Illinois Public Media News
It may be a long, difficult path to recovery for the Illinois economy according to one indicator.
Each month the University of Illinois Flash Index measures tax revenue to give a snapshot of the state's economic performance. Author Fred Giertz says in February the index inched up to 91.5 after two months at 91.2. The reading is well below the dividing line between growth and contraction, and it's been there for the last year and a half.
Giertz says corporate tax receipts in Illinois are showing signs that the recession is breaking, but that hasn't started translating into more employment.
"The stock market has gone up a lot in the last year because of expectations, and businesses are actually starting to do better," Giertz said. "But the problem is that they're not doing as much hiring now because more efficient during the downturn and they don't need as many people to produce the goods (and services) as they did in the past."
Giertz says many observers predict a very slow decline in unemployment rates over the next year, even as the economy improves.
The Prairie Meadows subdivision in Savoy is among the areas that could be annexed into the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District later this year.
Managing Director Bill Volk says the CU-MTD Board has directed his staff to prepare annexation and legal notices for five areas. Public hearings will be held before the board takes a vote on annexation.
Prairie Meadows is the first major residential area of Savoy to be considered for CU-MTD annexation since the village and the transit district signed an agreement two years ago. Volk says that agreement protects some parts of Savoy from MTD annexation --- but not new residential areas.
"There are sections in Savoy that we cannot annex for 23 years, but other areas of Savoy, as they become annexable we are allowed per the agreement to annex that territory," Volk said.
The Stone Creek subdivision in southeast Urbana is also on the CU-MTD annexation list. Non-residential areas up for annexation include the Clearview commercial development site in northwest Champaign, some industrial tracts near the Apollo Industrial Park in north Champaign, and Willard Airport.
Volk says the CU-MTD Board will not vote on annexing the territories until after the next fiscal year begins July 1. If annexation is approved, property owners would not pay taxes to the MTD until the summer of 2012.
After mold and ventilation problems delayed the completion of the new Champaign County nursing home, the county board went after the nursing home's builders to collect damages. Now the last of those efforts is completed.
Arbitrators have ruled that Otto Baum Company, one of the prime contractors on the project, must pay Champaign County $405,000 for problems caused by mold found on wood during nursing home construction. After outstanding bills owed to Otto Baum are paid, the county will be ahead by nearly $150,000. Rantoul Township Republican Stan James serves on the county board's facilities committee. He says the settlement of the mold issue frees the county board up to focus on other concerns.
"That's one less thing on our plate, and now we can move on. We've got bigger budget issues to tackle and a host of issues due the economy that we need to be focusing on," James said.
While Champaign County is receiving some money in the binding decision, the arbitrators say the county also shares in the responsibility. The arbitrators' report say that the county, Otto Baum Company and construction manager PKD all should have known that unvented heaters were not adequate to keep mold away from wood used in nursing home construction.
Damages from Otto Baum, plus previous awards from other firms involved in nursing home construction are providing Champaign County with about $1.3 million in payments to help make up for extra costs and delays in nursing home construction. Facilities Committee Chairman Steve Beckett estimates that the payments fall $300,000 to $500,000 short of the county's expenses.
A section of Bunge North America's massive downtown Danville facility will close in two months.
About 100 employees will face layoffs when the plant's soybean processing operation comes to an end. Bunge spokeswoman Deb Seidell says the Danville site doesn't have the soy-oil refining facility that newer plants have.
"When you crush the soybeans and you get the protein meal and you get the oil, generally that oil needs to be further processed before it can go into the food stream," Seidell said. "From Danville it has to be trucked or sent by rail somewhere else to be refined because there's not a refinery attached to Danville."
But Seidell says there are no plans to build that refinery because the capacity for processing soybeans is outstripping demand. She says management and staff employees will receive outplacement assistance and severance while Bunge will negotiate with unions over the impact on other employees.
Bunge plans to keep its soy and corn elevators and dry corn mill open - they employ about 185 workers.
Groups representing Illinois hospitals and doctors are disappointed by an Illinois Supreme Court ruling involving caps on some medical malpractice lawsuit awards, but trial lawyers are hailing the decision.
A divided court ruled Thursday that limiting non-economic damages in malpractice cases violates the principle of separation of powers in the state's Constitution. The court says limits the Legislature adopted in 2005 would infringe on the judicial branch's power. In a partial dissent, Justice Lloyd Karmeier says it's the court that is violating separation of powers by second-guessing the Legislature's attempts to reduce health care costs.
Illinois State Medical Society President James Milam says he fears doctors in high-risk specialties will leave the state if their medical liability insurance rates go up as a result of the ruling.
Maryjane Wurth is president of the Illinois Hospital Association. She says the court's decision highlights the need for President Barack Obama and Congress to embrace meaningful medical liability reform as part of health care legislation.
Illinois Trial Lawyers Association President Peter Flowers applauds the decision and says it's time to focus on meaningful insurance reform.
Two area Toyota dealerships expect to start lining up service calls to repair recalled models by the start of next week.
Jim Turner is the President of O'Brien Auto Park in Urbana. He says parts should be delivered in the next couple of days, and technicians are currently being trained on how to repair gas pedals that could stick on rare occasions.
Repairs are expected to take half an hour, but with thousands of customers to serve, Turner says handling all its recalled vehicles could take a few weeks:
"We don't have a lot of details about how many parts we can get all at once," Turner said. "There's a few open-ended questions about exactly how many parts we can get. So this will probably take a month at least to get everybody taken care of."
Meanwhile, the service manager of Toyota of Danville says they're holding off on making appointments, but they're making sure the parts for the eight recalled models are in place first. Kyle Vogel says he expects their technicians will handle about 500 repairs.
Vogel says he also wants to stress that this recall applied only to certain models, and that Japanese-made and some US-manufactured Camry models weren't impacted. But he says any Toyota driver is welcome to bring their car by for peace of mind's sake.
Both Toyota dealers plan on extending their service hours to handle the recall repairs.
The Urbana City Council approved a ten-thousand-dollar option last (Monday) night to buy the Goodyear Tire Center property on Vine Street downtown. Buying the property would be another step toward the city's acquisition of the entire block for future redevelopment.
The 200 block of South Vine Street lies just north of the Urbana City Building --- the city already owns a parking lot on the block. And Mayor Laurel Prussing says the owners of the Goodyear property approached the city about a possible sale. The mayor says the city's long-term goal is to buy the entire block, and then find a developer for it. Prussing hopes for a mixed-used building on the site, with space for both commercial and residential tenants.
"We should just think about something that's a really green development", says Prussing, "and that fits in with our overall city plan. I think we have to think about what would be the idea height of this project, if we're talking about infill."
But development won't happen right away. The Goodyear Tire Center's lease runs until 2013. And some of the residential properties on the block are also occupied by tenants. Prussing says the city has contracts to eventually buy those properties as well --- but she says she doesn't want to displace any current tenants. The mayor says the city will first do its due diligence on the Goodyear property, including an environmental audit, before the Goodyear purchase is finalized.
Work could begin this spring on a new Christie Clinic facility in southwest Champaign. The Champaign City Council endorsed the project at its study session Tuesday night. It will be the first development to go up at the I-57 Curtis Road interchange.
Champaign Council members are welcoming the Christie Clinic project, even though it doesn't quite fit the zoning guidelines being developed for the Curtis Road Interchange area --- guidelines meant to avoid the strip-mall look of the North Prospect shopping district. Despite the discrepancy, council members decided that the Christie project is an important one that will get development started in the area.
But Councilman Tom Bruno says he expects the proposed zoning guidelines to still apply to all future development at the Curtis Road Interchange.
"Because a catalyist is a good idea for the area", says Bruno, "I'm willing to go along with these exceptions. But a future developer would be sorely mistaken if he thought my acquiescence to the Christie project would indicate that this is a starting point for somehow chipping away at the concept we have in mind out here."
Another reason the council supports the project --- Christie officials say that once it's built, they can start work on a major renovation to their downtown Champaign clinic.
The new clinic at the Curtis Road Interchange takes the place of Christie's ill-fated Clearview project, which was planned but never built at I-57 and I-74. Phase One will have 60-thousand square feet of floor space --- with future expansions planned up to 200-thousand square feet.
The Champaign City Council will take a final vote on an annexation agreement for the new Christie Clinic site next month.
A chain of chicken restaurants that became noted due to the 1993 slayings of seven employees at one of its suburban Chicago stores has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Brown's Chicken & Pasta filed on Tuesday ... two months after a DuPage County judge ordered the company to pay more than $800,000 to a former employee and minority shareholder. An attorney for the company says the company could not afford to pay the judgment.
Brown's has 39 stores in the Chicago area. The company once had as many as 150 stores, but the numbers have been dwindling since the slayings of the workers in Palatine.
The restaurants will remain open during the reorganization.
Christmas is often a paid holiday for many workers. But not all holidays are treated the same.
The Illinois Chamber of Commerce surveyed businesses and found a majority of employees are getting paid holidays on Christmas. The same goes for Thanksgiving and New year's. But when it comes to Jewish holidays... or ethnic ones... only a small fraction of businesses pay workers to take those days off.
Liz Kern with the state's Chamber says it's difficult for employers to maneuver myriad religious and secular holidays...
"As ethnicities, religion and even the calendar changes on an annual basis" says Kern, "Illinois employers have had a hard time keeping up with what holidays they should be observing and what trends are other employers seeing."
The Chamber's survey found New Year's Day is when most workers get a paid day off... followed closely by Memorial Day and Labor Day. Christmas is still near the top of the list but as for other religious holidays.. more workers get paid to take their birthdays off.
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