Illinois Public Media News
The next generation of the nation's electricity backbone will need stronger systems to protect it from attacks.
That's why the federal government is setting up an institute dedicated to computer security as it puts more than three billion dollars into improving the electric grid. The University of Illinois' Information Trust Institute will be a part of that effort, helping design software that keeps the improved power network safe from hackers.
Institute director Bill Sanders says the threat exists because the so-called "smart grid" will involve much more computerization than the current system.
"There's much more computerization, both on the distribution side -- and the distribution side is the kind of equipment you might have in your house that actually delivers the power to your house and the feedback and control there -- and on the transmission side, a wide-area data network that supports power generation and transports that power to somewhere near your house," Sanders said.
Three other universities are taking part in the five year, $18.8 million research program. The smart grid is expected to be more efficient and help consumers track and adjust their own power usage.
A proposed combination of Carle Foundation Hospital and Carle Clinic Association may not settle ongoing tax issues surrounding health care facilities in Illinois - in fact, it may complicate them.
Carle Hospital - a not-for-profit company with tax exemptions - plans to purchase Carle Clinic Association, a separate, for-profit firm. The combination would be considered a not-for-profit company.
A University of Illinois law professor says the move makes good business sense. John Colombo says integrating the two organizations will help improve work flow, cost and the way patients get care. But he wonders what may happen if the combined Carle seeks tax exemptions for clinic buildings after paying taxes on them for years. Colombo says local governments will keep a very close eye on that.
"If I were the county assessor or on the county board of review, at this stage I'd demand a lot of evidence that there is serious charity care work going at these sites (Carle Clinic's facilities), and if couldn't get this evidence from Carle I'd recommend a denial of tax exemption and at this point let Carle litigate the issue, Colombo said.
Colombo says doctors who held an ownership stake in Carle Clinic would lose some autonomy under such a deal, but he says they may also get more job stability in return. Those doctors -- and state regulators -- still have to approve the deal. Carle is not granting interviews on the proposal.
Carle Hospital is challenging the loss of its tax-exempt status for property taxes. State and county officials ruled that Carle was not providing enough charity care to qualify.
A not-for-profit hospital and its sister organization, a for-profit clinic, propose integrating in to one not-for-profit group.
Carle Foundation Hospital and Carle Clinic Association have operated as separate entities, but now the Carle Foundation wants state approval for a 250 million dollar purchase of the clinic by the hospital organization. The deal would also involve Health Alliance Medical Plans, which would remain a for-profit organization.
Carle says in a press release that the merger would reduce costs and increase cooperation between the hospital and clinic. The physicians who have a piece of ownership in Carle Clinic would become Carle Foundation employees. They have yet to approve the merger, as do members of the state's Health Facilities and Services Review Board. They meet November 4th in Urbana to hear comments.
Urbana's economic development manager says two hotel operating groups are interested in the Historic Lincoln Hotel.
Tom Carrino didn't name the two companies during Monday night's Urbana City Council meeting. But he says both are interested in possibly bringing a major hotel brand to the facility --- while preserving the building's architectural integrity.
The Historic Lincoln was designed by local architect Joseph W. Royer. It opened in 1924 and closed last March --- about the same time it was acquired by Marine Bank of Springfield in a foreclosure. Its previous owners had struggled to compete with newer hotels located closer to interstate highways. Carrino says the Historic Lincoln's location in downtown Urbana may be a plus to the two hotel groups now considering the property.
"That means that it's relatively close to the University of Illinois", says Carrino. "It's close to some major employers in downtown Urbana. The fact that it was involved in a foreclosure, the bank is motivated to sell the property. That means that a good hotel group could get the property at a relatively reasonable price.
Carrino says he expects both companies will prepare competing offers to Marine Bank for the Historic Lincoln in the coming weeks. He says both companies have discussed possible tax incentives with city officials --- those incentives would be possible due to the hotel's location in a Tax Increment Finance District and a city Enterprise Zone.
At least one Saturn dealer in the area says it's heard nothing official about the end of the car brand and the shutdown of its dealership network.
General Motors says a deal to sell Saturn's distribution system and brand to Penske Automotive Group fell through because Penske wasn't able to find an automaker to make Saturns past 2011. GM now says the dealerships will be phased out.
Bill Lutes manages Saturn of Terre Haute, which has been in business for ten years. He says it's hard to tell his 30 employees what to do next because there's been no word from GM to dealers.
"I've met with everybody and told them Plan A is 'business as usual' and Plan B is to explore other options," Lutes said. "We'll just stay positive and keep smiling."
Lutes says the other options could include finding another new car franchise or selling only used cars. The dealership is owned by Evansville-based Romain Auto Group, which also owns three other Saturn dealers.
As the national debate over health care ensues, the Illinois Supreme Court is considering a case over a Urbana hospital's tax status. The outcome, claim hospital officials, could lead to reduced medical services and higher prices.
Justices will have to decide if Provena Covenant Medical Center provided enough free or discounted care to poor patients to qualify as tax exempt. The state in 2003 determined the answer was no and forced the Catholic-run hospital to pay property taxes.
Assistant Attorney General Evan Siegel defended the state's action before the court. He says the year before, only 300 of Provena's 110 thousand admissions received charity care, not enough to deserve tax breaks.
"It doesn't matter whether an organization itself is charitable," Siegel told the high court. "What matters is whether its using the property for a charitable purpose."
But Provena's attorney, Patrick Coffey, argues the hospital qualifies because it cared for any and all patients, regardless of their ability to pay.
"It doesn't matter what amount of charity, here free care ... was given," Cofey said. "Free care was given without limit."
The court's decision has widespread ramifications statewide. If nonprofit hospitals have to pay taxes, there's speculation they would increase prices or cut back services. The high court is expected to issue an opinion in coming months.
If natural gas prices are stable this winter, central and southern Illinois homeowners will pay less to heat their homes.
Ameren predicts the price it will pay for natural gas will average 26 percent less than last year's heating season. The utility passes along the price it pays for gas directly to billpayers - and this fall, spokesman Leigh Morris says it's considerably less than the price spike we saw last year with gas and other types of fuel.
"Just going back one year, it was $1.32 a therm, and right now the October price is $0.56 a therm. That's the average for all three utilities," Morris said, citing the three divisions of Ameren's Illinois utilities. "That's about a 58 percent movement from a year ago."
The recession may be to blame for the worldwide drop in demand for natural gas - and thus the drop in prices. Morris is quick to point out that Ameren's pending request for a gas rate increase involves the fee the utility charges to deliver that gas.
A $6.74 million judgment against Archer Daniels Midland over a fatal accident would go to the parents and siblings of the man killed. But the Decatur-based company hasn't decided yet whether it will appeal the judgment.
A jury decided Friday that ADM should pay the money over the March 2007 death of 26-year-old Francisco Moreno Garcia.
Attorney Donald Shapiro represented Garcia's family. He says Garcia worked for a St. Louis company and was insulating pipes at one of ADM's Decatur facilities when a machine malfunctioned and sprayed him with steam and hot liquid.
Garcia died the next day, and a coroner says he was burned over almost 90 percent of his body. Shapiro says Garcia family lives in the Mexican state of Jalisco.
ADM says it's weighing the jury's decision as it decides its next steps.
The parent company of Central Illinois Bank has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy with hopes of reorganizing with a strategic partner in 45 to 60 days.
But CIB Bancshares Chairman and CEO John Hickey Junior says the filing will have no impact on the bank and its customers. He says Central Illinois Bank has the capital for it to continue doing business with clients, and is separate from the petition that the holding company filed Tuesday night in federal court in Milwaukee.
Hickey says trust-preferred securities holders had to agree to a pre-packaged reorganization plan that was similar to what auto makers GM and Chrysler went through:
"You get the pre-approval from the creditors in advance, and that allows you to go in on a pre-package basis and come out and emerge very quickly," Hickey said. "We've continued to keep the regulators all informed in terms of where we are in the process, and so we've kept them up to date."
Hickey says employees of the parent company are excited about prospects for the company's future. Discussions with potential partners are expected start once the reorganization is complete.
Central Illinois Bank has 12 branches in the region, including locations in Champaign, Urbana, Danville and Decatur. CIB Marine Bancshares also has offices in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Arizona.
Champaign and Urbana are vying for federal grant money to build a network of broadband computer service in underserved areas. But that could entice the cities to look into broadening the service even further.
Urbana city council members have held holding a study session on the subject. Mayor Laurel Prussing says the grant - if the cities win it - could be an opportunity to offer internet, TV and phone service at a competitive rate to nearly all residents.
"What I'd like to see, instead of having something that's going to be taking money from the cities over the future, I'd like to see it set up as a utility so that the cities can provide service to the public, and get revenue so we wouldn't have to rely so much on taxes," Prussing said.
The so-called big broadband project is already working to extend coverage to key community facilities like libraries, along with parts of the cities that may not be covered by private fiber-optic projects. Prussing says the council still needs to decide whether to pursue the federal grant, how much it would want to spend and how to develop a business plan for broadband service.
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