair is held June 4 through June 9 at the Macoupin County Fairground north of Carlinville.

The oldest county fair in Illinois, the Macoupin County Fair welcomes thousands of guests to the area and unites agriculture, family, and community. The fair continues through Sunday with highlights every evening.

The fair also meets the needs of families on a budget, for just $10 per person you get parking and all-access to the carnival rides. The cost-friendly fun draws in visitors and locals who get to embrace the county’s namesakes.

Tracy Lawrence and Walker Montgomery are set to take the stage Thursday evening, June 6, at 7:30pm. Friday evening features the tractor and truck pull, and Saturday evening is the crowd-favorite demolition derby.

The fair opens every morning at 8am and closes at 12 midnight. For a full list of schedule of events or to pre-pay for entry, visit the fair’s website here.

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