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Gillespie Council approves zoning change for solar power field

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Letitia Lew (standing) and Jim Griffin (seated) both of Cypress Creek Renewables, asking the council to approve a zoning ordinance amendment to clear the way for the development of a 45-acre solar field on the city’s east side.

Members of the Gillespie City Council on Tuesday night voted 7-1 to approve a zoning change to accommodate a proposed solar field project on the east side of the city. The 45-acre project site, located off Washer Road, technically is outside the corporate limits but falls within a 1.5-mile buffer zone subject to city zoning.

The regular monthly meeting was switched from Monday to Tuesday because of the Columbus Day holiday.

Acting upon the recommendation of the Zoning Board, the council approved an ordinance changing the property’s designation from “open spaces” to “conditional use.” The conditional use designation allows the city to approve projects on a case-by-case basis, as opposed to “permitted use,” which would allow any entity to develop a project on the project as long as they had a proper permit. Conditional use requires a hearing before the Zoning Board during which the applicant must present evidence regarding the nature of the project and how the project will benefit the community. That hearing was held before the Zoning Board two weeks ago, after which the board voted unanimously to recommend reclassifying the property.

Jim Griffin, representing Cypress Creek Renewables, told the council Monday night that the proposed solar field will generate electricity that will go onto the Ameren power grid. Local residents can become subscribers, which will save them an estimated 10 percent on their monthly power bills.

“It will bring significant economic benefits,” Griffin said, “and it will bring additional tax dollars for local taxing bodies.”

The project is part of the state’s solar energy initiative authorized by the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, which became law two years ago. 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 a network of community solar projects capable of generating five megawatts each.

Having cleared the zoning hurdle, the proposed project will need state approval before construction begins.

Letitia Lew, a Cypress Creek engineer overseeing the project, said the proposed project site is located on the south side of Washer Road on the east side of the city. The estimated $10 million project will generate enough electricity for about 1,100 homes.

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Previously released information indicates Cypress Creek plans to spend about $4 million locally during construction and provide about 21 prevailing wage jobs. When the system is up and running, Cypress Creek estimates it will contribute $40,000 a year to the local economy.

The expected lifespan of the project is 40 years, after which the developers are obligated to remove solar panels and infrastructure—essentially returning the site to it’s original condition.

The council accepted the Zoning Board’s recommendation on a motion by Ald. Bob Fritz, seconded by Ald. Bill Hayes. Ald. Wendy Rolando cast the sole negative vote. Rolando offered no reason for her vote but hers was one of two votes cast against the project in

June when Cypress Creek first approached the city for a hearing before the Zoning Board.

CATS, CATS, CATS

Ald. Rolando pledged to reach out to 4 Paws 4 Rescue, a St. Louis-based no-kill animal shelter, after three residents complained to the council about a proliferation of feral cats in their neighborhood. Bonnie Robinson, a resident of the neighborhood located two blocks east of Macoupin Street on Maple Street, said 15 to 20 cats were left behind at a house in the neighborhood when the tenants moved away. She said she has since heard that another family plans to move into the area with another 15 or more cats.

Robinson said the cats have not been neutered or vaccinated, pose a health hazard and are reproducing.

“No one is taking care of them,” said Tina Whitfield, another neighbor. “The whole neighborhood smells of cat poop.” Young children, she said, cannot play in sandboxes outside because of the cat waste.

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Mayor John Hicks said feral cats are a problem in other parts of the city as well. “I can sympathize with your problem,” he said, adding that some people exacerbate the issue by regularly feeding strays. He said he once proposed trapping and neutering stray cats to preclude them from breeding and expanding the population.

Ald. Rolando noted that city ordinances limit the number of cats a resident can maintain but that ordinance will not address the issue of stray cats. Adopt-A-Pet animal shelter in Benld is filled to capacity, she said, as are other no-kill shelters in the immediate area. Additionally, Macoupin County Animal Control has implemented a policy of responding to municipal complaints only when a single animal has been identified as a threat to public safety.

Responding to a suggestion from another resident at the meeting, Rolando said she would contact 4 Paws 4 Rescue to see if they would accept cats for shelter and adoption. If a facility can be found, the city can then begin a program to trap and remove feral cats in the neighborhood.

“I have nothing against cats,” Robinson said. “I have something against 20 or 30 cats.”

SPECIAL MEETING

Council members agreed to meet in special session at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 18, to consider a new contract with the Fraternal Order of Police, as well as a memorandum of understanding extending Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund benefits to all city employees.

City Attorney Rick Verticchio said the city’s negotiating committee reached an agreement with the police union but copies of the new contract had not yet been provided to all members of the council. He said the council could schedule a special meeting after the bull council had an opportunity to review the contract or it could simply vote to accept the recommendation of the negotiating committee. The negotiating committee included Verticchio, City Treasurer Dan Fisher, Chief of Police Jared DePoppe and aldermen Dona Rauzi and Bill Hayes.

When council members started to ask specific questions about provisions of the contract, Verticchio reiterated his opinion that it would be more practical to hold a special meeting.

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The new contract, when approved, will cover police officers and dispatchers. It will be retroactive to Jan. 1 and will remain in effect until May 31, 2025.

A provision of the contract will allow police department employees to participate in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. IMRF rules preclude the city from offering that option to only one classification of employees. Consequently, the council will consider during the special meeting a memorandum extending the IMFR option to all employees.

Ald. Rauzi said she may also present a recommendation during the special meeting for a caterer to cater the city’s annual Seniors Christmas Dinner on Dec. 3.

No action followed a 15-minute executive session requested by Ald. Rauzi to discuss real estate.

THREE-WAY STOP INTERSECTION

Over the objection of Ald. Janet Odell-Mueller, the council approved an ordinance to make the intersection of South Street and Chestnut Street a three-way stop. The intersection currently is a one-way stop, with yield signs for the other two approaches.

“The problem is people don’t yield,” Mayor Hicks said.

“There seems to be a lot of stop signs going up in this part of town (pointing northwest) and not so much in this part (pointing southwest),” Ald. Mueller said. “You don’t put up stop signs for speed control. You need to have a traffic study done to decide where you really need a stop sign.”

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Mayor Hicks, however, pointed out the Police Department concurred with the need to make the intersection a three-way stop.

Brought to a vote on a motion by Ald. Landon Pettit, the measure was approved on a 7-1 vote.

“What Jan brought up is absolutely correct,” Treasurer Fisher commented after the vote. “You can’t use stop signs for speed control. We probably do need to tap the brakes on adding stop signs just because someone requested one.”

HALLOWEEN EVENT INSURANCE

After a sometimes heated exchange, the council voted 6-2 to subsidize the cost of liability insurance for a Halloween event planned at Gillespie Lake. The Spooky Halloween Fright is set for Friday evening, Oct. 20, and all day on Saturday, Oct. 21, and Saturday, Oct. 28. Theresa Pettit, who is planning the event along with several other lake residents, approached the council in August to ask the city’s permission to hold the event on city-controlled property.

At that time, the council voted to waive a $20 permit fee for participating vendors but stopped short of authorizing the event until the sponsors could provide proof of insurance. Pettit went into some detail regarding her search for an insurance policy, including consideration of adding the event to the city’s policy for an additional cost. She brought documentation to show she found a policy with a premium of $411, which she acquired in her name and submitted a request for the city to reimburse the cost of the policy.

City Attorney Verticchio and some aldermen, however, objected to Pettit having apparently distributed fliers identifying the event as a city-sponsored event.  Verticchio said the council told Pettit last month that the group would need to get its own insurance for the activities but did not agree to any kind of sponsorship.

“I don’t know how you could leave that meeting thinking the city was sponsoring this event,” Verticchio said. “Yet, you have fliers all over town saying the city is sponsoring this event.”

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Pettit agreed the fliers were in error. The sponsoring group was under the impression the city would reimburse them for the insurance. At other events when the city or other donors have subsidized specific aspects of activity, the sponsoring group has posted signs saying a particular band or attraction was “sponsored by” whoever provided the money. She characterized it as a courtesy to acknowledge donors. She told council members that any future fliers would eliminate any mention of city sponsorship.

“I think it’s a moot point,” Ald. Rolando said. “Next year, we will know the protocol.”

Ald. Hayes said he saw no difference between providing money for insurance and providing money for a band, which is a fairly common practice for the council. Fisher agreed, saying that the city occasionally donates $500 to an organization that can be used to hire a band but that does not mean the city is a sponsor of the event.

Brought to a vote, the council approved the expenditure with Ald. Dave Link and Ald. Rauzi voting “no.” Ald. Pettit, son of Theresa Pettit, voted “present.” In addition to vendors, the event will feature bounce houses, games and crafts for kids, a chili cook-off, a wings cook-off, a fishing tournament, bonfires, and a “haunted” trail. There will be a cakewalk, best costume contests and a best decorated campsite contest. Additional activities include a scavenger hunt, pumpkin decorating, raffles, 50/50 drawings, a trunk or treat event and a costumed Halloween parade.

BACKGROUND CHECKS

Mayor Hicks appointed an ad hoc committee to make a recommendation regarding the type of background checks the city would require for potential lake lot renters. Previously, persons seeking to enter into a lake lot lease were subject to a “soft” background check that could be completed in a few minutes online. More recently, city officials demanded a more detailed check conducted through the Illinois State Police.

Lake Committee Chair Ald. Frank Barrett said the more detailed checks were taking up to three months to get back, creating unreasonable delays in approving lease applicants.

“I don’t know why this is even being changed,” said Lake Manager Gary Thornhill. He said he checked with surrounding municipalities and discovered most of them require no background check at all. “In their lease, it states that if the police are called out to their cabin, their lease will be terminated.”

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“So they just wait until there is a problem?” Mayor Hicks asked. “I think it would be better to find out if there is a problem before rather than after.”

Barrett lobbied to return to soft background checks. “We’ve only had a handful of problems,” he said, “and we were able to get rid of those ourselves.”

Hicks appointed Barrett, Thornhill and Police Chief DePoppe to work on a recommendation to bring back to the council.

OTHER ACTION

In other action, the council:

  • Set trick-or-treating hours from 5 to 8 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 30 and 31.
  • Approved installation of a total of four street lights at Gillespie Lake and the Welfare Park ballfields.
  • Formally approved a resolution amending the lake lot lease agreement for full- and part-time residents, setting the monthly rental fee at the same level. The changes means part-time residents can use their lots for short-term stays throughout the year instead of limiting their use to the spring-fall season.
  • Formally approved an ordinance amendment incorporating new rules regarding the operation of golf carts within the city limits. The changes require golf carts to be equipped with seatbelts and reduces the legal age of operators from 18 to 16, provided the operator has a valid driver’s license.
  • Approved payment of $1,159 from the Tax Increment Finance Fund to Poggenpohl Redi-Mix, Carlinville.

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Court News

Macoupin County Courthouse News

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Cases filed during July 7 through July 13. Visit the “Court News” category under the “Community News” tab for other editions.

FELONIES

Timothy D. Conlee, 29 of Gillespie, is charged with aggravated fleeing or attempting to elude a peace officer, driving on a suspended license, and reckless driving in connection with a July 6 incident.

Dylan J. Arview, 25 of Benld, is charged with driving under the influence while license revoked or suspending, DUI, driving on a suspended license and driving 15-20 mph above the limit in connection with a July 5 incident.

Bobby L. Walker, 35 of Sorento, is charged with driving revoked/suspended with a DUI, driving on revoked license, operating an uninsured motor vehicle, displayed registration plate, and expired registration in connection with a June 27 incident.

Dustin W. Gooch, 34 of Beecher City, is charged with aggravated fleeing/bodily injury, unlawful display of a title, improper use of registration/title, operating an uninsured motor vehicle, and registration light in connection with a June 17 incident.

MISDEMEANORS

Jordan A. Black, 24 of Gillespie, is charged with battery/causing bodily harm in connection with a July 8 incident.

Dustin R. Stieglitz, 37 of Shipman, is charged with aggravated assault/use of a deadly weapon in connection to a June 29 incident.

Steven A. Kroll, 33 of Eagarville, is charged with resisting a peace officer, fire fighter, or corrections employee in connection with a June 26 incident.

TRAFFIC

David B. Brown, 58 of Virden, is charged with cancelled/revoked/suspended registration in connection with a July 3 incident.

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Jennifer L. Roberts, 47 of Worden, is charged with driving on a suspended license and operating an uninsured motor vehicle in connection with July 5 incident.

Andrew L. Connoyer, 31 of Bethalto, is charged with improper use of registration, driving 15-20 mph above the limit, and no valid registration in connection with July 7 incident.

Megan E. Bertoldi, 37 of Gillespie, is charged with leaving the scene in connection with July 11 incident.

DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE FILED

  • Tasha McQuay versus David McQuay

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School board disciplines staff member; hires AD and Student Services Coordinator

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In a relatively brief meeting Monday night, the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education approved a “resolution of remedial warning” against an unidentified district teacher, and hired a new Student Services Coordinator and Athletic Director.

The actions followed an 80-minute executive session during which board members presumably primarily discussed personnel issues. The regular monthly meeting of the board was moved up by one week to fill key positions, such as the Athletic Director and Student Services Coordinator, prior to the start of the school year next month. The district was taken by surprise when former Student Services Coordinator Stephanie Bray and Athletic Director Mike Bertagnolli both announced their retirements within days of each other.

Supt. Shane Owsley said the resolution of remedial warning is a disciplinary action representing “a second strike, so to speak.” Neither the teacher or the nature of the infraction was disclosed in open session.

In other action, the board, voted unanimously to hire Shelsie Timmermeier as the district’s Student Services Coordinator for the 2024-25 school year, stepping into the vacancy created by Bray’s retirement, pending confirmation of certification and a background check. In a separate action, the board also appointed Timmermeier as an assistant high school women’s volleyball coach.

Jeremy Smith was hired, also by a unanimous vote, as the district’s Athletic Director for the 2024-25 school year. In a related matter, Smith’s resignation as middle school head baseball coach was accepted. Additionally, the board posted the coaching position as vacant for the coming school year.

On a motion by Weye Schmidt, seconded by Dennis Tiburzi, the board hired Alex Jasper as a high school social science teacher for the coming school year. The board also voted unanimously to hire Tate Wargo as a first-year, non-tenured physical education instructor, pending confirmation of certification. Both positions were vacated as a result of the sudden resignation of Dalton Barnes in April as head football coach, physical education teacher and social science teacher. 

In related matters, the board also hired Wargo Monday night as an eighth grade boy’s basketball coach, and accepted Jasper’s resignation as a district paraprofessional and posted the position as vacant.

In other personnel action, the board:

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  • Hired Amanda Ewin as a one-on-one aide.
  • Hired Anthony Kravanya as a freshman men’s basketball coach.
  • Appointed Melissa Heigert as a volunteer assistant high school softball coach.

In other action, the board gave routine approval to a list of policies provided by the Illinois State Board of Education. 

Supt. Owsley also provided a brief update on the progress being made on safety projects expected to be completed before the start of the school year, including installation of a new intercom system, a card-reader entry system and shatter-proof protective film on exterior windows.

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Gillespie Library, United Community Bank to host Fraud and Scam Prevention seminar on July 22

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Gillespie Public Library (Photo by Gillespie Public Library)

Friends of the Gillespie Public Library and United Community Bank are hosting a joint “Fraud and Scam Prevention” seminar at on Monday, July 22 starting at 6 p.m. at the Gillespie Public Library.

The seminar will focus on today’s common scams and frauds, which includes imposter and check scams, money mule fraud and those that target seniors. Presenters will be Jenni Alepra of Gillespie UCB and Kennen Bertolis of Carlinville UCB.

The seminar is open to the public and is free of charge. For additional questions, call the Gillespie Public Library at 217-839-3614.

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