Holiday Sparkle, an annual Christmas season tradition until the Coal Country Chamber of Commerce dissolved about five years ago, is returning to downtown Gillespie this year through the efforts of several local business owners. During the regular monthly meeting of the Gillespie City Council Monday night, city aldermen agreed to waive the rental and cleaning fees for the Gillespie Civic Center to host Holiday Sparkle activities, and gave permission for the group to use the gazebo at Pomatto Memorial Park adjacent to City Hall, use city streets for a 5K Holiday Sparkle run, and hold a lighted parade on Macoupin Street.
Local citizens Tammy Beecher and Jennifer Parker told council members idea to revive the Holiday Sparkle resulted from a recent conversation with business owners. Because of the brief window of time for planning, the women said the past couple of weeks has been a whirlwind of activity as ideas and plans for the event came together.
“Well, this is your first year,” Mayor John Hicks commented. “This will give you something to build on next year.”
The reimagined Holiday Sparkle is set for Saturday, Dec. 17. Despite the truncated planning time, event organizers have put together a full day of activities, beginning with the arrival of Santa Claus that morning. Santa and Mrs. Claus will greet children and hear Christmas wishes at the Pomatto Park gazebo. Children also will receive a small treat from Santa to take home.
Beechler arrangements have been made to purchase Christmas tree ornaments for BenGil Elementary students to decorate, which will then adorn a community Christmas tree on the corner of Pine and Macoupin Streets in the empty lot next to United Community Bank. A lighting ceremony is being planned for Sunday, November 27 at 6 p.m. Crafts for children to complete will be available at the Civic Center on the day of the event.
“We’ve had a lot of people volunteer to help,” Beechler said. The Masonic Lodge, for example, has agreed to donate hams for a giveaway. Costumed characters will be roaming the downtown business districts and children will be given punch cards to punch when they have their picture taken with the characters. Completed punch cards will be entered in a drawing for prizes at the end of the day.
Organizers also plan to sponsor a Christmas lighting contest for local homeowners. Addresses for homes in the running will be published so residents can vote for their favorites.
The Holiday Sparkle 5K run is set to start on Chestnut Street near the former Canna Theatre, proceed south on Montgomery Street to the bike trail and back. At the nearby Giving Garden, a firepit will be available for visitors to make s’mores.
Other features planned or confirmed for the event include a story hour at the Gillespie Library, a petting zoo, craft and food vendors, face painting, an indoor movie, and a train operating through downtown. Downtown businesses plan to decorate their stores for Christmas along with the planters along Macoupin Street. Donation boxes will be available to collect food for underprivileged families. Food vendors, including kettle corn, will be located downtown as well.
The Holiday Sparkle was an annual event under the sponsorship of the Coal Country Chamber of Commerce until that organization dissolved about five years ago. Beechler said Grow Gillespie is sponsoring the event this year in order to buy insurance coverage for the day.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Ald. Dona Rauzi, whose motion to allow the group to use the Civic Center free of charge was unanimously approved. The council also approved Rauzi’s motion to allow the organizers to use city streets for the 5K run and to donate $500 to help subsidize the event.
ARPA SPENDING PLAN
After a brief presentation by City Treasurer Dan Fisher, the council unanimously approved a proposed spending plan for $410,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds received by the city. The spending plan is subject to approval by the federal government.
Fisher said the funds are intended to be used for permanent infrastructure that municipalities probably would not be able to undertake without the funding. The tentative spending plan includes money to upgrade an existing lift station for the city sewer system and build a new one to service an area of vacant lots near the water treatment plant where the city hopes to encourage developers to build new homes. The plan also includes $100,000 for ADA-compliant playground equipment and other improvements at Big Brick Park and $25,000 for improvements at Welfare Park. The plan also allocates $25,000 for campground improvements at Gillespie Lake.
“There’s supposed to be an economic development component to some of what we do,” Fisher said, noting that some communities are setting aside money for grant programs to help civic organizations undertake projects resulting in permanent capital improvements.
Ald. Rauzi asked if some of the money could be used to help pay for remodeling costs associated with moving the Police Department to space being vacated by the Fire Department at the Civic Center.
“It’s difficult to use this money for an existing building,” Fisher said. “It can be done, though.”
The spending plan presumably will be subject to review by individual committees, which could suggest further refinements. Once finalized, the city is obligated to conduct a public hearing on the spending plan before submitting it to federal authorities.
Fisher said getting information about the ARPA program has been difficult because the federal administration for ARPA is understaffed. Administration of the program has largely been relegated to individual states. Fisher said he has been working primarily with a liaison to the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity in the Governor’s office.
Though unrelated to the ARPA program, the council also unanimously approved Ald. Wendy Rolando’s to file a pre-application with the U.S. Department of Agriculture with an eye toward obtaining funds through the Rural Development program to replace the raw water intake at Gillespie Lake. The intake reportedly was temporarily upgraded several years ago to raise the intake above the level of sedimentation on the lake bottom. A permanent upgrade apparently would ensure the intake is high enough to prevent sediment from entering the water treatment plant.
CREDIT CARD FEE
After several minutes of discussion and debate, the council voted 7-1 to impose a three percent fee credit card and debit card purchases. The fee will not only impact water customers, but also persons who buy rock or pay for other goods and services with a credit card or debit card.
Fisher said the city is incurring considerable expense for fees paid to credit card companies for using their services, and that some customers, especially at the lake, are using cards to make unacceptably small purchases.
“Standard practice would be to set a minimum purchase,” Fisher said.
Ald. Landon Pettit said the lake concession already has a minimum purchase policy for $5
“Even $5 is pretty low,” said Fisher, adding that he had seen credit card purchases as small as $1.25 at the lake.
“I that we were going to put an ATM out there,” Pettit said, adding that an ATM would alleviate the city from paying credit card fees at the lake.
Fisher argued that city needs to recoup its cost and that charging a fee for using a credit card is not unusual.
“Last month we had $200 in credit card fees on water bills,” Fisher said. “That’s not an insignificant amount. My recommendation would be to have a minimum purchase amount and a credit card fee.”
A motion to impose a three percent surcharge on credit card purchase was approved 7-1 with Pettit voting no.
“I think we’re looking at a whole lot of headaches and complaining over something I would call the cost of doing business,” Pettit said.
AMBULANCE DISPATCH CONTRACT
On a motion by Ald. Rauzi, the council voted unanimously to direct City Attorney Rick Verticchio to contact the Gillespie-Benld Area Ambulance Service to advise the organization the city will increase it’s fee for providing dispatching services to $1,500 per month as of Jan. 1.
Rauzi said the city previously reached an agreement with the ambulance service to provide dispatching services for $1,000 per month on the condition the service found another dispatching service. The former contract was extended to August after ambulance officials assured the city the ambulance service would contract with Staunton Community Hospital to provide dispatching services for $750 per month. To date, however, the ambulance service has not ended its relationship with the Gillespie Police Department.
On a motion by Ald. Rauzi, the council voted to declare the long-vacant building at 300 South Macoupin Street a nuisance property, authorizing Verticchio to contact the owner to abate the nuisance. Rauzi said the neighboring business shares a common wall with the derelict building and fears his property could be impacted by further deterioration of the two-story brick structure next door.
The council also took action to declare the former Dollar General Store location at 109 S. Macoupin Street a nuisance property.
Verticchio said the court is ready to give permission for the city to raze or clean-up five residential properties previously declared public nuisances. He asked council members to give him the names of neighboring property owners who might be interested in acquiring the condemned properties, in which case arrangements might be made for the interested parties to initiate the abatement at no cost to the city.
Council members approved the installation of four-way stop signs at the intersection of Osie and Green Streets but deferred approval of stop signs in the 500 block of Plum Street, pending the recommendation of the Police Chief.
A group of mothers who live on Plum appeared before the council to say they feared for the safety of their families on Plum Street due primarily to traffic congestion before and after school hours at Community Unit School District 7. One said she had seen school buses using Plum Street in violation of an agreement between the city and the school district.
Residents George Schardan and Terrell Ford appeared before the council to complain about conditions on South Street and an ordinance citation, respectively.
Schardan said contractors used an inferior grade of rock chips for a motor fuel tax maintenance project on South Street, resulting in excessive amounts of dust in the neighborhood. Additionally, the roadway “rippled” after traffic resumed on the street.
Fisher told Schardan that Street Department workers have been focused on other projects and have not been able to tend to the South Street situation.
“The ripple usually isn’t solid,” Fisher told Schardan. “The usual procedure is to sweep up rock” to over the ripples.
“We’ll talk to our street guys,” Ald. Rolando said. “They aren’t here tonight so it won’t be rectified tonight.”
Schardan continued to press his complaint, saying he was prepared to take further steps if the situation was not resolved.
“We’ll talk to the Street Department and see if it can be fixed,” Verticchio commented. “If they can’t fix it, I’m sure we’ll see you back here in December.”
The council took no action on Ford’s request to dismiss an ordinance citation and refund a fine he already paid. Ford said he was cited for the illegal discharge of a firearm on the basis of a complaint from his neighbor. He said he paid the fine because he was told fighting the citation in court would cost him more than the fine.
Ford alleged the citation was invalid because neither alderman from his ward had signed it. Further, he alleged another neighbor was willing to sign a statement saying the complaining witnesses complaint was untrue. Under questioning by the mayor, Ford said he had used a pellet gun to shoot a squirrels on his property.
Ford said squirrels had caused considerable property damage, including chewing through the fuel lines on his vehicle. He presented a nuisance animal permit he had obtained from the Department of Natural Resources.
Mayor Hicks read the permit and reported the permit was for live trapping only. When Ford argued his pellet gun was not technically a firearm, both Hicks and Verticchio said the ordinance defined it as a firearm because it fires projectiles that could pose a hazard to neighbors.
“I don’t know what you expect us to do,” Verticchio said. “You say you want to appeal, but nothing was filed with the court. There’s nothing for you to appeal. You pled guilty.”
Ford said he paid the fine but did not plead guilty.
“That’s what pleading guilty is,” Verticchio said.
Hicks advised Ford to confine his squirrel control efforts to trapping only in the future. “Go to Rural King, get a couple of traps and trap them,” Hicks said.
DAMAGE COMPLAINT FORM
Verticchio presented a form for city residents can use to file claims for damage done to their property during a recently completed water infrastructure project. Several residents have complained that workers for Haier Plumbing and Heating caused damage to their property which has not been resolved. The city’s contract with Haier required the company to restore residential properties disturbed during the project to the original condition.
Verticchio said the city is making no guarantee that property owners’ complaints will be resolved. The form simply gives the city a standard format for submitting multiple claims to Haier’s insurance company for reimbursement to residents for damage allegedly caused by the company. Verticchio said paying the claims will be in the hands of the insurance company.
Residential claims for damage are due to the city by Dec. 31. Forms are available at City Hall.
In other action, the council:
- Hired Christian Abner as a full-time police officer on the recommendation of Police Chief Jared DePoppe. Abner had been on the part-time roster and recently completed full-time Police Academy training. The council previously approved sending two other candidates for Academy training with an eye toward hiring them as full-time officers when they complete training.
- On the recommendation of Mayor Hicks, approved installing a water meter at a water line terminal on the Lake Road before the line crosses an agricultural field to service a rural residence. Hicks said the meter will allow the city to monitor for possible leaks in the line crossing the field.
- Authorized payment of $251,701.45 to Korte & Luitjohan Contractors for work completed on an extensive renovation at the city water treatment plant. Fisher noted the city is holding about $12,000 due on the contract pending acceptance of the project.
- Approved a reimbursement to the city from Tax Increment Finance funds in the amount of about $19,000 for payments previously made to Shade Solutions, Ind., Patrick Riley Farm & Industrial Painting, and Young’s Roofing for work completed at the Civic Center.
- Agreed to contract with Clean Uniforms to provide clean entry rugs every two weeks at four entrances to the Civic Center at a cost of $620 per month.
- Authorized a final payment of $812.04 from the TIF fund to Shade Solutions, Inc.
- Authorized payment of $258 from TIF funds to Moran Economic Development.
- Authorized payment of $690 from TIF funds to Young’s Roofing.
- Authorized a payment of $19,981 from TIF funds to United Community Bank, part of a multi-year agreement for the city to acquire property from UCB.