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Gillespie Council approves payments for water plant, sewer improvements

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Members of the Gillespie City Council on Monday night approved a final payment to Korte & Luitjohan Contractors for renovation work done at the city’s water treatment plant and authorized a first payment request to Visu-Sewer of Missouri for work completed in the downtown business district as a first step toward implementing an extensive streetscape program to improve the business climate on Macoupin Street.

The council also took action on several fairly routine issues during a relatively brief meeting that was long on discussion and short on actions.

On a motion by Ald. Landon Pettit, the council voted unanimously to approve a final payment of $39,521 to Korte & Luitjohan for renovations at the water treatment plant, contingent upon the Water Plant Operator accepting the work. The amount includes an $8,736 change order approved by the council earlier in the meeting upon the recommendation of City Treasurer Dan Fisher.

Council members also unanimously approved a $57,362 pay estimate to Visu-Sewer for relining work done to the sanitary sewer system in downtown Gillespie. The approved payment, with includes a $25,000 change order, is a prelude to completing the city’s ambitious $320 million streetscape improvement project expected to improve aesthetics and efficiency downtown. The plan is expected to add green spaces, reconfigure parking and result in other improvements.

Fisher briefly discussed upcoming issues the council will need to consider, including building needs and the possibility of extending the life of the downtown Tax Increment Financing District. Fisher said he plans to convene a meeting of the Finance Committee in March to discuss future capital improvement needs. 

“Whether you’re talking about buying a building or remodeling a building, you’re probably going to be looking at some long-term debt,” Fisher warned, emphasizing the city’s limited financial resources. “We need to be really cautious and we need to know how we’re going to pay for that.”

Since the Gillespie Fire Department moved out of the Gillespie Civic Center, the council has looked at the vacated space as a possible location for the Gillespie Police Department. Tentative cost estimates for that proposed renovation range upward of $750,000.

“I don’t think we’re ready to move on any of this,” Fisher said. Fisher advised that the committee needs to assess building needs, determine the cost of any projects the city wants to consider and determine how those projects could be financed.

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Fisher also said the council may want to extend the life of the TIF District currently in place for the downtown area. The TIF system captures increases in property tax revenue and diverts that money to a TIF fund to finance infrastructure improvements in the TIF District. One of the programs funded by the TIF District is a business facade grant program under which business owners can recoup half of the cost of making improvements to the front of their buildings. Fisher said demand for facade improvement grants has been sporadic through much of the life of the TIF District but has picked up in recent years. 

“I think we should at least look into extending it for another 12 years,” he said. “If you want to do that, it will need to be done this year.”

In a somewhat related matter, the council approved a facade grant application from T.J. Allan to install an awning and signage at Ageless Fitness. The grant will reimburse Allan $2,300 of the project’s $4,600 cost upon completion.

RULE CHANGES AT GILLESPIE LAKE

Upon a motion by Lake Chair Frank Barrett, the council authorized City Attorney Rick Verticchio to draft a new ordinance to implement rule changes regarding lot leases at Gillespie Lake. The new ordinance, subject to final approval by the council, will create a new category of lake lot leases for “year-round” use. The annual fee for a year-round lease will be $1,200 as opposed to $700 for typical picnic lots. The new category will allow leaseholders to use their lot at any time of year instead of being restricted to the summer season. The new rules also will double the size of existing picnic lots.

Barrett said it is hope the change will encourage greater recreational use at the lake. In addition, he said there is an expectation the change could reduce instances of vandalism and theft at the lake.

“People know the lake closes down,” he said. “This way, there will be people out there,” who can monitor neighboring properties and report suspicious activities. Barrett said vandalism has not been a major problem but most years at least a few part-time residents report damage or theft that occurred over the winter. 

A finalized ordinance is likely to be acted upon next month.

RESPIRATOR PURCHASE

City aldermen unanimously approved the purchase of respirators for Water Treatment Plant employees in order to comply with an OSHA mandate. Ald. Dona Rauzi reported OSHA requires respirators to be on hand for each of the water plant’s four employees. She recommended buying five respirators at a cost of $311.90 each in order to have one spare available at the plant.

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“We don’t have a choice,” Rauzi said. “We have to do this because OSHA is requiring it.”

The respirators, costing a total of $1,559.50, will be custom fitted for each employee once the equipment arrives.

Also to comply with OSHA mandates, Ald. Bob Fritz reported the Street Department plans to spend about $5,000 to replace hoses on a recently purchased vacuum truck.

ESDA ISSUES

Council members voted unanimously on a motion by Fritz to purchase a large computer monitor that will facilitate storm spotting by Fire District 7 personnel stationed on the north side of East Gillespie. Storm spotting, reporting and activating storm sirens is the responsibility of the city’s ESDA coordinator—a position that is currently vacant. 

Fritz also reported the ESDA Committee is looking into updating the city’s emergency siren system. The siren located at city hall, he said, is currently non-functioning. To replace all five sirens in the city, according to Fritz, would cost about $192,000 but he said the city may be able to cut costs by installing a lesser number of more efficient sirens.

NUISANCE PROPERTIES

On a motion by Ald. Rauzi, seconded by Ald. Bill Hayes, the council voted to accept a property at 204 Baker Street that previously was declared a nuisance. City Attorney Verticchio said the owner had offered to give the property to the city to avoid legal action that would force the owner to abate the nuisance or pay for the city doing it. In the meantime, Verticchio said, property owners on either side of the nuisance property expressed an interest in buying the property. Verticchio said the city could legally authorize that sale with a provision for the new owners to clean up the nuisance within 60 days or allow the ownership to revert to the city.

“You’re going to save a lot of money by doing this and not going to court,” Verticchio said. 

Similarly, Verdicchio said he secured an agreement from a buyer to purchase a nuisance property at 608 Adams Street for $3,500, which would recoup legal fees and court costs the city has expended on the property. The city has a court order allowing city workers to abate the nuisance, but Verticchio said it will save the city time and money to sell to a new owner and require the new owner to abate the nuisance.

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Verdicchio also reported he expects to get a court order authorizing clean up of property in the 500 block of Park Avenue. While the city has authority to proceed with the clean-up, Verticchio said he is trying to convince the private company that acquired the property to do the work.

SURPLUS PROPERTY

After hearing a request from Harold Besserman, owner of the Superbowl bowling alley, the council voted to declare a strip of city-owned property behind the business as surplus property and offer it for sale via sealed bid. Besserman said the city approached him five years ago about buying the entire parcel, the majority of which is marshy wetland. While he still does not have an interest in buying the parcel, Besserman said he would like to purchase a strip of land that remains dry to facilitate installation of solar energy panels.

Verticchio said the city could not negotiate the sale of the property directly with Besserman, but could declare the property surplus and offer it for sale.

The council referred to committee a request from Besserman to adjust an excessive water bill he incurred as a result of a water leak. He said his water bill more than tripled—from $50 to $170 as a result of the break. The break occurred, he said, inside the building in a wall adjacent to a rear patio.

Ald. Rauzi pointed out that city ordinance permits the council to credit a water customer one third of the customers average monthly bill if the break occurs between the meter and the foundation of the building. However, the city code does not authorize adjustments when the break occurs inside the building.

Ald. Pettit suggested there might be room for negotiation on the sewer portion of the bill since the water loss did not enter the sewer system.

The council also heard briefly from John Hilgert of the 600 block of West Oak Street who complained about dust arising from traffic on gravel the city used on his street. “It’s just a dust storm every day,” he said. Mayor John Hicks said the city had planned to sweep the street on Monday but city crews were diverted to deal with a water main break. With rain expected on Tuesday, Hicks said city workers would address the issue as soon as possible.

OTHER ACTION

In other action, the council:

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  • Approved a resolution authorizing an intergovernmental agreement to provide police protection services in the Village of Eagarville.
  • Accepted a low bid from Republic Sanitation to pick up trash from city-owned facilities at a cost of $1,819 per month, compared with the $1,128.78 monthly contract that just expired.
  • Agreed to close the 100 block of Pine Street, along with Montgomery Street between Pine and Chestnut for a Gears and Grub Festival and 5K run on June 10. The event will feature a classic car show and up to 10 food trucks.
  • Agreed to lease a 100-by-100-foot plot of unused land at Gillespie Lake for an ATT communications tower.
  • Agreed to advertise for applicants for a Street Department position requiring a CDL license.

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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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