Illinois Public Media News
The Illinois Senate is moving toward action on a gambling expansion based on Gov. Pat Quinn's recommendations.
Lawmakers passed a major expansion plan earlier this year, but Quinn says he'll veto it.
He wants a plan that creates five new casinos, including one in Chicago, but does not allow slot machines at race tracks.
A Senate committee debated the proposal today. A vote by the full Senate could come later in the day.
If the measure fails, it would help lawmakers argue that only the larger expansion can draw enough support to pass. That might build a veto-proof majority for expansion.
The Champaign County Board will begin discussion of a permit for the Invenergy wind farm at committee meeting next month, but the county's Zoning Board of Appeals says the permit request should be denied.
On Thursday night, the ZBA voted 5-to-2 last night against the Invenergy project, citing concerns about noise pollution, and disagreement over how to handle the cost of decommissioning the turbines when they're no longer useful.
The Champaign County Board will have to reverse the decision of the Zoning Board of Appeals if it wants to locate a wind farm in the northeast part of the county. Board members cited concerns with the Chicago company's standards for noise pollution impacting the yard of a rural resident. County Planning and Zoning Director John Hall said the company's standards for noise don't comply with those of the Illinois Pollution Control Board.
"This is regarding whether the noise standard applies just at the line of the dwelling, or in the yard outside of the dwelling," Hall said. "It's that simple. Why would have a residential noise standard that only applies inside the dwelling? "
If the permit were approved, and Invenergy went bankrupt in 10 years, Hall said he is afraid no financial lien holder would step in at that point, meaning Champaign County may have to find more money to decommission the wind farm.
Marvin Johnson, who is the highway commissioner of Champaign County's Compromise Township, said he supports the plan. According to Johnson, the township's road agreement with Invenergy would bring substantial upgrades to a 14-mile stretch of road.
"Tremendous benefits to the road district," Johnson said. "Upgrading of roads, financial assistance, things that in our small district, we've probably never be able to come up with. That's why I'm in favor of it."
Despite the ZBA's vote, the Champaign County Board has the final say. Board Democrat Alan Kurtz said the county can't afford not to come to a compromise with Invenergy.
"Our county needs the revenue," he said. "Our county needs clean, renewable energy. Our county needs safe wind farm turbines. This is my opinion, but I personally feel that we need to follow the ordinance. But I think that there are ways that we can always work around any considerable problems."
Kurtz said Invenergy has 'bent over backwards' to comply with what he calls one of the most stringent county wind ordinances in the state.
The Champaign County Board will first take up the proposal at the Nov. 1 Committee of the Whole meeting.
Invenergy was expected to start initial work on 100 turbines in Vermilion County this week. Champaign County's portion of the project would involve 39 turbines.
The city of Danville is exploring different opportunities to boost revenue.
On Wednesday night, the Public Safety Revenue Committee discussed a five-cent public safety tax that's expected to generate around $170,000. Committee co-chair Nancy O'Kane said that money would be used to strengthen Danville's police and fire departments.
"We're not looking to just go out there and just raise taxes to be raising taxes nor are we looking to give those police officers and those firefighter's raises," O'Kane said. "We're trying to put more officers on the street and more firefighters to protect our city."
O'Kane, who is a former Danville alderwoman, said she hopes the full council votes on the measure by December.
Meanwhile, Alderman Michael Puhr said whatever course the council takes, it will first survey the public to find out if they would support a new tax.
"You know, in these economic times we do have to watch what we do," Puhr said. "A lot of people in our community are on fixed incomes, but we still have to operate in a positive cash-flow in city government, as well."
Earlier this week, the city council narrowly voted down a measure that would have raised Danville's garbage pickup fee. Puhr said the council will likely consider a revised version of that plan. He said the Public Safety Revenue Committee is also exploring the prospect of charging extra for its public safety services in communities outside of Danville, and impounding vehicles of drivers who are caught under the influence of alcohol or in possession of marijuana.
Illinois patients once again can use a public website to find out whether their doctors and chiropractors have shady histories.
The Physician Profile became available Wednesday on the website for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.
It allows consumers to see whether a doctor has been disciplined in Illinois or in another state. Malpractice judgments and settlements going back five years are posted.
The searchable database was taken offline last year when the Illinois Supreme Court declared a medical malpractice reform law unconstitutional.
A new law reinstated the database and gave doctors 60 days to review the information before the site went live. That review period has passed, allowing the comeback.
The website drew more than 150,000 hits weekly before it went dark in 2010.
The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board has signed off on creating Illinois' largest Catholic hospital system.
At its meeting Wednesday in Bolingbrook, the state regulatory panel unanimously agreed to the merger between Mokena-based Provena Health and Chicago-based Resurrection Health Care.
The combined system would provide more than 100 sites, including Provena's two hospitals in Urbana and Danville, 28 long-term care and senior residential centers, and more than 50 clinics.
Sandra Bruce, the president and CEO of the new organization, said it is grateful for the board's unanimous approval.
"We enthusiastically now turn our full attention to creating a strong Catholic health ministry driven by Mission, and focused entirely on collaborating with our physicians, staff, and our communities to deliver patient, resident and family-centered care that is high in quality and value," Bruce said in a press release.
When the merger was announced in July, Resurrection spoksman Brian Crawford said he expected a cost savings to be incurred by closing down information systems and a corporate office for one of the hospital systems. At a state hearing in Urbana in August, there was little opposition to the move.
It's expected to be finalized Nov. 1.
The days could be numbered for more than 30 postal service facilities in Champaign County.
The U.S. Postal Service has been holding a series of public forums about post offices and stations that may shut down in an effort to close a $10 billion budget deficit.
About 40 people attended a meeting Tuesday night on the University of Illinois campus to defend two of them - one station located at 302 East Green Street in Champaign, and another in the U of I's Altgeld Hall.
Retired U of I employee Margrith Mistry showed up to the meeting, urging the postal service to keep these facilities open. Because of their proximity to campus, Mistry said these stations are a valuable resource to international students who attend the university.
"I think with all the international students in there sending very expensive packages home to Korea, China, or somewhere," Mistry said. "It must be a gold mind. So, I just can't understand how they could think of closing that."
Scott Fraundorf, a graduate student at the U of I, said he has been using both stations at different times over the last five years. He said without them, it wouldn't be possible for him to visit a post office because of his busy schedule.
"I often work late either on my research or helping out the students that I'm teaching," Fraundorf said. "I don't have time to go home, and then drive off to the post office. It's really unfortunate that at a time when everyone is trying to save fuel, we'd now be faced with a situation where he would have to drive out somewhere to get to a post office."
Moderating the discussion was Mike Pfundstein, who manages nearly 130 post offices in east central Illinois. In total, he said the U.S. postal service is considering closing 3,700 of its facilities across the country.
"We've never had a proposal to close that many post offices," he said. "Usually, they are considered individually based upon local factors. This is the first time we've looked at closing post offices based on wide spread criteria."
Pfundstein said as the postal service decides which facilities to close; it will look at the amount of business each one gets and whether there are other mail distribution alternatives located nearby. He said post offices could begin closing early next year.
If the service stations in Champaign-Urbana end up shutting down, both cities would still have a downtown post office.
A bank with 13 east central Illinois locations is merging with one about four times its size.
Pontiac-based Freestar Bank has agreed to be acquired by First Financial Corporation of Terre Haute, which has 51 offices in Illinois and Indiana.
Freestar President and CEO David Kuhl said its board of directors decided to expand early this year, and reached out to a Chicago investment banking firm in order to find a partner. He said First Financial was a good fit.
"Community focused in communities under 100,000 (people) primarly," he said. "Communities with university and medical (facilities), and somebody that has an agriculture orientation, because we're a fairly good-sized agricultural bank in the Pontiac-Livingston County area."
The combined banking company will mean three offices in Champaign, two in Urbana, one in Mahomet and three more in Danville, but Kuhl said more will be expected.
"We're hoping that we can continue to expand the First Financial presence throughout Central Illinois, and to locate in perhaps some communities that we're not in right now," he said.
Kuhl said the merger will have a minimal impact on employees, since the two banks don't currently have any overlapping branch locations. Combined assets between the two banks will be just under $3 billion.
The transaction is expected to close by the end of December.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is disputing a report that his office is luring a Chicago-based company across the state border.
Crain's Chicago Business reports the Republican governor is offering the CME Group $150 million to move its headquarters to Indiana.
Daniels would not comment on his efforts to move the CME Group, but he denies the information came from his office.
"Anybody who might be looking at bringing jobs to our state, we respect their confidence and it would hurt our chances if we ever spoke openly before an agreement was reached," Daniels said.
Indiana has been advertising in Illinois to try to persuade businesses to move after Illinois raised the personal income and corporate tax earlier this year.
The executive director of the Illinois Teachers Retirement System says the fund is underfunded by $44 billion, but it will provide benefits for the foreseeable future.
Director Dick Ingram said the legislature took notice during the last session and gave precedence to payments to pensions.
"We became a priority and I think as long as that continues and the statutory plan that's in effect now is followed we will, in fact, be strong for the long term," Ingram said.
Ingram said the fund's total liability is $81 billion. He said the legislature's plan would put the fund at 90 percent of full funding by 2045.
Ingram also noted that while investment returns can vary last year the fund's return was about 24 percent.
Ingram added a senate bill would offer a third option for teachers to invest their retirement funds. State senate bill 512 would create a third tier for a defined-contribution plan that would resemble of 401-(K) plan. The benefits would depend on the amount invested and the return on investment.
He said the bill would also change the contributions for current teachers. Those in Tier I would see their contributions increase from 9.4% to 13.77% of their pay. Those in Tier II would see their contributions drop from 9.4 percent to 6 percent of their pay.
Ingram held an informational meeting for teachers in Macomb.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed lawsuits Tuesday against companies she says are running fraudulent mortgage rescue schemes.
Some Chicago area companies and licensed attorneys allegedly charged consumers as much as $375,000 to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. But Madigan said the companies took the money and never helped the consumers.
She said the 2006 Mortgage Rescue Fraud Act prevents companies from charging upfront fees, but lawyers are able to accept advance payment.
"The new twist on this scam is that these predators are really using lawyers as a front so that they can conceivably get around the law and collect the upfront money," Madigan said.
The Attorney General's office has filed suit against four companies accused of using this scam. The filing asks the court to shut down the businesses and get restitution for at least 76 consumers.
Madigan said homeowners should not have to pay to get help with their mortgage, and that HUD certified counselors are available for free. Homeowners can contact the Attorney General's Homeowner Helpline at (866) 544-7151.
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