Jerseyville residents arrested for suspected arson in Greene County

A pair of Jerseyville residents spent time behind bars last week after their alleged involvement in a suspected case of arson in Greene County.

According to Greene County Sheriff Rob McMillen, the Carrollton Fire Protection District was dispatched to a residential fire at the corner of Walnut Street and County Road 550N at around 4:15 a.m. on November 28th.

The Greene County Sheriff’s Department also responded after a report that there were no active utilities on at the residence.

At around 3:45 p.m. on the day of the fire, the Greene County Sheriff’s Department and State Fire Marshal investor arrested 20 year old Emily Engelsdorfer. Law enforcement apprehended 19-year-old Brett Russell about an hour later.

Both were charged with one count of arson. Engelsdorfer and Russell have since posted bond and have been released, pending a court appearance in Greene County Court.

The residence, owned by Bank of America, was a total loss.

Preparing your car for the winter weather

With the first snow of the year in the books, West Central Illinois drivers should start preparing their cars for the winter season.

David Zink of Zink’s Auto Clinic in Jacksonville shares some tips he’s gathered in his decade of experience working with cars.

“Check your battery and make sure antifreeze is good, clean and strong enough to protect from freezing. Tire pressure is a big thing to watch as the temperature gets colder, because they will lose pressure sometimes. It is a good idea to have everything checked over before cold weather gets here. If it has been a while since an oil change, then do that. Make sure all the fluid levels are topped off. These are things you should do anyway,” says Zink.

Zink says letting your car warm up during freezing temperatures is a good idea.

“Especially if it is really cold or the car has to sit outside. It is good to let it run for a few minutes to get things moving and flowing before you take off,” says Zink.

Other automobile tips include checking your thermostat, heater and defroster. Be sure your front and back lights are working properly before hitting the road.

The winter weather lead to Illinois State Police responding to 17 accidents yesterday in the District 9 area.

Shop with a Biker returns to Jacksonville in December

A Jacksonville bar is collecting donations for its annual shop with a biker holiday tradition.

Club 217 co-owner Tracy Wood says the bar’s charitable mission of providing Christmas presents to needy boys and girls in Jacksonville started five years ago.

According to Wood, the effort has picked up assistance from the community that more than 120 have taken home presents over the last two years.

“We basically have people send in letters, letting us know why they are down and out. We review those letters and end up putting a lot of smiles on the faces,” says Wood.

Wood says emotions will be running high for everyone involved with the event.

“We give each kid $100 and they meet up with the bikers. The biker takes them to the store and lets them shop up to their percentage. They can pick out whatever they want. It is wonderful. A lot of people leave in tears,” says Wood.

The event starts at 1 p.m. on December 17th at Shopko.

In past years, the bikers have met with Santa at the Jacksonville Fire Department on their way to the store.

As an extra incentive to donate, businesses that pitch in over $250 will have their name put on a t-shirt. Contact Club 217 for further information.

Music lovers flocking to Smashtag’s unique pop-rock shows

A modern pop-rock cover band out of Jacksonville has been tearing up shows around Central Illinois in 2016.

The band Smashtag consists of five local musicians, Randy Anderson, Matt Rigor, Samuel Smith, Jesse Shelton and Dane Vincent, who came together about a year ago to offer a unique performance of underrated music hits.

“We have older stuff, but we are sticking to bands in the 2000s. We have The Killers, Matchbox 20, Coldplay Fall Out Boy, and other stuff people may not have heard of. We want to make sure we are doing songs that not everybody in Springfield is doing,” says Anderson.

Anderson tells WLDS-WEAI News the band has been performing around three times a month at bars and music halls in Jacksonville, Naples and Springfield since their inaugural show.

“It seemed like when we were starting we would get show dates where other bands would cancel. It seemed like other bigger bands were playing those nights, so the crowds were kind of slow. Things picked up a bit as we gained momentum. It is getting to the point we are seeing a lot of familiar faces at shows. That means a lot when people are willing to drive,” says Anderson.

Anderson says Smashtag is always looking to add new material and songs to the set-list, but the goal of each show is to give the audience a great night.

The band’s next show is at The Curve in Springfield on Thursday.

You can order some official Smashtag apparel on the band’s Facebook page.

Jax Superintendent reviews agenda for school boundary meetings

Jacksonville School District 117’s superintendent gave a detailed explanation on what’s in store for the elementary school boundary meetings starting next week.

Questions have been raised about creating a neighborhood school boundary for the former Franklin Elementary School neighborhood and other district boundaries for students in District 117.

Since 2012, students who were once in the Franklin boundary region have been given the option of choosing what elementary school they would like to attend.

Ptacek says the plan has always been to redefine the boundaries, so students in the Franklin boundary had their own “home school.”

“Once the sales tax referendum passed and the middle school is going to have the sixth graders moving to the middle school, we make the decision to kind of coincide this re-boundary process with the sixth graders moving from the elementary schools into the middle school. That’s going to be happening in 2018, so I definitely want to get out far ahead of this and work with the community to develop a plan of what to do to create boundaries,” says Ptacek.

Ptacek says the district will consider an entire redistrict boundary process.

“That would be a major event that would have an impact on multiple different people throughout the community. It would cost substantial time and potentially even money with getting consultants involved to make sure we did that right. If at the end of these presentations, the feedback we’re getting from the community is ‘no, just re-do the entire district, go through that lengthy boundary process,’ that will be the recommendation to the Board. So this really  is going to be community-driven. As it currently is, I’m going to be providing three different scenarios and being open to other people looking at the map to come up with other ideas. Nothing’s fixed at this time,” Ptacek explains.

The study is being driven by basic geographic data.

The presentations start Tuesday at Lincoln Elementary, Washington Elementary on December 7th, North Elementary on December 12th, Eisenhower Elementary on December 13th and South Elementary on December 14th. All the meetings begin at 6;30 p.m.

To hear more from Ptacek, click on the link below.

Jacksonville deletes city cannabis ordinance

Say goodbye to the cannabis ordinance Jacksonville aldermen put in place roughly three years ago.

Earlier this month, Police Chief Tony Grootens, Jacksonville Mayor Andy Ezard and Morgan County State’s Attorney Gray Noll held a meeting to discuss the future of cannabis enforcement in the city.

During last night’s meeting, aldermen approved the request from Grootens, Ezard and Noll to delete the local ordinance and allow cannabis cases go to the state court.

Grootens tells WLDS-WEAI News it doesn’t benefit Jacksonville to have an ordinance and a law, especially when the State of Illinois decriminalized possession of small amounts of the drug.  He says the city was just being “redundant”.

“Before it was always illegal for possession of small amounts in Illinois. We amended ours to make it just an ordinance violation. Where it benefited the city before was for first time offenders, by not giving them a criminal record. The new state law does that same thing. It has to be expunged from the state system within six month. It is doing the same thing. The amounts are a little more, it is ten grams compared to what we had at 2.5, but that is the state law and the law of the land we have to live by.”

Grootens says Jacksonville officers haven’t had any problems policing the cannabis, but if an incident pops up, most often it involves possession of a small amount.

“You are always going to have that, but we haven’t seen an influx in possession of it. We haven’t seen an influx in the use of it. The only way you can categorize that is through emergency room calls, stumbling along it at a car wreck or a disturbance call. We aren’t seeing an increase in arrests.”

To hear more from the chief, click below.

Jacksonville aldermen approve liquor licenses, debate tax levy

Discussion on the 2016 City Tax Levy took up a bulk of Monday night’s Jacksonville Council meeting.

Based on numbers from the Morgan County Assessor’s Office, Jacksonville’s Equalized Assessed Valuation has been fairly stagnant since 2012.

Adam Withee with Zumbahlen, Eyth, Surratt, Foote & Flynn was at the meeting and says last night’s initial discussion broke down what increases and decreases would come into play for city property owners.

Withee says changing the tax levy percentage impacts each homeowner differently.

Withee says the State of Illinois allows for a five percent increase without doing a truth in taxation meeting, and that’s the number Aldermen Don Cook requested Jacksonville go with heading into the council meeting.

When it came time for discussion, motions were made to change the tax levy to one and three percent, but both failed to receive enough support from fellow aldermen.

Steve Warmowski and Jeff Hopkins were the only aldermen to vote against the first reading of the five percent tax levy increase. Approval of one more reading is required before the property tax increase is put in place.

In other action, alderman passed the first readings for a pair of liquor licenses in Jacksonville. The ordinances would allow Shopko to sell beer and wine and the Jacksonville Speedway to add 20 additional dates in the grandstand area for events involving alcohol. Any event taking place during the week at the Speedway must conclude at 11 p.m.

Eight additional acres of land is being added to the Diamond Grove Cemetery. Aldermen approved the purchase last night. The land was acquired with cemetery board funds. During the workshop session City Attorney Dan Beard mentioned the cemetery “very much needed the extra land.”

Kickstarter campaign raising cash for musically-talented family

A musically talented family with Jacksonville roots has aspirations of bringing their concert experience to the living rooms of their fans.

Last week, the Ferraro family provided a live concert for several local service organizations. Anna Ferraro spoke with Gary Scott on WLDS’ “AM-Conversation” this morning about her family band and the role music has played in their lives.

“When we were very young… probably just five or six of us kids at the time…my parents decided music was something our family was going to pursue. Our grandparents gave us our first lessons on the violin and trumpet. We continued through the years.  It wasn’t really optional for us and we stuck with it. It has grown into something we all love and something we can do together,” says Ferraro.

The Ferraro family recently created a Kickstarter campaign, in hopes of raising $3,500 before December 15th for the production of a professional film of their concerts.

“We’ve been asked for this for years, from our aunts and uncles, to our neighbors and their neighbors. We get dozens and dozens of invitations to perform and places, but we can’t be everywhere during the Christmas season. We want to make this film so it can go where our performances can’t,” says Ferraro.

The Ferraro’s split up to perform duets and trios, but their favorite shows involve all nine family members.

“Our emphasis is classic style, because that is how we were trained. During the Christmas season we focus on traditional and sacred Christmas music. We throw in a little Celtic and folk to keep it lively,” says Ferraro.

To pre-order a DVD of the concert performance, click here. A hard-copy of the DVD is $25, or you can send $15 for an online version or live performance of $400.

Jax City Council Preview

The City of Jacksonville’s cannabis ordinance takes center stage at tonight’s council meeting.

Aldermen will meet in the workshop session at 6 p.m. to review what should be done with the city ordinance.

As for the financial side of the meeting, aldermen will touch on the 2016 tax levy and revenue from the Links Golf Course.

Aldermen will also review the purchase of land for the Jacksonville cemeteries.

Aldermen will continue their discussion on the possibility of amending the water emergency ordinance and liquor ordinance for several businesses.

A change order for the PetSafe Bark Park finds its way back onto the agenda after being removed two weeks ago.

The Council will meet in executive session to discuss operations of the utility department and pending litigation.

The action takes place at the Jacksonville Municipal Building.

Tips to keep your Christmas Tree looking festive

We’re just days removed from Thanksgiving, but West Central Illinoisans already have their minds on the next big holiday.

With Santa set on coming to town in less than 30 days, many people are making plans to purchase their Christmas trees.

Duane Friend with the University of Illinois Extension Office says it isn’t too soon to pick up that Christmas tree, as long as you plan on managing it properly.

“As long as the outside needles are green, that’s a good indicator that there is still moisture in that tree. If it has been sitting out for several hours you need to make a second cut at the trunk of the tree to open up the pathways for water to come in,” says Friend.

Make sure the tree gets plenty of water the first few days in the stand and check on it every couple of days.

If you purchase a tree this week but plan on waiting a few days to put it up in your house, Friend has the following advice.

“If it is going to be in a cool location you can probably get by without a fresh cut. If it is going to be a couple weeks before you put it up, then I would wait till getting home to make the fresh cut, then put it in water.That would be the best way to make sure it has lots of moisture,” says Friend.

According to Friend’s research, adding special chemicals to the water does “more harm than good.”