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Gillespie Council eyes fiber optic for ESDA internet connection

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Alderman Landon Pettit discusses the fiber optic connection

Members of the Gillespie Council discussed the possibility of using Madison Communications fiber optic system to provide internet services for the city’s Emergency Services and Disaster Administration apparatus during the council’s regular monthly meeting Monday night. Ultimately, however, the council tabled any action on the plan until next month, citing a need for more information, including the city’s cost to participate.

Ald. Bob Fritz said the plan was discussed during a recent committee meeting with representatives of the Community Unit 7 Fire Protection District, now headquartered in East Gillespie. Fritz said the Fire District would be connected to the fiber optic cable service, and the Fire District’s headquarters would become the back-up hub for emergency services administration in the event of a natural or man-made disaster. The ESDA umbrella basically includes all first-responders, such as police, fire protection and ambulance services.

Fritz said the Fire District would be on a double loop, meaning internet services would continue even if the line was severed on one side or the other.  The city, police and fire protection district currently has internet service from Royell Communications, which runs from a tower and overland cable. That system, Fritz and Ald. Landon Pettit noted, is vulnerable to weather events, earthquakes or other disasters.

“The internet the city uses is vulnerable,” Pettit said. “The double loop means the only way to cut services would be to cut the fiber optic cable on both sides,” Pettit said. “If we had an event that caused something like that, we wouldn’t be worried about the internet.”

Pettit said the Gillespie Police Chief expressed interest in using the system as a back-up for police communications. In the event the police station were destroyed isolated as a result of a disaster, the Fire Protection District would become the back-up communications hub. To further enhance communication between the Fire Protection District and local police, Fritz said, the police department is hoping to acquire new radios compatible with those used by firefighters.

Fritz said the estimated cost to the city would be about $165.

“I think it’s worth looking into if we can find out the cost,” Ald. Wendy Rolando commented. City Attorney Rick Verticchio said the council could table the issue until next month or approve a motion authorizing participation and capping the cost at no more than $175 per month.

City Treasurer Dan Fisher suggested the council take its time in considering the proposal.

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“What we run into on these things is we end up doing things piece-meal,” Fisher said. “This is something that was talked about in committee, and when the council finds out about it, you’re talking about paying for internet coming into a building outside the City of Gillespie.”

Council members informally agreed to table the issue with the expectation the Public Safety Committee will return next month with more detailed information, including the total cost to the city.

In a related matter, Mayor John Hicks directed the Public Safety Committee to have an emergency siren at City Hall repaired, and to finalize a proposal to revamp the city-wide siren system. 

“We’ve had a lot of storms,” Ald. Dave Link said. “I think we need to have someone go out and check them. It’s time to get this fixed.”

Ald. Fritz said a siren located at City Hall is the only one in the system that’s not functioning. He said he was working with vendors to get pricing for updating and replacing the system. The committee’s goal, Fritz said, is to install an integrated system of sirens that can be heard citywide in the event of an emergency. His contacts, however, are becoming frustrated because of the city’s failure to move forward.

“When you call a guy 15 or 16 times and nothing happens, they get to where they don’t take your calls,” Ald. Pettit commented.

“Get somebody else, then,” Hicks directed.

While the final resolution was unclear, Fritz apparently will continue trying to put together pricing and a proposal for replacing sirens citywide. In the meantime, the city will repair the silenced siren at City Hall. Reportedly, the central siren needs to have three-phase electrical service run to it to replace the current two-phase wiring.

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LIMITS APPROVED ON NUMBER OF GAMBLING ESTABLISHMENT LIQUOR LICENSES

On the mayor’s recommendation, the council narrowly approved an ordinance limiting the number of liquor licenses for establishments offering gambling to nine—the current number of gambling facilities currently in Gillespie. Last month, the council voted to lift the restriction on the number of liquor licenses available for taverns, restaurants or package liquor stores—giving the mayor authority to issue such licenses at his discretion.

State regulations require businesses offering gambling machines to also serve liquor, or at least beer and wine, for patrons. When the council lifted the restriction on the number of liquor licenses available, Hicks voiced concerns about businesses that are strictly gambling establishments depleting the number of liquor licenses the city approves.

“I think we have plenty of gambling places,” Hicks said. “They’ll sell you a beer to drink while you’re gambling away your money, sell you smokes or sell you synthetic (CDB products). I don’t want any more of them in the city.”

The measure to limit the number of licenses available for gambling establishments passed 5-3 with Ald. Fritz, Pettit and Janet Odell-Mueller voting “no.” Link, who has gambling devices on premises at his downtown business, voted “present.”

LAKE LOT ISSUES

On the recommendation of the City Attorney, the council voted to draft an ordinance authorizing the city to void lease agreements when the leasee fails to pay. The proposed ordinance, which will be finalized next month, requires lease-holders to pay the annual lease by May 1. Those who fail to pay by the deadline will receive a letter demanding payment, plus a $100 late fee, within 30 days. Non-payment after 30 days will result in the city voiding the lease.

The council, however, tabled action on a second proposal to amend the lake lot lease ordinance by clarifying the terms “resident” and “non-resident.” Ald. Frank Barrett said some lease holders are confused because “resident” can mean someone who lives in the City of Gillespie or someone who lives full-time at the lake, depending upon where the term appears in the ordinance.

“We had people from town saying they were being called ‘non-residents’ when they’ve lived in Gillespie all their lives,” Verticchio said. Persons who are citizens of the city are eligible to a discount when leasing lake lots, but the ordinance identifies them as “non-residents” because they don’t live at the lake full-time. Verticchio is expected to amend the ordinance to eliminate the confusion.

After further discussion, the council debated what was meant by “resident” when the ordinance refers to persons who live in the city. Some aldermen questioned whether the term “resident” applies to persons living within the city limits are those who live in the 62033 zip code.

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“I think you guys need to kick this around and come back with an itemized list of what you want in the ordinance,” City Treasurer Fisher advised.

In related matters, the council took under advisement a request from two lake lot lease holders who were previously banned from the lake. Tim Swan and Matt Hancock both asked the city to lift the ban so they can return to the lake.

Hancock said he was banned following a verbal altercation with Lake Supervisor Gary Thornhill last summer.

“I take full responsibility,” Hancock said. “I made a bad decision that night.”

“The thing we have to tell you is that the council places great trust and responsibility in Gary (Thornhill),” Verticchio told Hancock. “When Gary tells us something, we rely on him. He’s probably the person you need to apologize to.”

Hancock apologized to Thornhill, who attended the meeting, saying, “It was nobody’s fault but my own.”

Likewise, Swan apologized to Thornhill and the council for an incident that resulted in him being banned from the lake. Swan’s grandmother reportedly left the lot to Swan, but the lease had not been transferred when Thornhill caught several of Swan’s friends having a raucous party on the lot. 

“I sincerely apologize to the City of Gillespie and, in particular to the Lake Supervisor, who unfortunately had to come out at night,” Swan said. “You’re a respectful man and I hate to disappoint you. It’s a shame for me.”

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Verticchio said Swan’s situation is further complicated by the fact the lease has not been paid for the past three years. Additionally, it’s been discovered that more than $1,000 in real estate taxes are delinquent and the county is preparing to auction the parcel for back taxes.

Verticchio advised Swan to consult an attorney to redeem the taxes. Additionally, he said Swan should tender a check to the city for the delinquent lease payments before the council can consider lifting the ban.

Later in the meeting, the council approved Ald. Pettit’s motion to refer Hancock’s request to the Lake Committee with the power to act.

EXCESSIVE WATER BILL

The council approved Pettit’s motion to waive $548.50 in sewer charges incurred by Elizabeth Shafer for a residence located in the 400 block of West Henrietta Street. Shafer said the house is empty since her sister died last year and Shafer lives out of town. In February, according to Shafer, she received a water bill for $1,091.89, which she paid.

“I wasn’t aware at that time that that was just the tip of the iceberg,” Shafer said, noting that she later received a bill for more than $1,900.

Ald. Pettit said Assistant City Clerk Krystal Norville noticed the excessive usage on Feb. 20 as she was preparing bills for mailing. She attempted to call the responsible party without realizing the number on file belonged to Shafer’s late sister. Norville then mailed a letter to Shafer on Feb. 23 to advise her of the problem. Shafer received the letter on Feb. 27 at which time she called the city and asked that the water be turned off. In the meantime, however, another billing cycle had occurred and Shafer received a bill for an additional 223,800 gallons of usage.

“Krystal did what she was supposed to do, and this lady did what she was supposed to do,” Pettit said.

Mayor Hicks said the city could not legally negotiate to reduce the bill, but it could waive the sewer charge since that water from the leak did not go through the sewer system. 

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UTV PURCHASE

Mayor John Hicks cast a deciding vote after the council tied on whether or not to purchase a utility vehicle from Gillespie resident Charlie Conley for $5,500. Ald. Bob Fritz told the council the city has spent about $3,000 to lease the vehicle for several months for the Street Department’s use. He said Conlee is willing to sell the unit at this point for $5,500. Buying a new UTV, Fritz, said would cost the city $10,000 to $20,000.

Hicks voted to approve the purchase after the council deadlocked on the issue. Ald. Fritz, Ald. Frank Barrett, Ald. Landon Pettit and Ald. Bill Hayes all voted to approve the expenditure, while Ald. Dona Rauzi, Ald. Wendy Rolando, Ald. Dave Link and Ald. Janet Odell-Mueller voted “no.”

BICYCLE ORDINANCE

Council members voted unanimously to draft an ordinance banning the operation of bicycles, scooters and skateboards on portions of Macoupin Street included in the business district after Ald. Dona Rauzi pointed out that no such ordinance currently exists. Rauzi said the city has street signs saying such vehicles cannot be operated on the sidewalk during business hours, but there is no ordinance to back up the signage.

“Krystal (Norville) checked, I checked and the police chief checked, and we couldn’t find anything,” Rauzi said. “We have signs but we have no ordinance.”

The City Attorney is expected to prepare a draft ordinance for action during the next regular meeting of the council. The proposed ordinance will ban skateboards, bicycles and scooters on Macoupin Street sidewalks at all times, and establish a fine of $25 to $75 for ordinance violations.

HOUSING INSPECTION ORDINANCE

The council voted 7-1 to approve an ordinance requiring annual housing inspections for all rental housing in the city. Previously, inspections were required when a tenant moved out and a second tenant moved in. The council previously decided to standardize the inspection schedule after passing an ordinance dealing with short-term rentals, otherwise known as Airbnbs.

Three other ordinances were tabled, and either referred back to committee or to Verticchio for further revisions.

The council referred a proposed ordinance dealing with temporary use and parking of mobile homes and modular homes. Council members discussed the issue last month, concluding there should be restrictions to ensure residents do not park RVs or camping units on the street or boulevard, and away from sidewalks. The amendments were also supposed to include exclusions for residents to use a camper or RV as a temporary shelter in the event of a fire or other damage to their home.

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“I don’t think we should act on this tonight” Ald. Rolando said. “There’s a lot of things in here that we haven’t discussed.”

The council also tabled action on a proposed ordinance dealing with locating dumpsters for construction debris or clean-up projects. The proposed ordinance also restricts the amount of time such dumpsters can be left in place. Aldermen said the proposed ordinance needed to be corrected in order for it to apply only to dumpsters in excess of three yards in size. 

Council members tabled a proposed ordinance regarding setback requirements for permanent structures on residential properties. The proposed ordinance would have set the setback at 15 feet on all sides of the lot.

“If you have a standard 50-by-100-foot lot, that only leaves 20 feet,” Ald. Rauzi noted. “You couldn’t build a 24-foot garage.”

Rolando said a 15-foot setback might be appropriate at the front of the lot but five feet should be enough for the sides and back.

In a somewhat related matter, the council voted 7-1 with Ald. Link voting “no,” to dismiss a lawsuit against Tim Loveless, who owns rental properties in the city. Loveless had appeared before the council to say he would not comply with the city’s new ordinance regulating short-term rental units. Mayor Hicks said Loveless has since paid the inspection fee and had his short-term rental unit inspected.

ABSENTEE VOTING

Council members voted unanimously to approve a resolution allowing aldermen to electronically participate in meetings and cast votes without being physically present. The resolution makes permanent a provision that was temporarily allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

NUISANCE PROPERTIES

On a motion by Ald. Link, seconded by Ald. Rauzi, the council voted unanimously to declare property at 301 East Spruce Street a public nuisance and serve a 30-day notice to abate the nuisance.

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Council members also voted unanimously to declare 704 East Walnut Street a public nuisance due to excessive police calls at the residence.

OTHER ACTION

In other action, the council:

  • Agreed to enter into a 60-month lease for a new copier/scanner/fax machine for the Gillespie Police Department at a cost of $71 per month. 
  • Agreed to purchase a pallet jack for use at the Water Treatment Plant at a cost of $399 from Harbor Freight.
  • Agreed to enter into a contract to provide air fresheners for restrooms at the Street Department, Water Department, Police Department and Gillespie Lake.
  • Agreed to spend $600 for a new gate for the bicycle trail from Hawkeye Steel.

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Community News

Black Diamond Days is a ‘no-go’ for 2024

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Black Diamond Days parade (archived photo/TheBenGilPost.com)

There will be no Black Diamond Days street festival in Gillespie this summer, according event organizers.

The Black Diamond Days Committee had planned to return the festival to Downtown Gillespie this year after several years of trying to revive the festival at the Old Gillespie Lake. Committee Chair Landon Pettit said the committee was able to get permission from the Illinois Department of Transportation to temporarily close a portion of Illinois Route 4 to accommodate the event, but that permission came too late for the committee to contract with a carnival to provide rides and games.

The city council voted last fall to petition IDOT for permission to close the street but Pettit said IDOT did not approve the request until March. At that point, the committee was unable to find a suitable carnival for the event.

Rather than operate the festival without a carnival, the committee opted to cancel the 2024 event. For 2025, Pettit said, the committee hopes to contract with a “good show” to provide rides and games for festival-goers. Other aspects of the festival will likely be similar to what residents remember from when the event was held downtown, including a beer tent, nightly bands and locally-sponsored food vendors in the area near City Hall.

Black Diamond Days began as an annual summertime street festival more than 40 years ago. It was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A group of volunteers attempted to revive the festival in 2021 by moving it to the lake. Pettit said the committee had been told that once the festival left Macoupin Street, it could never return because IDOT would not grandfather to city’s petition to close the street for the event.

Last year, the committee learned the city actually could seek a temporary closure for Route 4 and started making plans to return the festival to the business district, where it had been for nearly four decades. Because of the amount of time the state took to approve the closure, Pettit said the committee was unable to contract with a carnival.

The festival was located at the lake for 2021, 2022 and last year. A last-minute cancellation forced the festival to open without a carnival for 2023. Organizers brought in inflatable “bounce houses” to entertain younger festival-goers as an alternative to traditional carnival rides, and festival attendance flagged.

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High School Sports

Two more wins on the season for Gillespie softball

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The Gillespie High School softball team earned a victory over the Greenville Comets on Monday, May 6, with a final score of 7-1.

Emma Gipson earned another win in the circle. Gipson worked for seven innings, allowing one run on zero hits and striking out five. Emma Wilfong took the loss for Greenville. Wilfong worked through four innings, surrendering six runs on seven hits.

Sadie Sholtis was dominant at the plate, going 3 for 4 with 2 RBIs. Ava Parish went 1 for 4 with 2 RBIs. Lauren Bertagnolli went 1 for 3, picking up 1 RBI and 1 run plated.

The bottom half of the lineup came in clutch for Gillespie. Macie Wright and Lauren Schuckenbrock went 1 for 3 at the plate with 2 runs plated. Wrigley Releford went 1 for 2 with 1 RBI and 2 runs scored and collected a walk. Gipson put a 1 in the hit column with a double. Bertagnolli swiped a stolen base against Greenville’s defense. Gillespie had a stellar night on defense, with zero errors committed.

The Gillespie softball team earned a 9-0 win over Hillsboro on Thursday, May 9.

Gipson had a strong showing on the mound and earned the win. The starting pitcher gave up four hits and no runs and struck out nine Hillsboro batters. Camp took the loss for Hillsboro, giving up six runs on seven hits.

Gipson carried the team offensively, going 3 for 4 at the plate with 1 RBI from a homer to right field. Schuckenbrock went 2 for 4 at the plate with 2 runs plated. Addi Cox and Releford each collected 2 hits and 1 RBI in their winning efforts. Sholtis and Bertagnolli picked up a hit and 2 RBIs in the game. Delaney Taylor added a hit and a run to the mix.

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