Illinois Public Media News
Four Illinois state employees whose work was split among agencies were overpaid by $77,000 the last two years, an audit released Thursday shows.
One employee working for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation got $36,151 more than specified. Another received and additional $25,662.
Auditor General William Holland's office examined seven cases where department employees did work for other agencies. In four of them, the employees wound up being paid too much. The audit did not indicate how many such" interagency agreements" the agency had.
In three cases, the other agency involved was the governor's budget office.
The case of the $36,000 overpayment happened under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, said Susan Hofer, spokeswoman for the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. She couldn't immediately say whether money had been recovered.
The other overpayments occurred when payroll for the agency was being centralized and confusion over the new system might have played a role, she said.
Holland's report also found in several cases that the agency lacked documentation showing an employee did any work for the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation and other cases where there was no explanation of how payment among the participating agencies was determined.
In its response to the audit, the department said it will be more diligent in recognizing possible overpayments and adjusting pay in such cases. Officials said they would try to develop a way to determine how much each agency should pay.
The report also declared that the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation couldn't find $240,000 worth of equipment - mostly computers - the last two years.
The agency told Holland it didn't know whether the computers contained any confidential information.
Hofer said some computers were stolen during a break-in at an agency office, but she couldn't immediately say why that wasn't mentioned in the audit.
An old mansion in Champaign that was converted into the McKinley YMCA could soon become a mansion once again.
Local developer Leon Jeske has purchased the McKinley Y from the Champaign County YMCA for $450,000. He plans to restore the century-old building, and lease it out as a private residence. Jeske stepped in after earlier plans to sell the square-block site to Owens Funeral Home fell through.
Jeske said the building is in essentially good shape. He said much of its interior features are unchanged, despite decades of use by the YMCA.
"They put in some ceiling tiles --- like acoustical tiling, one foot square," Jeske said. "That's not original. But the woodwork is all intact, even where they added a partition or wall, they did not disturb the crown moldings, they just kind of went over them, cut around them. So everything's there."
Jeske said he hasn't yet decided what to do with the adjoining carriage house, or the additions built for the building's YMCA use, including an indoor swimming pool. But he said the additions have separate entrances and could be converted into apartments, and he said the site also has commercial potential.
"It's right across the street from Westside Park," Jeske explained. "I could see a small cafeteria-type restaurant that could serve coffee and cake, and maybe a glass of wine, with a lot of outdoor seating where you could overlook the park."
Jeske said a restaurant would require a zoning change, but he said the site is appropriate for that sort of use.
The facility will continue as the McKinley YMCA until the Champaign County Y's new facility in southwest Champaign is ready to open next year. CEO Mark Johnson said construction of the new facility is moving ahead on schedule, and until it's completed, they're leasing the McKinley "Y" back from Jeske on a month-to-month basis.
State Farm Insurance says it will close two-dozen field offices over the next year in three states, including one in Champaign on West Park Court that employs 20 people.
It is part of an effort to save the company $8 million over the next five years. State Farm did a year-long study leading up to the consolidation plan, and found it could save money by centralizing technology while remaining efficient.
State Farm spokeswoman Missy Lundberg said administrative staff will consolidate to Indianapolis, but she said most employees will not be affected.
"A lot of those 13 hundred employees are what we call mobile claim workers, and they will be staying in those communities," she said. "What that means is that they will maybe work out of their home, maybe work out of a car, maybe work out of an agent's office."
The Bloomington-based company says it hopes to retain all the affected employees.
In addition to the State Farm office in Champaign closing, Illinois branches affected by the consolidation are in Marion, Collinsville, Springfield, Peoria, Moline, Rockford, Elmhurst, Tinley Park, and Arlington Heights.
Offices in Michigan and Indiana will also close.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Monday that it's giving Amtrak $404 million to expand high-speed rail service in the Midwest.
The money will go toward making upgrades along the Chicago-St. Louis corridor and to constructing new segments of 110 mph track between Chicago and Detroit.
Once completed, the two projects are expected to reduce travel times and improve safety.
The Chicago-to-Detroit enhancements are expected to shave 30 minutes off of passenger travel times between the two destinations, and the government claims the construction phase of the project will create 1,000 jobs.
The money was part of $2 billion originally earmarked for high-speed rail links between Tampa and Orlando, Florida.
But Florida Governor Rick Scott canceled the project earlier this year, making the money available to be used in other parts of the nation.
The Department of Transportation targeted rail projects in 15 states to receive the additional funds. 24 states, the District of Columbia and Amtrak had all applied for the dollars.
The largest share of the money - nearly $800 million - will be used to upgrade train speeds from 135 mph to 160 mph on critical segments of the heavily traveled Northeast corridor.
"The investments we're making today will help states across the country create jobs, spur economic development and boost manufacturing in their communities," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
Advocates of high-speed rail are scheduled to go to the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield on May 19th to lobby state officials to support enhanced passenger rail service in the state.
One of central Illinois' oldest and largest farmers' markets starts its new season Saturday morning, May 7th.
The Market-at-the-Square in downtown Urbana promises over 160 vendors selling everything from fresh produce to arts and crafts. Market director Lisa Bralts-Kelly says attendance averages about 7,000 visitors each week.
Not all produce is available at farmers markets in the month of May, and Market-at-the-Square is no exception. But Bralts-Kelly saod there are some things shoppers can always count on at this time of year.
"You'll have various lettuces, spinach, green onions, fresh-cut herbs that are OK in cool weather, all of those things," Bralts-Kelly said. "But then we have asparagus, which is really the star of the show. And the season for asparagus started a couple of weeks ago, so we'll have it at the Market this weekend. And then, as that starts to wane, the strawberries will start to come on."
One thing that will NOT be at Market-at-the-Square this year is pets and other animals.They're barred from the Market under a new policy. Bralts-Kelly said that they've come to realize that the busy outdoor market is not a good setting for pets.
"We just witnessed many interactions between, not just dogs and people, but also dogs and other dogs," she said. "And we did field a lot of complaints from patrons about animals --- whether it was for sanitation reasons, or crowding, noise, leashes. We've been compiling all this feedback for years, and we decided that this year was probably the time to do it."
Bralts-Kelly said pets are already banned at the Taste of Champaign-Urbana, and the Urbana Sweetcorn Festival --- making Market-at-the-Square the last big outdoor food event in the area to enact such a policy. Service animals will still be welcome, and community groups registered as "animal-related" can also have animals at their booths.
Urbana's Market-at-the-Square is a city-run event that runs Saturday mornings, now through November 5th, at Lincoln Square in downtown Urbana. It will be joined by another area farmer's market next month --- Champaign's North First Street will host its farmers market on Thursday afternoons, starting June 9th.
Eddy Hartenstein has been named the new president and chief executive officer of the Tribune Company. The board of directors appointed Hartenstein, and he'll take the position immediately.
Hartenstein has been serving as publisher and chief executive officer of Los Angeles Times Communications, LLC. He's held that position since August 2008, and will continue serving in the position. The company says Kathy Thomson will assist Hartenstein in these tasks through a newly created position of President and Chief Operating Officer of The Times.
In a statement, Chairman Sam Zell said Hartenstein will provide strategic vision and direction as the company prepares to emerge from the Chapter 11 process.
"Eddy is a gifted executive-he knows our operations, understands how technology is changing the media industry, and can help the company capitalize on those changes to continue achieving meaningful financial results," Zell said in his statement.
Hartenstein will be responsible for overseeing Tribune Company operations. He's served as co-president of the company and a member of its Executive Council since last October.
Previous Tribune CEO Randy Michaels resigned last October. His personal conduct and management style had come into question of whether he could lead the company out of bankruptcy.
A group representing nursing homes in Illinois says the governor's proposed budget cuts would leave many of them struggling to provide adequate care, or even to survive.
The Health Care Council of Illinois' membership is mainly privately-run nursing homes, but they accept many patients relying on Medicaid. For one home in Champaign where patients and staff rallied this morning, that amounts to 70 patients out of 118 paying for their care through Medicaid.
Governor Pat Quinn's plan to ease the state's budget deficit includes a 6% cut in Medicaid funding. Health Care Council director Pat Comstock said such a cut would further hurt a system that already provides the least nursing home assistance of any state in the nation.
"Every facility will be impacted differently, but facilities may more and more make a decision not to take Medicaid residents, and then the poorest of the poor and the frailest of the frail won't have anywhere to get services," Comstock said. "Some facilities are undoubtedly going to close."
Comstock acknowledges that state senators are considering less drastic cuts - 3-percent instead of 6-percent. But she says for each dollar nursing homes lose from the state for Medicaid patients, they lose another dollar in federal matching funds -- a total of $140 million less in reimbursements if the state follows through with its $70 million proposed reduction.
A measure in the Illinois General Assembly could loosen local health department regulations that prevent people who want to make their own food and sell it at farmers markets.
The legislation, which passed the state Senate, would allow people to sell home-baked "non potentially hazardous food," like cookies, breads, and cakes. These are goods with a lower risk and track record of a foodborne illness.
The measure also includes selling certain types of jam, jelly and fruit butter.
In Illinois, baked goods sold as part of a business have to be prepared in a kitchen that passes a state health inspection. However, there are exceptions when home-prepared goods are sold at a yard sale or during a fundraiser.
In most cases, people who want to sell their own homemade baked goods have to rent or purchase a commercially certified kitchen. Wes King, the policy coordinator with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, said buying a kitchen that is up to code can cost thousands of dolars, an expense he said many people cannot manage. King said the legislation would provide a stepping-stone for small businesses to startup.
"Instead of having to invest all that money in a commercial kitchen, you can do it out of your home kitchen and sell it at farmers markets," King explained. "Ideally, if you have a really successful product, you'll then move into the level of maybe using a shared kitchen or purchasing your own commercial kitchen."
The measure could have a big impact in Urbana. Back in 2009, the Champaign Urbana Public Health District began enforcing the state's ban on homemade goods at farmers markets, like Urbana's Market at the Square. Lisa Bralts-Kelly, the director of Market at the Square, said the legislation could change that policy.
"Overall, I think it'll be a great thing for farmers markets," Bralts-Kelly said. "It'll bring us back to people being able to find special things that they can't find anywhere else. Also in an economy like this, it kind of boosts entrepreneurialism and gives people a chance to earn some additional money."
State Senator Shane Cultra (R-Onarga), a co-sponsor of the legislation, said he hopes the bill changes the way local health departments in the state regulate food sales.
"There's too heavy a hand of local health departments," Cultra said. "This law does a good job of dividing food products into ones that have potential to be hazardous and ones that aren't."
The legislation requires people to have a food sanitation license, and it states that they must clearly label goods that are prepared in a home.
At least 17 other states have similar policies in place, according to the Illinois Stewardship Alliance.
The measure now heads to the Illinois House of Representatives.
The Carle Foundation is selling its pharmacy division to Walgreens.
The drug store's purchase of Carle RxExpress will mean four of its pharmacy locations will close in the next two months. By May 31st, Carle pharmacies on Urbana's Cunningham Avenue and Windsor Road will close, along with the location in Danville. In June, Carle's South Clinic location will consolidate with main lobby pharmacy at Carle Hospital. The remaining six will stay open under the Walgreens banner, and Carle's remaining inventory will transfer to nearby Walgreens locations.
Carle Foundation Executive Vice President John Snyder said the retail pharmacy industry has become more competitive, with new consolidations. He said Walgreens can offer discounts on generics and 90-day prescriptions that Carle can't sustain. But Snyder said consumers using Carle pharmacy locations won't see a change in service.
"They have quite a bit of experience in taking over hospital pharmacies, as well as medical office building pharmacies," he said. "They don't run them like typical Walgreens stores. They do recognize there's a difference. Their plan is to run them basically as they're run now with the same hours, and hopefully the same staff."
Snyder says Walgreens has committed to hiring about 80-percent of Carle's 76 pharmacy workers, and will interview all who apply. He said other employees with the necessary skills will be offered the chance to transfer to other jobs at Carle, while remaining workers will receive a severance package. But Walgreens spokeswoman Tiffany Washington said there wasn't a specific figure, only saying that a 'large majority' or Carle RxExpress employees would still have positions at the pharmacies.
Financial terms of the sale weren't disclosed. Proceeds from the sale will go towards the purchase of new hospital facilities and equipment.
A World War II veteran who became famous as the Empire Carpet Man has died at age 89.
Empire Today spokeswoman Marlo Michalek says Elmer Lynn Hauldren died Tuesday at his Evanston home. A cause of death wasn't given but Michalek said he had been sick.
Hauldren was the voice of Empire carpet on television advertising in the 1970s. The ads later aired around the country in cities like New York, Washington and San Francisco. He was the company spokesperson until he died.
The company says it chose Hauldren as its on-air talent after auditioning several others for the role. Hauldren helped launch the carpet company's "588-2300" jingle.
Hauldren was the father of 6, grandfather of 18 and great-grandfather of 10. He also was a singer in a barbershop quartet.
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