Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District starts a new fiscal year Thursday with some uncertainty. The MTD Board approved a $36 million budget for F-Y 2011 on Wednesday-- with nearly two thirds of that funding coming from the state. But managing director Bill Volk says they don't know if Governor Quinn will reduce that state funding as part of budget cuts he's announcing Thursday morning.
"Well, we've heard nothing to the contrary (to full funding) at this point", said Volk, prior to Wednesday's CUMTD Board meeting. "But our full appropriation is in both the (Illinois) House and Senate versions, and the approved budget. So we'll just have to wait and see what the governor has to say."
Volk says the CU-MTD has put contingency plans in place, in case their state funding is cut. He says, for example, if state funding to the agency is cut by 10%, or $2 million, the reduction would come out of their Capital Expenditures budget, and NOT out of Operations.
At the same time, the CU Mass Transit District has yet to receive the $4 million the state had allocated to them for the 4th quarter of the fiscal year that ended Wednesday. Volk says the transit agency will use reserve funds and a line of credit to get by until that money arrives.
Meanwhile, the local revenue that makes up the rest of the CU-MTD's budget is taking a hit. Volk says the soft economy has resulted in lower property tax revenues. And he says the CU-MTD may have to seek an increase in the property tax levy.
"We would expect in our levy this year to maybe propose a 4% increase," says Volk. "But that would be the maximum, and it actually will probably end up lower than that."
Volk says the CU-MTD will likely annex additional territory in 2012. Areas that could be annexed include new sections of the Stone Creek subdivision in southeast Urbana, and the Apollo industrial subdivision on the north end of Champaign. But Volk says property tax revenue from newly annexed areas would not be available to the transit district until 2012.
The CU-MTD also lost an estimated $150,000 in the fiscal year just ended, due to its popular $60 annual passes. Volk says the passes have sold well since the price was lowered by nearly 75%. At the same time, he says CU-MTD ridership is up roughly 2%, at a time when public transit use is declining nationwide.
The past six months have seen Vermilion County's Health Department reduced to providing just a handful of services.
The transition to a minimum federally-certified facility means the department now offers only immunizations, emergency planning, environmental health, and the Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC program. Wednesday was the last day for the retiring Administrator Steve Laker, who's seen his staff reduced from 74 to 30 since the start of the year due to dwindling state funds. The department is still owed $600,000, and still has to pay back Vermilion County for a $300,000 loan. It also started furlough days a month ago, operating Monday thru Thursday. Laker says walk-in clinics for sexually transmitted disease, and family planning programs will be missed the most. "That's going to have a devestating effect on people," said Laker. "As far as real economic effects and perhaps social and financial effects down the road, due to unwanted pregancies. I can't send out a memo saying 'folks, it's a good idea to cease your sexual activities because you no longer have access to family planning services. I know it's not going to work."
Laker says Aunt Martha's Health Center in Danville is expected to pick up about half of what his department provided for family planning. But the federally-funded facility's director of health operations, Alice Sartore, says no one should be turned away, despite the limits of federal grant dollars. "Because just as any other grant-funded services, we know that our grant never covers the cost of the services." said Sartore. "But our adminstration here at Aunt Martha's is really in tune with the needs of all of the communities in which we operate community health centers." Aunt Martha's is based in suburban Chicago, and operates 18 locations throughout the state. Laker says he's been frustrated that he can't find a phone number for the Danville office. Sartore says the facility offers a toll-free number for all its clients, and those appointments with new ones in Vermilion County will start up in about two weeks. That phone number is 1-877-692-8686.
Meanwhile, Vermilion County's Health Department has hired a new administrator to replace Laker. Shirley Hicks has been with the department since 1985.
An airline's decision to leave the Champaign area's Willard Airport leaves only one airline serving the facility.
It also leaves Willard's manager wondering why Delta Air Lines plans to end its three daily flights to and from Detroit August 31. Steve Wanzek says he was shocked at Delta's phone call Wednesday afternoon mentioning the decision.
"It's been three weeks since they replaced the Saab turboprops with regional jets and added an extra flight," Wanzek said, hours after the call. "I thought we were headed in the right direction, and the feedback we were getting from the Delta desk people downstairs was that they were excited because passenger count had gone up."
Northwest Airlink flights between Willard and Detroit were rebadged with the Delta Express name last year as the two airlines merged. Mesaba Airlines operated the planes. The exit will leave only American Eagle at Willard, but Wanzek says American is a much more stable presence because Willard hosts a maintenance hub for their regional jets.
A surprise windfall from the United Way of Champaign County won't keep the local Boy Scouts organization from ending the fiscal year in the red.
The executive of the Prairielands Council says they've raised about $170,000, but its 2010 goal was $225,000. Tim Manard says donations from families involved in Scouting are especially worrisome.
"We ask our families to be part of that campaign since they're getting the direct benefit of scouting," Manard said. "And we saw that they're having to make some tough choices at home, and that's having an impact on what we're able to do."
This week the United Way announced a surplus in its own fundraising campaign. Manard says that will mean an extra five thousand dollar donation to the Boy Scouts to fund more scholarships for Scouts wanting to attend summer camp. He says even with staff and program cuts over the past two years, the organization has made summer camp a priority for its 5,000 Scouts in 9 Illinois and Indiana counties.
The state has come through with some last-minute funds for the University of Illinois as the fiscal year draws to a close.
That includes a payment of about $30 million reported Tuesday by Chief Financial Officer Walter Knorr. U of I Interim President Stanley Ikenberry says that brings the state's backlog of payments to about $295-million, when it was more than $430 million back on December 31st. Ikenberry says while Illinois still needs to address its financial crisis as soon as possible - the U of I is getting more orderly state payments, and that's a surprise. But he says university staff has done everything it can to receive those funds.
"Our finance people have been unrelenting in their telephone calls to the comptroller's office to seek the payment of the bills," said Ikenberry. "..and to remind them that we're out here living from hand to mouth, and that we need the payment of those receivables." Ikenberry will step down from the role of interim president this week, turning over the office to new President Michael Hogan. The 75-year old has served as interim president since January, and was U of I President from 1979 to 1995.
The oil spill along the Gulf of Mexico is spreading. It's already crept to the coastlines of Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, and Alabama, and it's continuing to move forward. A group of young kids in Savoy met last week to talk about the spill as part of a week-long Green Camp. They took part in a simulation of the oil spill, and shared their ideas about containing the spill. Then John Warren Kindt, a professor of business and legal policy at the University of Illinois, talks about the future of offshore drilling. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports.
A change at the top doesn't mean University of Illinois Interim President Stanley Ikenberry is retiring just yet. He served in the office the last six months, and was U of I President from 1979 to 1995. The 75-year old Ikenberry will now see to it that a working group follows through with a series of consolidations and other cost-cutting moves. He'll report on the team's progress to new President Michael Hogan, who starts his job Thursday.
Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert talked with Ikenberry about that role, and other challenges he foresees in the months ahead:
State agencies and organizations are waiting for details on next year's Illinois state budget, which Governor Pat Quinn is expected to sign on Wednesday or Thursday. A group representing people with disabilities is bracing for the possibility its programs will take a hit.
The Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities is worried the governor will slash funding for home and community care programs.
Tyler McHaley says he's enrolled in the home services program. He fears cutbacks will mean he...as well as other people with developmental disabilities ... will get less help.
"The cuts will mean fewer hours in terms of having meals prepared for us, to go outside the home, for laundry....all the things that everyone takes for granted are being cut for us,", says McHaley.
McHaley says it could also mean providers may lose their jobs.
Nellie Logan is a home care assistant for the elderly in Springfield. She says she stops by elderly and disabled people's homes to help out with laundry and dishes.
"They're not going to be able to stay and be able to function as they need to be, as they want to be," says Logan. "And if these people have to go into nursing homes, it's going to cost the state a hell of a lot more than paying me to come help these people."
Logan says she doesn't think she'll lose her job because of job cuts ... but says lawmakers need to understand ... that people...many of whom can't live on their own ...are at the mercy of state government.
A spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Human Services, which oversees the programs, didn't want to comment on any possible cuts and says the agency is waiting to hear from the Governor.
Governor Quinn plans to discuss his budget plans during a 10:30 AM Chicago news conference on Thursday. Quinn has said he'll try to protect education, public safety and human services as much as possible. But he says because the General Assembly failed to approve new revenues, he has no choice but to cut the budget.
The University of Illinois plans to use nearly $1 million in federal stimulus money on a center to train people to improve the energy efficiency of low-income residents' homes.
The university says it received a more than $959,000 grant for the Illinois Home Weatherization Assistance Program. It will be run by the university's Building Research Council. The council already offers classes on weatherizing homes.
Council instructor Paul Francisco says the money will help train workers to improve home energy efficiency.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kirk says he's sorry for being careless and making mistakes about his accomplishments.
Kirk addressed supporters Tuesday in his first news conference since reports that he had embellished his military record, including claiming a prestigious award he didn't win.
The Illinois congressman says he isn't perfect. But he pledged he'll do better and that it won't happen again.
Meanwhile Kirk's Democratic opponent's campaign calls the Republican candidate's apology "hollow.''
A spokesman for Alexi Giannoulias criticized Kirk, saying the congressman wasn't careless as he claims. Spokesman Matt McGrath says Kirk "lied.'' McGrath contends there are too many inconsistencies for Kirk to claim he was careless.
Kirk also acknowledged twice being scolded by the Pentagon for improperly mingling politics with his military duties.
It's something his campaign had flatly denied just two weeks ago.
When a blogger disclosed a Defense Department memo referring to Kirk being "counseled'' for political activity while on duty, the Kirk campaign said the memo was "off the mark'' and that he had never violated Pentagon policies. His campaign called the document "a baseless political ploy.''
Kirk acknowledged today that he was counseled in late 2008 after he gave interviews about former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's arrest. He also says he was counseled for a Twitter post he said his staff made in July 2009 when he was on duty.
Kirk is locked in a tight battle for President Barack Obama's old Senate seat with Democrat Giannoulias and Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones.
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