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Holiday Market set for this Saturday

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It’s the 7th Annual Holiday Market sponsored by Education Station Preschool. Education Station Preschool is  Gillespie’s only private, Christian-based preschool.

The Holiday Market is held every year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving at the Gillespie Civic Center.  This year it falls on Saturday, November 19th.  It’s open from 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.

This year, Education Station is proudly featuring over 40 vendors from all over the state.  The vendors this year are selling a wide variety of items including wood crafts, personalized items, candles, jewelry, purses, Gillespie High School screen printed shirts and sweatshirts, woodwind CDs, a variety of upcycled and recycled items and so much more!

Dee-Dee’s Designs, the local flowershop and gift store in downtown Gillespie, will have a booth at Holiday Market but the booth will direct the customers to their store. At the store, there will much more holiday decor and candles featuring a variety of scents. Along with decor and candles, fresh flowers are always available along with silk flowers and silk flower arrangements. On top of everything, Dee-Dee is offering a 20% discount on the entire store!

The Holdiay Market is also selling tickets for a cash raffle again this year.  This is a big highlight of the market. Cash prizes are handed out to the top three winners.  Last year’s top winner won $300.  You do not have to be present to win.  People wanting to buy cash raffle tickets can contact Becky Hatlee at 839-2578 any time this week or tickets can be purchased at the door.

Cost to get in to the market is just $1.00.  Free admission for children age 10 and under.

Lunch items are also sold during the market and the preschool will be selling baked goods.

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Benld Council approves ordinance to require demolition permits

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Benld resident Frank Meredith appeared before the council to ask if anything could be done about parking in front of his home and littering.

Benld’s City Council on Monday night voted unanimously to adopt a new ordinance requiring the owners of properties within the city limits to obtain a $250 demolition permit before starting demolition or dismantling of structures.

In addition to the permit fee, permit holders will be required to post a $1,000 bond, which will be refunded upon proper completion of the demolition project, removal of debris and proper clean-up with no claims of property damage or injuries against the city. The city also may retain the bond if the project is not completed within a specified period of time. Permit holders will be required to submit photographs to document installation of proper fencing, and a city official must sign off on debris removal before final cover is installed.

The new ordinance appears to have been prompted in part by issues surrounding the demolition of a one-story brick structure directly across the street from city hall at 208 East Central Avenue, which remains a target of a public nuisance action. Attorney Jono Verticchio, who attended the meeting in the absence of City Attorney Rick Verticchio, said the property owners have been given 30 days to completely clean up the site.

“If it’s not done in 30 days we will get a court order to clean it up ourselves and put a lien on the property,” Verticchio said. That action could lead to the city taking possession of the property at some later date.

Ald. Jerry Saracco noted the building’s foundation is sound and wondered if it could be salvaged. Verticchio advised that if the city takes possession of the parcel, it could opt to leave the foundation in place.

Last month, the council directed the City Attorney to draft the demolition permit ordinance after noting issues with work being done at that time across the street. Aldermen complained that workers were doing demolition work after dark and had provided no fencing or barrier to protect passers-by. A partially demolished wall had collapsed during heavy wind, prompting the city to send in work crews to knock down the remaining structure as a safety precaution.

Following a 15-minute executive session with Verticchio to discuss pending legal actions regarding nuisance properties, the council voted to declare 703 North Main Street, 206 West Hickory Street, and 106 North Fourth Street as public nuisances. The action authorizes the city to give property owners 30 days to abate the nuisance, after which the city could pursue legal action if the properties are not properly cleaned up.

Verticchio reported a hearing has been set for a nuisance action against 615 South Eighth Street, and asked for updated photos and witnesses to present to the court. Aldermen reported the property owner has made progress toward cleaning up the property but is unlikely to complete the clean-up before the hearing.

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A public nuisance action against property at 407 North Fourth Street is progressing, although Verticchio said a Macoupin County Circuit Judge ordered the city to restore water service to the residence, ruling the water issue was unrelated to the nuisance complaint.

HOUSING INSPECTION AMENDMENT

Also on Monday night, the council voted to amend the city’s housing inspection ordinance to give the city authority to shutoff water service to rental properties whose owners fail to comply with housing inspection requirements. The ordinance also is amended to increase the cost of inspections from $ 75 to $100.

The ordinance basically requires landlords to have their premises inspected whenever a previous tenant moves out and before a new tenant moves in. The inspection, conducted by the city housing inspector, is designed to insure the properties meeting building codes and are safe for human habitation.

Doug Ratterman of HMG Engineers appeared before the council to report results of a street maitenance bid opening held last week.

Failure to comply can result in a $150 fine for a first offense, and a $300 fine for a second offense. For a third or subsequent offense, the fine increases to $500 to $1,000. In addition to the fines, the amended ordinance authorizes the city to shut off water service to the residence upon giving the landlord and tenant five days notice.

MOTOR FUEL TAX BID

On a motion by Ald. John Balzraine, seconded by Ald. Mickey Robinson, the council voted unanimously to accept of bid from Illiana Construction Co., Urbana, to supply bituminous materials for street maintenance. Illiana was the lower of two bidders, and agreed to supply 12,035 gallons of material at a cost of $3.17 per gallon for a total cost of $39,150.95 to be paid with motor fuel tax funds.

Doug Ratterman of HMG Engineers appeared before the council to report results of a bid opening held last week.

NEW MOWER

On a motion by Ald. Balzraine, the council voted unanimously to purchase a new X-Mark mower at a cost of $10,900 from Sievers Equipment, Carlinville. Mayor Jim Kelly said the new mower was the least expensive option available to the city.

The new mower will replace a piece of equipment the city has used for the past 22 years.

RENTAL AGREEMENT ADDENDUM

Council members voted unanimously to add an addendum to an agreement to rent city facilities to penalize renters who inappropriately fail to buy dram shop insurance for their event. The addendum is a response to renters who have apparently had alcohol at their event without buying dram shop insurance through the city. Under the new provision, event organizers who fail to buy dram shop insurance when such insurance is needed will lose their deposit.

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The addendum applies to renters to engage facilities such as the city park or civic center.

SURPLUS PROPERTIES

On a motion by Ald. Mickey Robinson, seconded by Ald. Dustin Fletcher, the council declared a 2010 Ford Crown Victoria, a six-inch water pump and a brush trimmer as surplus property and agreed to advertise the items for sale via sealed bids.

HEAD START TRAFFIC ISSUES

Ald. Norm Emmons reported he is continuing to seek solutions to traffic hazards at the Head Start School on Central Avenue. Emmons said the highway in front of the school is heavily traveled during times when parents are bringing young children to the facility in the morning and picking them up in the afternoon.,

Emmons thanked the Police Department for increasing police presence during critical times but he said more needs to be done. “We need to do something,” he said.

Ross Adden, a County Board member from Mount Olive who attended the meeting as an observer, recommended the city contact the County Clerk’s office about the availability of grant money for signage such as signs with flashing lights to alert motorists.

Adden also asked about details of the city’s ordinance governing the use of UTVs in the city limits, particularly the cost of permits. City Clerk Terri Koyne told him the city charges $100 per year for a permit and requires UTVs to be street legal.

Adden said the County Board is considering a county-wide ordinance and he wanted to collect information from individual municipalities.

“I told them (the board), ‘Let’s see what everyone else is doing first’,” he said.

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RESIDENT COMPLAINT

Benld resident Frank Meredith appeared before the council to ask if anything could be done about parking in front of his home and littering apparently associated with his home’s proximity to a bar. Meredith said he and his wife bought a home located diagonally across the highway from the Cabin bar and restaurant.

Meredith said patrons of the bar park along the road in front of his house and he has to deal with a large volume of litter, including a discarded Axe body deodorant can. He said he was concerned that someone might spray his dog in the face with the substance.

Mayor Kelly said the city probably could not address the parking issue since business patrons are allowed to park along the street, even though there is a vacant property nearby. “It’s the society we live in unfortunately,” Kelly said regarding the litter. “People have no pride and we can’t legislate that.”

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Local author publishes new book

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“Nothing Ever Happens Here and Other Stories.” an anthology of short stories by Dave Ambrose, Carlinville, is now available for purchase on Amazon.com.

The 388-page book contains 28 short fiction stories in the vein of the old Twilight Zone television series.

“These stories are neither science fiction nor horror, though they drawn on elements of both genres,” Ambrose said. “The stories go several steps further with memorable characters, suspense, flashes of humor and even religious allegory. Part nightmare and part fantasy, the stories focus on ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances.”

Ambrose said he will announce book signing events in Macoupin and neighboring counties in the near future.

“I’m really looking forward to hearing readers’ reactions as the book gets into more people’s hands.”

The book currently is available on Amazon.com.

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Gillespie Council attempts to mediate between feuding lake residents

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Two families feuding at Gillespie Lake appeared before the council Monday. Julie Gerecke (right) and William Jolene Mermis (left) have an agreement to not talk to one another and leave each other alone.

Gillespie City Council’s Lake Committee will conduct a hearing in an attempt to mediate between two feuding families who hold lot leases at Gillespie Lake after both couples appeared during the council’s regular monthly meeting Monday night.

Before either party addressed the council, Lake Committee Chair Ald. Frank Barrett told the council, “This is about two families who don’t get along at the lake.” Over the past two years, Barrett said, he, other Lake Committee members and Lake Manager Gary Thornhill have attempted unsuccessfully to resolve the dispute. “Neither one of them has really done anything wrong,” Ald. Landon Pettit, a former Lake Committee member, said. “They just don’t get along. They really don’t need to be next to each other.” Neither party, both of whom lease double lots, has any interest in moving to another location.

Julie Gerecke, who holds a lake lot lease with her husband, Tony, said her family and the neighboring family, William and Jolene Mermis, have an agreement to not talk to one another and leave each other alone. Despite that agreement, however, Gerecke alleged the Mermises have called the city to complain about the Gereckes on 60 different occasions. Gerecke claimed the complaints ranged from the Gerecke’s mowing their grass to their children saying “hello” to the neighbors. The complaints, she said, were all unfounded except one when she forgot a bag of trash. Before she could retrieve the bag, however, the neighbors photographed it and reported it to the city.

Gerecke further complained that Jolene Mermis sometimes drives past their cabin and “growls” at her children.

“We don’t go back and forth and we don’t converse,” Gerecke said. “We had an agreement not to talk and for us to be left alone. We’re tired of it and finally brought it to you. We’re trying to enjoy our time with our kids.”

Bill Mermis told the council that none of Gerecke’s allegations were true.

“The stories being told here are wildly inaccurate,” Jolene Mermis concurred. She claimed a friend of Julie Greece verbally belittled her younger son while she and her son were floating on the lake in front of their cabin.

Both couples alluded to an incident last weekend when the Mermises hosted an ice hockey event on the lake at their cabin. Their adult sons are professional hockey players and reportedly participated in the event. “We thought it would be fun to host an event for the community,” Jolene Mermis said.

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Neither couple was able to describe what actually happened as the council turned the discussion to resolving issues between the two families.

“This is a court matter,” City Attorney Rick Verticchio advised. “There’s nothing this body can do other than possibly take a vote to not renew either of your leases. Short of that, there’s nothing we can do here. The court will issue a no-contact injunction, and if either of you violates the injunction, you will go to jail. That generally is enough to stop the problem.”

Mayor John Hicks suggested a hearing before the Lake Committee.

“I think the Lake Committee should have a hearing,” Verticchio agreed. “But they may decide these people can’t get along and we don’t want that at the lake, and revoke both of your leases.”

Ald. Barrett told the couples who would notify them when a hearing is scheduled. The committee includes Barrett, Ald. Bill Hayes and Ald. Dave Link. Verticchio said he also will attend the hearing.

The council also referred to the Lake Committee to rule on whether or not to rescind a ban issued two decades ago. Former resident Casey Smith, who now lives in Tennessee near Gatlinburg, said he recently inherited his grandmother’s mobile home at the lake and needs to have access to the property to remove her personal property and either sell or renovate the mobile home.

Smith said his grandmother, Rita Smith, took him in soon after his father drowned at the lake in 1993 while the father and son were fishing together. When he was 17, he said, the city banned him from the lake due to repeated behavior issues.

“I put her through hell and I regret that, but she never gave up on me,” Smith said. Now 37, he pledged to the council that he is “not the 17-year-old” he was 20 years ago. He said he is married and raising children of his own.

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Rita Smith died Oct. 29 as a result of injuries sustained in a motor vehicle crash. She left her mobile home to her grandson.

“I want to pay the lease for at least one year, and by next year, I’ll decide whether to sell it or keep it for a vacation spot,” Smith said, noting that he lives eight hours away.

In a related matter, the council voted unanimously to give the Lake Committee authority to decide whether to seek a “soft” background check or a more detailed state police background check for applicants seeking to lease lake lots. Ald. Barrett said the more extensive state police check can take weeks to complete, while the “soft” checks can be done in-house.

Ald. Pettit noted said Gillespie is the only lake around that does a background check on lessees.

“We’re the only lake around that does a background check,” Ald. Pettit noted. He recommended adding a clause to the lease agreement to inform renters they may be subject to a background check, and that their lease will be revoked if it is discovered they misrepresented their background.

In other action, the council approved an ordinance to eliminate limits on the number of liquor licenses the city can issue, approved an ordinance establishing the fee for lake residents to tap onto a new water line at the lake, and authorized the Chief of Police to send two candidates to the police academy for full-time officers, with an eye toward filling two existing vacancies on the police force.

LIQUOR LICENSES

After brief discussion, the council voted unanimously to amend the city’s ordinance regarding liquor licenses to eliminate limitations on the number of licenses issued. The amendment enables the city to issue as many licenses as it deems appropriate on a case-by-case basis.

Earlier in the meeting, the council approved issuing the city’s last liquor license to Gotcha Latte. Ald. Dona Rauzi said the owner doesn’t plan to add a bar to his business but wanted the ability to offer his customers Irish coffees.  Without amending the existing ordinance later in the meeting, the city would have no more liquor licenses available for issuance.

Ald. Link, who holds a liquor license for his downtown business, voted “present” on the issue.

WATER TAP FEES

On a motion by Ald. Pettit, seconded by Ald. Barrett, the council voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance to establish tap-on fees for a new water line under construction at Gillespie Lake. Under terms of the ordinance lake residents can pay a tap-on fee of $600 prior to May 31, 2025. After May 31, 2025, the fee will increase to $2,000—the same as the tap-on fee for residents within the city limits.

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The provisions are designed to encourage lake residents to commit to tapping onto the line while it is under construction to eliminate unnecessary excavation.

The council also voted unanimously to approve an ordinance formalizing an action it took last month to increase water rates. The ordinance calls for the addition of a $1 surcharge, increasing by $1 for the next six months and culminating in a total $12 surcharge on the base, minimum water bill. The ordinance also contains provisions to increase the bulk rate charge to satellite communities, which satellites presumably will pass on to their customers.

WATER BILL ISSUES

Ald. Dona Rauzi reported the city has experienced problems with the timely delivery of water bills in the mail. The problem appears to be with the St. Louis Post Office through which mail from Gillespie is routed before coming back for delivery.

“If you don’t receive a water bill by the first of the month, please contact the city,” she advised water customers.

POLICE HIRES

Following a 20-minute executive session to discuss personnel issues, council members unanimously approved Police Chief Jared DePoppe’s request to send two candidates to the police academy for full-time officers, with an eye toward filling existing vacancies on the police force. The identities of the candidates were not disclosed. Typically, full-time officers are recruited from the pool of part-time officers.

The council also informally authorized DePoppe to solicit bids for equipping all local officers with body cameras. DePoppe said state law requires all municipal police officers to have body cameras as of Jan. 1, 2025. He said there are at least two grant programs available to subsidize the cost of the new cameras, but both programs are “reimbursement” grants that will require the city to purchase the cameras upfront with local funds.

According to DePoppe, tentative cost estimates range from $10,000 to $15,000 for the cameras. His plan is to apply for grant funding early this year to avoid a possible glut of applications in October, November and December as other municipalities race to comply with the law by Jan. 1.

AIRBNBs & NUISANCE PROPERTY ISSUES

On the recommendation of the City Attorney and Ald. Rauzi, the council adopted an ordinance identical to one approved by the Benld City Council to govern operation of short-term residential rentals, commonly known as Airbnbs.

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Rauzi said her goal was to ensure such units are inspected by the housing inspector at least once a year. “The Airbnbs need to be inspected at least once a year, just like regular rental properties,” she said.

“What works for Benld should work for us, plus it will make it easier for our police officers to enforce,” Ald. Pettit commented. Verticchio also serves as Benld City Attorney and drafted the ordinance adopted in Benld. Gillespie Police patrol the City of Benld under a contractual agreement between the cities.

Provisions of the new ordinance include:

  • A mandatory $100 annual license for each person operating one or more Air B&Bs.
  • An initial housing inspection at a cost of $75, plus an annual $50 inspection thereafter for each property offered for short-term rental.
  • Units must be rented a minimum of two nights with a maximum of 14 nights to be considered short-term rentals.
  • A hospitality tax of four percent or $25 per night, whichever is less.
  • A minimum of $500,000 in liability insurance with the city named as secondary insured.

Council members voted unanimously to execute a special municipal deed conveying a city-owned residential property at 608 Adams Street to Nick Harrison for $3,750. The residence was acquired by the city via court order after the council declared it a public nuisance. Verticchio said the city agreed to sell it to Harrison on the condition that he renovate the derelict house to abate the nuisance. The $3,750 represents what the city had spent on the property for legal expenses.

The council also voted unanimously to accept a bid of $2,000 from Felix and Cynthia Bertolino to purchase city-owned property at 503 West Chestnut Street.

A burned-out house at 806 Rotary Street was declared a public nuisance by a unanimous vote. The owner reportedly is currently incarcerated in Macoupin County Jail. Verticchio said he plans to talk to the owner about the possibility of him simply donating the property to the city to avoid the legal costs associated with condemnation proceedings.

REVISED MFT RESOLUTION

On a motion by Ald. Bob Fritz, the council unanimously an approved a revised Motor Fuel Tax resolution presented by City Treasurer Dan Fisher. Fisher initially presented a resolution last month but the council declined to approve it after Fritz and other aldermen pointed out what appeared to be errors in calculating the minimum amount of money needed for the city’s annual street maintenance program. Among other issues, Fritz alleged the engineering firm who prepared the resolution underestimated the cost of petroleum-based materials.

The revised resolution increases the appropriation request from $525,000 to $600,000. The resolution now goes to the Illinois Department of Transportation for final approval.

SEWER REPAIR REIMBURSEMENT

The council voted to reimburse Brad and Jamie Bunn $400 they spent to resolve a sewer issue that ultimately turned out to have been caused by a blockage in the main sewer line. The issue was referred to the committee last month after Brad Bunn appeared before the council. At that time Bunn reported he hired Ranger Excavating to dig up his sewer line after the sewer backed up into his basement. It was later determined the main line was clogged, requiring city workers to jet the line three times to dislodge the blockage.

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City Treasurer Fisher said last month that the city’s policy in the past has been not to reimburse homeowners in such situations.

“This wasn’t our fault,” Bunn told the council Monday night. “As soon as the main line was unclogged, our line cleared out.”

Fisher told the Bunns that the sewer line serving their home is likely to be replaced sometime in the future. He said the city is planning to apply for grant money to undertake a major project to replace sewer lines throughout the city, but he admitted that project is probably four to six years in the future. Fisher again noted city policy prohibits paying for back-ups.

“We probably need to review that policy so we can deal with situations like this on a case-by-case basis,” Fisher said. “I think we ought to reimburse them, but we need to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s. We need to have documentation so we can be consistent in the future.”

Ald. Pettit moved to reimburse the Bunns and refer the existing policy to committee for review. That motion passed with Ald. Wendy Ottersburg voting “present.”

OTHER ACTION

In other action, the council:

  • Approved an intergovernmental agreement between the city and Community Unit School District 7 allowing the school district to capture a percentage of the proceeds from a newly established Tax Increment Financing district. Under the agreement, the school district will get one percent of the first $25,000, plus 20 percent of proceeds in excess of that amount.
  • Voted to approve an amendment to an agreement with Macoupin County, the cities of Bunker Hill, Staunton, Carlinville and Gillespie, and the Village of Royal Lakes, which facilitates an expansion of an existing Enterprise Zone in the City of Staunton.
  • Discussed proposed construction of a new 7,200-square-foot city garage. Mayor Hicks said he is awaiting plans to establish bidding specifications for the project. The new building will have six overhead garage doors facing the street, along with a truck-washing bay. Fisher said the city may be able to use surplus COVID relief funds to pay for the building.
  • Set the date and time for the city’s annual Easter Egg Hunt for 10 a.m., Saturday, March 23, at Big Brick Park.
  • Agreed to purchase an ad in the Gillespie High School yearbook.

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