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Manteno student gains ultimate success in speedy spelling bee
 Mike Frey  / 

By Mike Frey | mfrey@daily-journal.com | 815-937-3343

BRADLEY — Aidan Stueck, of Manteno Middle School, had a simple goal as he competed in the 2020 Iroquois-Kankakee Regional Spelling Bee Tuesday night.

“I was hoping to make it as far as I possibly could,’’ the eighth-grade student said.

As it turns out, Aidan made it further than any of the 18 contestants representing area grade schools as he emerged as the champion of the bee, an always popular event once again held at the Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School auditorium.

Aidan was the only contestant to reach the 10th round, and he spelled “impediment’’ to seal the victory. The win allows him to advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee set for May 26-28 in Washington, D.C. Aidan will venture to Washington courtesy of the Daily Journal and Amita St. Mary’s Hospital, which will cover the costs of the all-expenses-paid trip.

While Aidan claimed the top prize, each competitor also was rewarded.

The top four finishers will receive plaques and cash prizes from the Daily Journal, and all contestants received trophies from the Daily Journal and other assorted prizes from the newspaper and the Iroquois-Kankakee Regional Office of Education.

This year’s bee seemed to be settled in an instant, following a dramatic ninth round. Fourth-place finisher Kaitlin Brown, of St. Anne Elementary School, bowed out in the eighth round, leaving the trio of Aidan, Zion Lee, of Kankakee Junior High School, and 2019 I-Kan Regional Bee champion Quinn Meadows, of Bradley Central School, to vie for the top prize.

Both Quinn and Zion faltered in the next round, leaving Aidan standing all alone. When he spelled the next word correctly, he ended a speedy bee which lasted barely an hour and drew a large round of applause from the crowd.

While the win came rather quickly, the preparation leading up to it was an arduous process. Ashley Nogoda, a Manteno teacher and Aidan’s spelling bee coach, can attest to it.

“Our team met all winter at school at 7 a.m. to practice written and verbal words,’’ Nogoda said. “Aidan was there every time. Even when it was still dark outside, he was there.’’

Aidan’s mother, Melanie Senerchia, said the roots toward spelling success were planted even earlier as he showed an aptitude for the language arts a few years before.

“His fifth grade teacher noticed and encouraged him to try out for the spelling team,’’ she said.

After all the hard work, Aidan had thoughts of joining his family for a steak dinner to celebrate the victory the same night. But his parents, including stepfather John Senerchia, reminded him he had school the next day and would have to delay his celebratory supper to perhaps this weekend. The delay didn’t diminish the smile on his face.

Flood of thoughts on river conservancy tax
 leeprovost63  / 

KANKAKEE — After nearly two hours of comments between supporters and opponents of a proposed expansion of the Kankakee River Conservancy District and an accompanying property tax, one resident took to the microphone.

“The Kankakee River is this county’s greatest resource,” said Kankakee resident Eric Mayo. “We’re talking about $2 per month. This is a no-brainer. I don’t even know why we’re having this discussion.”

While Mayo believes the tax is a very small price to pay to develop solutions to deal with growing flooding issues associated with the river, there were others who felt approving a tax without concrete plans for how it will be spend is simply foolish.

For more than two hours residents voiced support, offered alternatives and posed questions to Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler — who was moderating the town hall meeting — about the citizens-initiated referendum on the March 17 primary ballot.

The referendum, which would tax property owners within the proposed district about $24 per year based on property valued at $100,000, would generate an estimated $450,000 annually.

The tax question is before about 24,000 of the county’s 66,000 registered voters. The tax question will only be open to voters who live within one to two miles of the river’s banks stretching from Momence on the east to the Will County line at Wilmington on the west.

A crowd of approximately 125 filled the Kankakee Boat Club on the banks of the river. Two more town hall meetings will be held on this matter. A meeting is set for 6 p.m. today at the Momence City Hall and a meeting at Aroma Park Boat Club is set for 6 p.m. Thursday.

The tax rate is .07552 per $100 of assessed valuation. The existing taxing district has been in place since the early 1950s, but includes only a small amount of property and generates only about $10,000 annually.

While some suggestions were made as to how the money could be spent to deal with flooding issues, such as a huge vacuum-type instrument, Wheeler said its greatest use would be provide the conservancy district with matching funds needed to gain federal and state grants.

Some wondered if the money would be used for additional river study? Wheeler answered that inquiry with a firm response.

“The time to study is over. The time to work is now,” he said.

Wheeler also noted it would be virtually impossible for the conservancy tax to generate enough money to tackle substantial projects associated with river flooding because of the vast expense.

“Where talking $300 to $400 million to do this kind of work and we don’t even have money for the local match,” he said. “This (tax money) is not about jobs, pensions or getting someone’s buddies work. This is about work” to deal with flooding issues, he said.

Voters in sections of Momence, Aroma Park, Kankakee, Bradley, Bourbonnais and Limestone Township will cast ballots in favor or against the expansion of the district which currently exists for about eight miles from the Indiana-Illinois state line to the Momence city limits.

Some residents expressed frustration the tax was only made aware to them within the the past few months, giving them little opportunity to weigh in on the matter.

Other suggested the vote should have been set for the November general election when more people will likely vote.

“There is not enough transparency,” one resident charged. “It’s a little late in the game (for informational meetings). ... This is not fair to all of us.”

If approved, the tax would go into effect in 2021, Wheeler said.

Some people noted this should be a countywide tax. Wheeler has stated referendum backers did not believe a countywide vote would have given the expansion much chance for success. He said the district could be expanded by vote in future elections.

“This is our best opportunity” to get the referendum passed, Wheeler said of the March 17 vote. “This was calculated.”

Wheeler said if nothing is done, the Kankakee County region will continue to experience damaging floods.

“We will never solve all the problem,” he said. “We have to do a better job at managing the river. We need to keep the water moving at a more regular pace.”

Early Sunday alcohol sales in Kankakee?
 leeprovost63  / 

KANKAKEE — A Kankakee City Council committee, seeking to update its liquor control rules, will consider allowing alcohol sales earlier on Sundays.

The council’s License & Franchise Committee is in the process of updating the rules governing alcohol sales, and 5th Ward Alderman Tyler Tall Sr., D-5, requested the council make alcohol available for sale at 8 a.m. on Sundays, rather than the current 10 a.m.

Tall reasoned that in December, Bradley made its alcohol hours earlier on Sunday and those seeking an alcoholic beverage prior to 10 a.m. on Sunday simply travel to Kankakee’s neighbor.

That situation, he explained, has a negative impact on Kankakee liquor stores and restaurants.

The city allows alcohol sales at 6 a.m. the other six days of the week.

The committee, chaired by Alderman Chris Curtis, R-6, set a public hearing for 5:30 p.m. April 9 for people to voice concerns or offer suggestions regarding liquor control rules. The committee will then meet at 6 p.m. to consider implementing changes and move the document out of committee. The hearing will be in the City Council Chambers at Kankakee City Hall, 385 E. Oak St. in downtown Kankakee.

Much of the current liquor control ordinance has been in place since 1965 and changes have been made at various points. This review marks the first time the law has been looked at in its entirety since its 1965 adoption.

Sunday alcohol sale hours — currently from 10 a.m. Sunday to 2 a.m. Monday — is far from the only sought-after change.

A proposed revision to the ordinance also included an entire section devoted to licensing of video gaming terminals. The committee, however, appeared to be uninterested in stepping into that area.

The majority of the committee noted the state already monitors gaming operators and terminals so this is an area the city likely does not need to venture.

Curtis agreed, saying “Let’s not get into micro-management of video gaming. It’s the state’s job to make sure license holders are following the laws.”

Of the notable proposed changes, the liquor control officer — in Kankakee’s case, the mayor — shall deny or refuse to renew the application for a local liquor license if the applicant has not resided within the city for a minimum of one year prior to the date of filing the application.

For purposes of corporations, partnerships or LLCs, the manager shall have resided within the city for a minimum of one year.

Several new license classifications are also being proposed:

Private Clubs and Organizations for profit (Class I license): Authorizes the retail sale of alcohol for consumption on the premises to members of such clubs or organizations of authorized guests.

Hotels, motels (Class J): Authorizes the retail sale of alcohol in its original package to occupants of the hotel/motel for on-site consumption.

Grocery store on-site consumption (Class K): Authorizes the retail sale of beer and wine for consumption on the premises as an incidental part of a grocery stores. Packaged liquor (intended for off-premises consumption) shall not be opened or consumed on site.

Business, Complementary service (Class L): Authorizes a non-food or liquor goods or services business to allow beer and wine consumption that is brought in by patrons or served by the business as complementary to the purchase of goods and services offered by the business.

BBCHS school board approves farm lease, new bus
 Stephanie Markham  / 

BRADLEY — The Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School Board of Education renewed District 307’s lease with a local farmer to use its 111-acre farmland and approved a bus purchase and other expenses during Monday night’s meeting.

The district purchased the farmland on Larry Power Road between East 3000 North Road and East 4000 North Road in Bourbonnais Township for $3 million in 2005 with intentions of building a new school there, but a subsequent referendum asking residents to fund construction failed.

Bourbonnais farmer Robert Kohl has leased the land since then, with the district renewing his contract on an annual basis.

“The price of farmland right now isn’t very high,” Superintendent Scott Wakeley said. “In order to sell that to try to recoup the money we spent, there’s just not really a market for it right now. Rather than just have it sit, we rent it out to be farmed.”

Under the agreement approved Monday, Kohl will pay rent of $192 per acre of tillable land, totaling $21,312 for the 111 acres.

District 307 Business Manager Christopher Hammond said the recommended price per acre for Kankakee County according to the University of Illinois is $204, and Kohl had been paying the previous rate of $180 per acre.

Considering that Kohl mows the property himself during the entire growing season, Hammond said he believes $192 per acre is a fair price.

The board also approved a contract with Kankakee-based Midwest Transit Equipment to purchase a replacement for a bus that the school uses to transport students with special needs to schools that offer the programs they need in Chicago. The bus costs $61,239.

“It doesn’t make sense to lease that bus out because of the amount of mileage we put on it every day,” Hammond said. “It’s been four years since we last replaced that, and it has over 200,000 miles, so it’s due.”

Also in the contract is an agreement to lease four regular-use buses and two activity buses for about $100,000 per year over a period of two years.

Other expenses approved Monday night include about $73,000 for replacement door keys and handles for the school and $125,580 to lease Chromebooks with warranties for about 500 incoming freshmen who will be issued the computers for four years.