Members of the Gillespie City Council on Monday night approved a property tax levy for 2020 taxes to be collected in 2021 amounting to more than $357,000, and agreed to close a portion of Chestnut Street on May 1 for a labor celebration in connection with the dedication of a historic site market to be installed at the Canna Theater, formerly the Colonial Theater.
Approval of the levy was preceded by a brief public hearing. State law requires a public hearing when a taxing body’s levy request exceeds the previous year’s tax extension by five percent or more. The new levy exceeds last year’s extension by less than five percent, but the city opted to voluntarily convene a public hearing.
The levy, unanimously approved on a motion by Ald. Frank Barrett, seconded by Ald. Rick Fulton, calls for raising $357,532 from property taxes next year. Though not insignificant, local property taxes account for only a fraction of the city’s annual expenditures. The appropriation for the current fiscal year’s expenditures, for example, totals about $17 million.
Broken down by fund, the levy request for Corporate purposes totals $53,639, compared with $55,847 levied last year; $25,247 for Police, compared with $24,045 last year; $34,206 for Streets and Bridges, compared with $32,577 last year; $9,772 for Emergency Services and Disaster Administration, compared with $9,307 last year; $57,009 for Liability Insurance, compared with $54,294 last year; $14,659 for Parks, compared with $13,667 last year; $3,258 for the Municipal Band, compared with $3,103 last year; $102,619 for Social Security, compared with $97,732 last year; and $52,123 for the Public Library, compared with $49,641 last year.
Gillespie and other taxing bodies in Macoupin County are subject to the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL) which limits increases in the annual levy to no more than five percent or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less. Because the CPI typically is less than five percent, the final levy normally is less than the levy request. The current CPI is estimated at 2.3 percent.
The County Clerk is responsible for setting the actual tax rate for local taxpayers by calculating the rate necessary to generate as much of the levy request as allowed by law when applied to the current equalized assessed valuation.
MAY DAY CELEBRATION
On a motion by Ald. Dave Tucker, who also serves as voluntary director of the Illinois Coal Mining Museum in Gillespie, the council voted unanimously to close a portion of Chestnut Street for a May 1 labor celebration. Also on Tucker’s motion, the council voted to expend $138 for an ornamental post on which to mount a historic site plaque at the Canna Theater.
Tucker said the $3,800 cost of the bronze plaque is being underwritten through the University of Illinois. The plaque will commemorate the formation of the Progressive Mine Workers of America in the late 1930s during a meeting of mine workers at what was then known as the Colonial Theater. The PMWA was formed as a break-away from the United Mine Workers of America, then controlled by John L. Lewis, when local miners clashed with the UMWA over contractual concessions Lewis made to mine owners.
“May 1 is a significant date in labor history,” Tucker noted, explaining the choice of dates for the event.
Among organized laborers, May 1 is designated as International Laborers Day, commemorating organized labor’s declaration for an eight-hour workday on May 1, 1886.
Tucker said the celebration will feature a formal dedication of the plaque, a grand re-opening for the remodeled Coal Museum, along with vendors and other activities. Grow Gillespie will be involved in the event, which is being promoted by the River Bend Tourism and Visitor Bureau, and other organizations.
PEACE CORPS ADVISORY BOARD
With the council’s consent, Mayor John Hicks appointed Ald. Tucker and Ald. Barrett as the council’s representative on a five-member advisory council to direct work undertaken by a Peace Corps Fellow being assigned to the City of Gillespie early next year for an 11-month contract.
A Peace Corps Fellow from Western Illinois University is expected to arrive next month and will live in Gillespie for the next 11 months to work with non-profit organizations such as Grow Gillespie and the Caring Center on community development projects. The city’s $5,000 commitment will be shared by the city and Grow Gillespie.
In a related matter, City Treasurer Dan Fisher announced that the state has approved a $1 million grant application submitted by the city to implement a streetscape improvement project developed by Grow Gillespie.
“In the past week, the City of Gillespie has been approved for $1,400,000 in state funds,” Fisher said. “That’s pretty good.”
RESTAURANT/BAR CLOSING ISSUE
Dave Link, owner of Lumpy’s bar and restaurant, appeared before the council to advocate enforcement of the Governor’s ban on indoor service at local bars and restaurants. The Governor imposed the ban last month in response to dramatic increases in the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the region.
“I’ve been closed since Nov. 1,” Link said, noting that other hospitality businesses in the community have continued business as usual in spite of the ban. The Governor’s order allows outdoor dining and bar service only, or take-out food orders. “We’ve had 61 people die in Macoupin County. We have one business here having bands all the time.”
Link said the police chief told him there was nothing local authorities could do to enforce the ban
“It seems funny to me that Carlinville was able to go around and tell their restaurants and bars that they had to close down,” Link said. “I don’t understand why we can’t get out here and tell our places they can’t be open.”
He said he was told earlier that the council expected to hold a special meeting to address the issue, but that meeting never took place.
Link also criticized the County Board’s recent vote to eschew enforcement of the order in the County, saying the board lacked the courage “to back it’s own Public Health Department.”
“I don’t think it’s fair that we have one business owner who is responsible and closed down, and we have two others that are still open,” Ald. Fulton commented.
Ald. Bill Hayes noted that Springfield authorities forced offending businesses to close down and pay fines soon after the Governor’s order was issued.
Responding to a question from Ald. Dona Rauzi, Link said a rumor that it was easier for him to close down because he had received a mitigation grant to cover his expenses. “I have not applied for a grant and I have not received a grant,” he said.
Mayor Hicks suggested that he could send a letter to offending businesses advising them that he would “jerk their liquor license” if they continued to violate the Governor’s order. But he stopped short of confirming that he would actually send letters anytime soon.
“You can’t pound common sense into peoples’ heads,” Hicks said. “They don’t believe this is real. They don’t believe it until they actually get sick themselves.” In the meantime, Hicks said, restaurants in nearby Staunton are advertising that they are open for indoor dining.
Police Chief Jared DePoppe said the police department’s hands are tied. Police cannot enforce the Governor’s order without a city ordinance to back it up, he said. Link reported that Carlinville police did not threaten to arrest or cite restaurant and bar owners, but simply advised them of the order and asked them to comply.
WATER CONSTRUCTION COMPLAINTS
Link also was among several local residents questioning actions taken by Haier Plumbing and Heating as the city’s extensive water infrastructure replacement project nears completion.
“My understanding is that they’re finishing up a year ahead of schedule,” Link noted. “How much money is the city going to get back from Haier Plumbing for all the work our city workers have done?”
Fisher explained the council will consider the company’s final bill next month. Before that time, he said city officials and Haier representatives will meet to negotiate the final bill. He said the original contract did not include cleaning up properties after water lines were installed, leaving that responsibility for city workers. However, there are other issues that could reduce the size of Haier’s final payment—namely damages caused by Haier employees or contractors.
Chris Releford said he was among local property owners who sustained property damage in connection with the water infrastructure project. He said Haier replaced water lines at his residence on April 14 and, without his knowledge, severed his home’s sewer line. He told council members he was unaware of the damage until last month at which time he rented an eel to open the line.
In attempting to open the line, he said he discovered that backfill material had entered the damaged sewer line. He said he wanted to be reimbursed for seven months of sewer service and the cost of renting the eel.
“I was told I needed to make a claim against the company,” Releford said, adding that he did not want to wait for the city to negotiate a settlement with Haier. “My claim isn’t against the company, my claim is against the city.”
Ald. Jerry Dolliger said Releford’s experience was not unusual. Haier contractors damaged several residential sewers during the project. Each time, instead of repairing the damage, contractors “threw a bag of cement over the top and covered it up.”
At the Releford residence, Dolliger said city workers spent 48 hours finding and repairing the break. “That could all have been alleviated if they had said, ‘We hit your sewer,’ and fixed it right then,” Dolliger said.
“All we can do is submit your claim,” Hicks told Releford. “They (Haier) have insurance.”
Ald. Hayes, however, noted the city had preemptively paid other claims in recent months. “They damaged other sewers and we paid for them,” he said.
Ultimately, Releford was told that he needed to file a formal claim to be considered for reimbursement.
“Whether we pay for it or they do, you have to submit a claim form,” Fisher told Releford. “That’s the policy. As far as the time frame, we’re going to resolve all of these issues by early January.”
In addition to additional time put in by city workers, Dolliger said the Fire Department is “out about 250 hours.”
“We never sent them a bill,” Dolliger said. “Maybe we should look into that.”
City officials were more dismissive of a complaint lodged by Mike Polo, who farms a parcel on the west side of the city. He said shut-off valves previously were located below grade which allowed him to farm the land. When a new line was installed, he said, Haier located the shut-offs above ground.
Fisher said the above-ground shut-offs comply with current construction standards. A 59-year-old easement agreement, he said, “gives the city the right to install shut-offs in a manner” that complies with current construction standards.
Both Hicks and Fisher alleged Polo cleared and farmed a platted but undeveloped portion of Handy Street without the consent of the city.
“We’d like to be good neighbors and work with you but the bottom line is we have more of a claim against you for what you did to Handy Street than you have against us for what you’re alleging,” Fisher said.
Ald. Tucker asked if the shut-offs could be relocated below ground. Fisher said they could but doing so could make them vulnerable to damage from farming operations if someone were to plow too deep.
“Our obligation is to make the water system work right,” Fisher said. “Lots of farmers farm around above ground utilities.”
COUNCIL VOTES TO WAIVE PROPERTY LIEN
On a motion by Ald. Tucker, the council voted unanimously to draft an ordinance to conditionally release a lien against the property that formerly housed True-Value Hardware, and to give the Public Works Committee power to act on approving the ordinance later this month. The action ostensibly gave prospective buyer Bill Toprani assurance that he would not be responsible for the lien if he successfully negotiates a contract to purchase the building for his business.
The lien resulted from an unpaid portion of an Economic Development loan the city made to the former owners of the building.
“I think the feeling on the part of most council members is that if you were in there paying property taxes and sale taxes, that $3,500 would disappear in a heartbeat,” Mayor Hicks told Toprani. He added, however, that releasing the lien would require formal action on an ordinance.
Fisher told Toprani the ordinance would release the lien contingent upon Toprani developing the property as a going business concern.
No action followed an executive session called to discuss personnel and collective bargaining issues.