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Gillespie voters will consider supporting retirement plans for city workers

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Gillespie voters will vote on whether or not to pay a higher tax rate to fund a retirement plan for city employees but the referendum will be next April instead of this November, and the question will be whether or not to fund a retirement plan for all city employees covered by collective bargaining agreements instead of police officers only.

City aldermen discussed the issue at length during a special meeting Tuesday night and voted to pay for a survey to determine what the tax burden would be to enroll city employees in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) pension system. 

Last week, Gillespie Police Officer Justin Klopmeier appeared before the council to ask the city to approve a November referendum that would facilitate participation in a state retirement plan available to police officers only. To meet the Aug. 23 deadline to be included on the November ballot, council members at that time set a special meeting for Tuesday night to further consider the question.

In the meantime, Police Chief Jared DePoppe said, additional research indicated the question could be on either the November general election ballot or the April ballot for the consolidated election. He said police officers originally were under the impression that they would have to wait until 2024 for the next opportunity to submit a referendum to voters.

“The fear was that if we didn’t do something now, it would be two years,” he said. DePoppe also said police officers also had investigated the IMRF system. With similar retirement benefits, IMRF would have the added advantage of being available to all city employees covered by collective bargaining contracts.

“IMRF ultimately would be more expensive because it would be for more people,” DePoppe said. “But if we can offer retirement for the whole city, why not do it?” Scheduling the election in the spring also would give city employees and police a few months longer to make their case to potential voters.

Responding to a question from Ald. Wendy Rolando, DePoppe said Gillespie police officers are in favor of IMRF as an alternative to a pension plan limited to police officers.

Fire Chief Larry Orville, who attended the meeting for another matter, commented that his experience with approving tax referendums for the fire district and ambulance service suggests voters will support a referendum if they know what it’s for.

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“Nobody wants to pay additional taxes” but voters will support referenda when they understand the reason for it and believe it benefits them and the community. “One thing I’d emphasize is that you can’t keep police officers and employees without offering a pension.”

Ald. Landon Pettit, Public Works Chair, said Laborers union members in the Maintenance Department are onboard with joining the IMRF system.

“People deserve to retire with dignity,” he said. “They need to know they can provide for themselves and their families. I believe everybody who punches a clock and works their shifts deserve a pension.”

Ald. Rolando moved to authorize the IMRF survey with a second by Ald. Dona Rauzi. The survey will ascertain the amount of tax money the city would need to raise in order to offer retirement benefits to city employees. Once determined, that amount will determine the language of the referendum.

Earlier in the meeting, Norville appeared before the council to report on the status of relocating the Fire Department to garage buildings on the northeast side of the city that were once used to house buses for the now defunct Cavallo bus company. Norville said the Fire Department expects to totally vacate its former headquarters by the end of the year. Fire Department offices and equipment were formerly housed in an area comprising the northwest corner of the Civic Center, and the city council is investigating plans to utilize that vacated space for the Gillespie Police Department.

In other action, the council voted to pay an 80 percent downpayment on an awning to be installed on the front of the Civic Center in order to get a 10 percent discount on the awning total price, agreed to pay bills for electrical work submitted by Bauer Electric, and approved a payment resolution totaling about $26,000 to Korte-Luitjohan Contractors, Curry and Associates Engineers, Sunbelt Rentals and Wells Fargo Vendor Financial for improvements to the city’s water treatment plant.

Council members accepted a bid of $1,250 from A’more Catering, Benld to cater a seniors Christmas dinner set for Dec. 4. The bid covers meals for 200 people. Other bids were received from FEMAs Catering and Sundae Best Catering, both based in Benld. Ald. Rolando said she had talked with Municipal Band to arrange for about 30 minutes of entertainment for the event. A long-time Gillespie tradition, the senior Christmas dinner was canceled for the last two years because of COVID concerns.

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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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