Illinois Public Media News
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.
In central Illinois, many employers large and small have downsized or closed altogether, forcing thousands of laid-off workers to consider new options. In our latest report as part of our outreach project "WILL Connect: The Economy", AM 580's Jeff Bossert looks at the retraining of workers. Ingenuity and government-funded training are giving many of them a jump on a new career, or a better shot at an old one:
Champaign city council members may take a preliminary vote this week to cut its cable TV franchise agreement with Comcast.
But an attorney working on talks between Comcast and the cities of Champaign and Urbana says the measure will not be as drastic as it seems. Brian Grogan says negotiations with the cable company have been going on in good faith, and a pending council vote tomorrow night to reject Comcast's offer for a franchise renewal won't mean the end of those talks.
"If they believe that the proposal doesn't meet the needs, then it's considered a preliminary denial," Grogan said. "In all likelihood, Comcast would request further proceedings, and the parties would continue to move forward down that statutory process."
City leaders say they've reached an impasse with Comcast over a number of points, including a local Comcast office, use of rights-of-way for cables, and funding for local government and public access channels. The current franchise agreement runs out at the end of October.
A state-sponsored advocacy group for utility customers in Illinois says cell phone customers generally pay much more than they should.
The Citizens Utility Board has analyzed hundreds of wireless telephone bills as part of a free online program it offers. CUB director David Kolata says those bills offered valuable information on billing practices.
"You upload an online version of your cell phone bill and it automatically recommends the best plan for you," Kolata said. "Since it was introduced last year, about 7,000 people have used it, and the average savings is about 330 dollars a year."
Kolata says more than half of all minutes that people purchase each month go to waste, as well as a large number of unused text messages. He also says about half of all bills carry unnecessary extras, like insurance that doesn't cover much. The online program will compare your plan to other offers by your cellphone provider and its competitors.
You can find the service at www.cubcellphonesaver.org.
Ameren says an expanding portion of Southwest Champaign has necessitated plans for a new transmission line.
The first of two public meetings to help determine the route for the utility proposed 138-thousand volt line is Monday. It would extend from the Bondville Route 10 substation to one on the southwest portion of the University of Illinois campus in Savoy.
Spokesman Leigh Morris says what's key are any concerns about 'sensitivities' someone may want the line to steer clear of:
"It could be something like a cemetery, it could be a flood plain, it could be an archaeological site, a hospital, a school," Morris said. "But we need that kind of input, and we certainly want people to come because we need that input to develop the routes."
At a second open house this fall... Ameren IP will unveil its proposals for routes. Morris says feedback will still play a role then in what's submitted to the Illinois Commerce Commission. The filing with the ICC will take place in January, and its review process is expected to take 12 to 15 months.
Many routes for the line are already under consideration... they can be viewed on line at CI transmission-dot-com. Ameren's first public meeting on the transmission line is Monday from 4 to 7 at the Holiday Inn on Killarney Street in Urbana.
Champaign residents could start seeing more flyers on their cars and doorknobs soon, if the City Council goes ahead with plans to repeal a prohibition against the advertising practice.
Right now, only political and religious groups can leave a flyer on someone's doorknob in Champaign. And it's illegal to leave flyers of any sort on someone's windshield. But after a company that distributes such flyers argued that the ban violates the First Amendment, the council decided to revisit the issue. Council members unanimously endorsed ending the ban on doorknob flyers at Tuesday night's study session. But the council split 5 to 4 on ending the windshield flyer ban. For Councilwoman Marci Dodds, letting commercial handbills be plastered on windshields was too much.
"I don't have a problem with political and religious handbilling. I'm not fond of it because it just one of my pet peeves. But I don't see that commercial (handbilling) falls in the same category as that in the slightest," Dodds said.
But other council members said that the First Amendment wins out and that the council should repeal any law that they believe to be unconstitutional. Council member Tom Bruno said if Champaign resident gets an unwanted handbill on their car or door, they can exercise their own first amendment rights.
"I think a resident who gets an unwanted handbill should take the time to phone the business or the politician and say I'm really upset by this and I'm not going to do business with you," Bruno said.
The council will take a final vote on the issue at a later meeting.
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