Illinois Public Media News
The city of Urbana hopes to have a say before Illinois American Water's local rates go up as much as 18 percent, or roughly $7, this fall.
The city council's 6-1 vote means Urbana will spend up to $8,000 in legal fees to join Champaign, Savoy, St. Joseph, Sidney and Philo, with hopes of reducing the amount of the company's latest rate hike request before the Illinois Commerce Commission.
Illinois-American wants to raise them for 308,000 customers, seeking $38 million in revenues.
External affairs manager Chris Bacon said much of the request is for infrastructure like fire hydrants, valves, and more than four miles of water main. The company will spend $180 million statewide on these upgrades. Meanwhile, $10.5 million in revenues would make up for a decline in water usage among customers.
Alderman Charlie Smyth said that part of the request isn't fair.
"It really bothers me that people who have conserved, who have cut their costs, are going to get punished via this rate increase," Smyth said. "I think that's totally inappropriate."
But Bacon said customers will be better off in the long run.
"The more customers conserve water, the less improvements that we have to make, making repairs to costly mains, wells, pipes, things of that nature," Bacon said.
If the ICC approves the full amount of the request, it would also mean rate increases of about 25 percent for small local commercial customers. Illinois American made the request last October, and expects the process to take about 11 months.
Alderwoman Heather Stevenson cast the lone dissenting vote. Citing tight finances, she says the $8-thousand should be spent on something else with no guarantee the rate hike request will be reduced.
At a ceremony at the White House Tuesday, the St. Louis Cardinals were called the "greatest comeback team in the history of baseball."
President Barack Obama made the declaration as he honored the Cardinals for their World Series Championship last year. Despite being a White Sox fan, the President thanked the Cardinals for an amazing season.
"And I also want to thank them for visiting Walter Reed this morning, spending time with our wounded warriors over there," Obama said. "That's what this organization's all about. It represents baseball at its best and I wish them all the best this season. Congratulations."
The team presented President and Mrs. Obama with World Series bats and Cardinal jerseys with the number 44 on their backs (Obama is the 44th President of the United States.)
The President said he was impressed with the team's ability to make up a 10 1/2 game deficit.
"Through skills and guts and -- I think the team would agree -- just a little bit of luck, just a touch, this team made the playoffs," Obama said. "Even though they trailed in each of the series that followed, they somehow had the spirit and the determination and the resolve to survive."
Two important members of last year's team were missing Tuesday: retired manager Tony LaRussa, who had a prior engagement, and former first baseman Albert Pujols - now with the Anaheim Angels -- who declined the invitation.
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Starting in May, an airline carrier will begin providing flights from Bloomington's airport to Florida's Orlando-Sanford International Airport.
AirTran currently offers flights each week into and out of Bloomington to Florida, but that airline will end service in June. Carl Olson, who is the director of the Central Illinois Regional Airport, said Allegiant Air will maintain a new connection to Florida.
"There are other business destinations that we're interested in looking at, but you have to go where the customers are," Olson said. "You have to realize that an airport is a business that has to serve our customers, and our customers in Central Illinois want to go to Central Florida."
Allegiant currently operates flights between Peoria and Tampa, as well as Las Vegas and Phoenix.
With AirTran's imminent departure this summer, the Bloomington airport is expected to lose about 40-percent of its service. AirTran's jets carry 117 passengers while Allegiant flies 150. Olson said he could not comment on efforts to retain that lost business, but he said AirTran's flights have averaged 90-percent capacity and he anticipates similar results with Allegiant Air.
Allegiant begins Thursday and Sunday service between Bloomington-Normal and the Orlando area on May 16, just weeks before AirTran ends its flights. Allegiant is offering $75 one-way introductory fares for this summer if booked by Feb. 6.
Meanwhile, Vision Airlines recently ended service between Champaign's Willard Airport and an airport near Fort Myers, Florida.
The new head coach of the St. Louis Rams says he's up for the challenge of turning around a football team that has won just ten games over its last three seasons.
The Rams officially announced Jeff Fisher as the team's coach at a press conference at Rams Park in Earth City today. Fisher replaces Steve Spagnuolo, who was fired a day after the 2011 regular season ended. News of Fisher's move leaked out last week.
Fisher is an "experienced, confident head coach who has been in a lot of different situations," said Rams owner Stan Kronke as he introduced Fisher today. "His teams are tough. I've sat and watched them, we've had occasion to experience them. He's a great coach, he's a great teacher, he's a great leader."
Fisher was until last year the head coach of the Tennessee Titans, where he went 142 and 120 over 17 seasons, losing to the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV. He said he'd always intended to take the year off to refresh, and St. Louis and the Miami Dolphins were the two top contenders for his services.
"My decision was very, very simple," Fisher said. "It was based on a collective vision as far as the future of this franchise. More specifically, it's restoring this franchise to a place of significance. It's an opportunity to take another trip as champions to the White House." (Fisher's official introduction came the same day the St. Louis Cardinals were honored at the White House for their 2011 world championship.)
The Rams, Fisher said, played hard all last season, despite winning just two games. He acknowledged the team has some holes, but says he has faith in third-year quarterback Sam Bradford.
"I think you have to look back at his success and his production in his first year," Fisher said. "This year was difficult for a lot of reasons - the lock-out, the lack of time together in the offense."
The Rams must still find a replacement for general manager Billy Devaney, who was fired along with Spagnuolo. Team vice president Kevin Demoff -- whose father is Fisher's agent -- says Fisher will be part of that search.
The deal Fisher signed just before his introduction is reportedly worth about $7 million a year over five years. As Kroenke put it, "it'll keep him here for a while." But Kroenke sidestepped a question as to whether the Rams will remain in St. Louis for the entire length of Fisher's deal.
"There's a team in place that deals with all that so we'll see how that process sorts itself out. It's a thing that takes place over time," he said.
A clause in the team's lease of the Edward Jones Dome would allow it to leave the city as soon as 2015 if major upgrades aren't made to the Dome. The city must present its proposal for those upgrades by Feb. 1.
(AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Indiana's House Democrats are again blocking divisive right-to-work legislation because of what their leader calls a Republican "trick.''
Democratic House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer said he learned Monday night of a Republican plan to undermine the Democrats' effort to put right-to-work legislation on the ballot. Democrats boycotted the House again Tuesday in response.
But Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma says Bauer is reneging on a promise that Democrats would vote on the legislation Tuesday.
Bauer says he's having state and outside lawyers review the referendum proposal. He says Democrats could boycott for at least a few more days.
The House of Representatives had planned to vote later Tuesday on the referendum proposal and 43 other amendments to the bill. The Republican proposal would ban unions from collecting mandatory representation fees.
(Story updated and corrected at 2:06 PM, 1/17/12)
Kraft Foods Inc. says it will cut 1,600 positions in North America this year as it prepares to split its business into two independent companies --- one for groceries, the other for snack foods.
The suburban Chicago-based food company said Tuesday that it plans to eliminate the positions throughout the U.S. and Canada primarily from sales, corporate and other business units. About one fifth of the job eliminations are currently open positions.
Kraft spokesperson Joyce Hodel said the company has not yet made decisions about its manufacturing facilities, so the job cuts will not affect its facility in Champaign. The Champaign plant produces Kraft grocery products, including Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Miracle Whip and Kraft salad dressings.
However, Kraft does plan to close its management center in the Chicago suburb of Glenview by the end of 2013. In addition, the company will move its Beverages unit and Planter brand to the Chicago area by December 2012. Both units are currently located in other states.
"Making these tough choices is never easy, and we recognize the impact these changes will have on many of our people and their families," according to a statement by Tony Vernon, the executive vice president and president of Kraft Foods North America and CEO of the future grocery company. "But our plan for a more nimble company, combined with the current economic and competitive pressures, led us to this point. Taking the necessary steps now will enable us to continue investing in our beloved brands to drive growth."
The corporation has approximately 127,000 employees across the world, including 46,500 in North America.
Kraft announced in August that it would split its snack and grocery business into two companies - a global snacks business and North American grocery business. Kraft said these moves are needed to help the businesses run more effectively.
High school counselors worry that if the University of Illinois starts using an application system that allows students to apply to a number of top schools at once, spots at the university for in-state students could drop.
The university is considering joining the Common Application Consortium as part of a new enrollment plan. Administrators who like the application system say it gives universities access to a broader pool of applicants.
But The News-Gazette in Champaign (http://bit.ly/zV1UDn ) reports that many high school counselors wrote President Michael Hogan last year to complain.
They say it could limit students' access to the university while also adding to their workload. The system requires recommendation letters from counselors and teachers that the university doesn't now consider.
A decision is not expected soon.
The Champaign County Board will get its first look Tuesday night at a proposal to raise salaries for countywide elected officials.
County Administrator Deb Busey's proposal outlines three options, providing the greatest increases to the county clerk, treasurer, and sheriff. The memo applies to fiscal years 2013 through 2016.
But County Board Chair and Democrat Pius Weibel, who would also benefit under the memo sent out by Busey, said he is leery of any increases when Illinois' fiscal situation is so unstable.
"The state has been erractic in making payments to us, so we can't depend upon them," he said. "This deals with more than the issue of pay raises, how to budget when you have an uncertain income?"
Democrat Brendan McGinty, who chairs the board's finance committee, suggests the proposal comes from overconfidence in one-time balances. He favors Option 1 of 3, which freezes salaries for the Circuit Clerk, Coroner, Recorder, and Auditor over four years, while the County Clerk, Treasurer and Sheriff receive 2-percent increases each year through 2016.
"That's something we think we can afford," McGinty said. "That's something that I think is fair, based on today's economy, and something that also reflects our seriousness as a whole with the county when we deal with nearly 1,000 employees."
A comparison with other Central Illinois counties shows average salaries for officials are more in McLean, Peoria, and Sangamon. But County Board Republican Alan Nudo said the memo should be expanded to salaries in the private sector.
"It's a self-fulfilling prophecy," he said. "One county looks at what the others are doing, and they say 'hey, we're behind', so then they jump ahead, and then the next county looks at it and says 'hey, we're behind', and they jump ahead. I want to see what competition in the private sector is doing as a true base."
Nudo also said he wants the board to consider some worst-case scenarios, like members did in the spring of 2008.
There's no rush for the board consider the raises. A new salary schedule must be released by May.
The Champaign County Board Committee of the Whole meets Tuesday night at 6 as the Brookens Administrative Center.
The Champaign County Coroner's office has identified the woman who died after she apparently jumped from a highway overpass in Champaign Monday afternoon.
46-year old Stephanie Wallace of Champaign died from multiple blunt force injuries, striking a van on eastbound Interstate 74, and rolling to the south side of the roaway. She was pronounced dead at the scene at 1 p.m.
State Police Sergeant Bill Emery said METCAD received numerous calls around 12:45 Monday that a woman was on the Neil Street bridge. The accident remains under investigation by the Coroner's Office and Illinois State Police.
A major Illinois union is accusing Gov. Pat Quinn of excluding the public from the process of deciding whether to close some state institutions.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is angry that Quinn aides have been meeting quietly with a handful of legislators to discuss closing facilities for people with mental disabilities and illnesses.
The Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled also complained about the meetings Monday.
Quinn tried to close several facilities last year but was rebuffed by lawmakers. Now he is working on a new proposal, which his office says will be announced soon. The Democratic governor says closing outdated facilities will save money and improve care.
Another group, Equip for Equality, supports the way Quinn is planning the closures.
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