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Gillespie Council discusses fate of former Dollar General building

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The former Dollar General building in downtown Gillespie located in the 100 block of Macoupin Street.

The Gillespie City Council appears likely to approve an ordinance establishing a vacancy tax to leverage occupancy for vacant downtown commercial properties. City Attorney Rick Verticchio agreed to write a draft ordinance for council action following a lengthy discussion during Monday night’s regular monthly council meeting regarding the status of the building that formerly housed the Dollar General Store at 109 N. Macoupin St.

The building has been vacant since Dollar General moved to a new building about five years ago. The building, which features early 20th century architectural details on the second-story facade, is listed for sale online for an asking price of $600,000.

Local business owner Ruth Loveless, who owns a business across the street, told the council she inadvertently became involved with the building’s current owners and their attempts to dispose of the property. Loveless said the building actually is owned by a 101-year-old man in New York who is the beneficiary of a trust. Getting the trustees to commit to anything in writing has been challenging, according to Loveless.

Originally, the trustees agreed to deed the building to the city with the provision the city would provide the estate with an appraisal placing the worth of the building at a minimum of $250,000. Based on local property values, the city apparently responded that no appraiser would place the value that high. After withdrawing the original offer, Loveless said the trust offered to pay for replacing the roof if the city could find a tenant willing to make repairs to the interior. In exchange, the trust reportedly agreed to allow the tenant to use the space rent-free for an unspecified period of time. Loveless said that offer fell apart when she pressed the trust to commit to the amount of time the tenant could use the building rent-free in writing.

More recently, she said the trust took all previous deals off the table and said they would attempt to sell the building outright in an “as-is” condition. The trust reportedly told Loveless they would not accept less than $250,000.

Loveless said her recommendation to the city would be to condemn the building and take possession via court order.

Verticchio said that option is not available to the city at this time. “I can’t tell you that building is in nuisance condition,” Verticchio said. The city attempted to declare the building a public nuisance last year, which prompted a building inspection by an engineer who confirmed the building is structurally sound. Even though the interior may not be fit for commercial use, Verticchio said there is no danger of bricks falling, etc., that would qualify the structure as a nuisance.

Ald. Dave Link, who sold the building to the trust, said he offered to buy it back for what he paid for it originally—$37,500—but was told the owners “would rather let it fall in than sell it for that price.”

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“If they did that, we could take action,” Verticchio said, “when things start falling off and threatening public safety.”

Treasurer Dan Fisher offered a “vacancy tax” as a possible incentive for property owners to find tenants for their spaces. He said he learned of the strategy from attending municipal conferences where other communities reported having success with the tactic.

Blue Ridge Boat Docks, Lake of Egypt, was awarded a contract to build a new multi-slip boat dock at the New Gillespie Lake. The company expects to start construction the first or second week of May and have the facility available for use by the Memorial Day weekend.

“This is not an uncommon problem,” he said. “You have to have a Downtown Business Association, which we have.” The tax can be stringent and can be collected after an extended period of time during which a building has been vacant. He said the period of time before the tax is imposed should be fairly liberal to give owners time to locate a tenant when their property becomes vacant.

Verticchio agreed to research the issue and draft an ordinance for the council to review.

NEW BOAT DOCK

After several minutes of discussion, the council voted to accept a $253,757 bid from Blue Ridge Boat Docks, Lake of Egypt, to build a new multi-slip boat dock at the New Gillespie Lake. The company expects to start construction the first or second week of May and have the facility available for use by the Memorial Day weekend.

Two other bids, ranging from $378,900 to $475,280, were received for the project.

The city received a $200,000 grant to subsidize the project and discussion Monday night focused on where the remaining $53,000 would come from and whether or not the city should authorize the additional expense. Fisher said he expected the city’s share of the project would come from the Lake Fund and the Bond & Interest Fund, but several aldermen expressed concerns about spending the money at all.

The measure passed unanimously, however, after Ald. Landon Pettit pointed out that failing to use the grant money would not only cost the city $200.000 but also jeopardize future grant applications.

CEJA GRANT APPLICATION

On Fisher’s recommendation, the council unanimously authorized the Mayor to sign a grant application for grant funds under the federal Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) program. The grants are aimed at helping to replace lost revenue resulting from the idling of the Shay Coal Mine, formerly Monterey Coal, in Brushy Mound Township. Taxing bodies within 20 miles of the mine.

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Gillespie landlord Tim Loveless addressed the council over his concerns regarding a recently approved ordinance governing the operation of Airbnbs.

To reduce costs associated with the application process, Fisher said Gillespie will act as the sponsoring agency for 17 other taxing entities. In addition to the City of Gillespie, the associated applicants include Community Unit School District 7, the Gillespie-Benld Area Ambulance Service, Gillespie, Cahokia and Brushy Mound Townships, the Benld and Gillespie public libraries, and the communities of Benld, Staunton, Bunker Hill and Royal Lakes.

If the application is successful, Fisher said the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will award a lump sum which will be distributed among the other applicants. Individual awards will amount to a minimum of $50,000, Fisher said.

DUMPSTER ORDINANCE

Verticchio agreed to draft an ordinance for action next month regarding oversized trash dumpsters in residential areas after a brief discussion about the issue.

“I don’t think dumpsters belong in residential areas on a permanent basis,” Mayor Hicks told the council. There were several minutes of debate, however, before the council agreed to ban dumpsters in excess of three yards in size in residential areas. The new ordinance will carve out exemptions for temporary dumpsters placed for construction, remodeling and similar projects. In those instances, the dumpsters can remain no longer than 30 days without council approval.

“If you’re going to do this, they need to be off the sidewalk and off the city right-of-way,” Ald. Link noted.

PORTABLE BUILDING SETBACKS

In response to questions from Ald. Link, Verticchio agreed to write a draft ordinance for council action next month regarding setback rules for portable storage buildings and unattached carports. Link initially wanted to know if such structures were subject to building permit requirements.

Ald. Pettit said such structures currently are not subject to the property tax code and are exempted from needing a building permit unless they are not erected on a permanent foundation. “As of right now, there’s nothing on our books,” he said, regarding building permits or setbacks for portable structures.

Link suggested portable buildings should be subject to setbacks outlined in the zoning code in consideration of fire hazards to neighboring properties, and Verticchio agreed to write a proposed ordinance.

Shelly Montgomery complained about numerous bogus police calls to her house, allegedly instigated by her neighbor.

Also in response to Link, Verticchio advised he would write a draft ordinance to require housing inspections on an annual basis for rental properties. Link said he was approached by a landlord who said he would welcome annual inspections to protect his properties. Currently, housing inspections are required only before a new tenant moves in after a former tenant moves out. Annual inspections, the landlord told Link, would have prevented his property from being damaged by a tenant who allowed a water leak go unaddressed for several years, causing structural damage to his property.

Earlier in the meeting, Gillespie landlord Tim Loveless addressed the council over his concerns regarding a recently approved ordinance governing the operation of Airbnbs. Loveless, who operates one Airbnb in the city, said the ordinance is “an affront” to the “freedom to start and run any business without governmental interference.” Loveless said the ordinance unfairly targets Airbnbs by imposing a tax on the proceeds.

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Loveless asserted he would close his operation rather than comply with the new ordinance, adding that having places to stay for short-term visitors is a benefit to the city.

Loveless also briefly addressed concerns about a dumpster at his newly relocated business office.on Spruce Street. He said he uses a backhoe to press down trash in the dumpster and any trash that escapes is picked up immediately.

In a related matter, Ald. Rauzi encouraged aldermen to report substandard housing units in their wards so the properties can be added to a growing list of potential nuisance properties. Rauzi said there are at least 24 houses on the list now, with three or four burned out houses yet to be added.

Additionally, Ald. Rolando said she would write an ordinance citation against the owner of a property on Oak Street who allegedly piled debris from a downed tree on the sidewalk, and allowed junk to accumulate on the property. She said she would ask the Police Department to serve the ticket on the defendant.

REMOTE VOTING AND PARTICIPATION

On the recommendation of Ald. Rauzi, the council authorized Verticchio to draft an ordinance permitting council members to participate and vote during council meetings via telephone or Zoom. Rauzi said municipalities routinely held remote meetings during the COVID crisis but at least one municipality encountered legal issues after allowing a member to vote remotely after the pandemic ended.

Rauzi said several council members travel extensively in connection with their jobs and remote voting will better ensure full participation.

“This will put it on our books so there is no question about whether it’s allowed,” Ald. Pettit commented.

ORDINANCE OFFICER

A proposal to hire a special officer to enforce ordinance violations was put on hold after Ald. Rauzi said the concept will need extensive thought and work. She said she contacted the City of Benld, which has a police protection contract with Gillespie, and was told the neighboring community is interested but wants more details before signing on.

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“How are we going to pay for it?” Rauzi asked. “How many hours are they going to work? I think it is going to require quite a bit of work.”

THUMBS DOWN ON UTV PURCHASE

Council members narrowly defeated a measure to purchase a new Utility Vehicle (UTV). Ald. Bob Fritz said the new equipment is needed and presented eight bids ranging from $10,562 to $20,662. Mayor Hicks, however, said the city could buy a used UTV for $5,500 and that there currently is no place to store the vehicle when not in use. Moreover, he suggested the expenditure would be unwise when the city is facing costs of up to a half-million dollars to build a new city garage and renovate the former Fire Department space for use by the Police Department.

The UTV currently used by the Street Department is under a lease that will end at the end of this month.

When brought to a vote, the council tied with Ald. Frank Barrett, Bill Hayes, Pettit and Fritz voting “yes,” and Ald. Janet Odell-Mueller, Dona Rauzi, Wendy Rolando and Link voting “no.”

Forced to break the tie, Mayor Hicks voted “no,” but urged Fritz to bring the issue back next month when the city might have a better idea about financial resources available for the purchase.

NEIGHBOR COMPLAINT

Verticchio told Shelly Montgomery there was nothing the council could do to help her after the Park Avenue resident complained about numerous bogus police calls to her house, allegedly instigated by her neighbor. Montgomery said she moved into her home last October. Since that time, her neighbor has called police to her home no fewer than eight times. Further, she alleged the neighbor has set up surveillance cameras aimed onto her property and into her home in violation of her property rights.

“Nobody in my block is a criminal,” Montgomery said. “It has to stop. We have to be able to live in our own homes without being harassed.”

Verticchio said the city council has no power to address Montgomery’s complaint, but suggested she could retain a private attorney to pursue a civil lawsuit. In the alternative, he recommended she contact the Police Department to see if the neighbor has criminal liability, in which case her complaint might be referred to the States Attorney for prosecution.

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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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Community News

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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