Illinois Public Media News
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.
People living in a city may take broadband Internet service for granted. But in many rural areas, broadband service is hard or even impossible to obtain. The problem was a topic of a recent congressional field hearing in Springfield, Ill. Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows reports.
(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
A trade mission by Indiana government and business leaders to Japan is being delayed because of a typhoon expected to hit the island nation.
The group led by Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman was set to fly from Indianapolis on Tuesday and arrive in Tokyo Wednesday evening. The typhoon is forecast to make landfall Wednesday afternoon.
Skillman's office says travel agents are working to find later flights for the trade group.
The group plans to visit Ohta City, Nagoya and Tochigi Prefecture, Indiana's sister state.
Representatives from the Indiana Economic Development Corp., Duke Energy and regional economic development groups are part of the delegation. Japanese companies employ more than 38,000 people in Indiana.
A Springfield engineering and architecture firm is one of 15 recipients of the U.S. Defense Department's highest employer award.
The Pentagon announced Thursday that Hanson Professional Services Inc. is a recipient of the 2011 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. The award is given for "exceptional support'' of employees serving in the National Guard and Reserve.
Freedom award honorees will meet privately with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in conjunction with a Sept. 22 ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Also attending are the workers who nominated their employers for the award.
Officials say since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, more than 1.1 million Guard and Reserve service members have been deployed. They have made up almost half of the U.S. military strength.
Bondville Residents Worry About Losing Post Office
The U.S. Postal Service is considering shutting down several of its offices in an effort to fill a $10 billion budget deficit. The days may be numbered for one small-town post office in Champaign County.
The Champaign Public Library and Urbana Free Library are joining a new catalog system at the end of the year.
The catalog will include features that aren't currently available to patrons through the current catalog system that's shared by libraries that make up the Illinois Heartland Library System. Among the features in the new catalog are e-mail updates alerting patrons whenever an items that matches a saved search arrives, and a mobile application that allows users to make reservations and renewals.
It is still being decided which features will go to which library. The mobile app, for example, will be available at the Champaign library, but won't be immediately available at the Urbana Free Library, according to Debra Lissak, the director of the Urbana Free Library.
Lissak said both the Champaign and Urbana libraries will continue to share items with the more than 590 libraries in the Illinois Heartland Library System.
"We are not leaving Illinois Heartland Library System," Lissak said. "We will still do borrowing between people of other libraries. The other thing I've heard is that Champaign and Urbana libraries are merging. We're not merging our libraries. We're just sharing an online catalog."
Champaign Public Library director Marsha Grove said the new catalog system will be less expensive, and give both libraries more options of how to use its features.
"We're a large library, and Urbana is a fairly large library," Grove said. "We wante to make the catalog more useful for the people in our community."
The new catalog system is expected to be available by the end of the year. People who visit other libraries in the state will still be able to see what items are available in Champaign and Urbana by visiting the website worldcat.org
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