Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 15, 2011

Champaign Unveils Transformed Houses

There is a bit less blight in some north Champaign neighborhoods as the results of a federally-funded program.

On Friday, Champaign city officials took people on a tour of three houses that were either built or rehabbed under the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. Sheila Dodd of Champaign's Neighborhood Services Department said the city had won $1.9 million in federal stimulus money to do the work.

"It allows us to buy vacant, abandoned, blighted or foreclosed properties, and then with that we fix them up or demolish them," Dodd said. "Our reuse of the projects can be rental, homeowner rehab, those type of things."

Dodd said the Neighborhood Stabilization Program has not solved the entire problem of blight -- but it's made a difference in the Douglass Park area, where there's already been a lot of new construction.

"There's going to be six new homes built in a two block area over in that neighborhood, so it's just going to further our neighborhood wellness goals over there," she said. "It also helped with some homes that were in really poor shape - we were able to demolish them and we'll rebuild with new construction, which helps the properties around them maintain their value or even increase in value."

Habitat for Humanity is using some of the lots to build houses for low-income home buyers. Other properties will be offered by the Center for Women in Transition to clients escaping abusive households and needing rental housing.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 12, 2011

Vermilion County Board Approves Wind Turbine Ordinance

The Vermilion County Board overwhelmingly approved a measure Tuesday night by a vote of 22-1 to issue a land permit to an energy company that wants to construct a large wind farm in Vermilion and Champaign Counties.

The lone dissenting vote came from board member Terry Stal.

Chicago-based Invenergy is looking to build 104 wind turbines in Vermilion County starting northeast of Kickapoo State Park. The company is willing to pay the county up to $90,000 a year in property taxes and an additional $150,000 in building permit fees.

Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon supports the plan, touting its economic advantages for the community.

"Land owners get anywhere between $4,000 and $8,000 a year for leasing a piece of their land for the wind turbine," McMahon said. "So, you get the economic boost of people getting money because of the wind."

Darrell Cambron of rural Rankin has opposed the project from the start. Cambron said that the Vermilon County wind ordinance, which allows the wind turbines within 1,000 feet of a home is simply too close. He is urging county officials to give the plan a second look.

"It seems like they keep getting bigger all the time," Cambron said. "I've talked to other people who have had them around their homes, and they have problems with them."

Each wind turbine would be 492 feet tall, and have the capacity of producing 1.6 megawatts. Cambron said he is concerned that the large wind turbines would create too much noise and shadow flicker. However, McMahon said those concerns could only be addressed if Vermilion County had a zoning ordinance, but he said county simply does not have one on the books.

"I have no jurisdiction to look at those issues when it's a building permit," McMahon explained. "If you were going to build a building, and you needed a permit for that building, you have to produce that that building is a sound building, and it's not going to fall over or somebody get hurt."

The wind farm would stretch to Champaign County, where there would be 30 additional turbines north of Royal and just south of Gifford.

Champaign County Board member Alan Kurtz, a Democrat, said the county's wind farm ordinance, which took three years to develop, will allow the county to reap the benefits, including hundreds of jobs.

"I was able to put together a coalition of Republicans and Democrats, and we passed a wind farm ordinance by a supermajority of 25 out of the 27 votes on the county board," Kurtz explained. "It's obvious that there was a consensus for wind farms here in Champaign County and the revenues that it will bring to us."

The Champaign County Planning and Zoning Department received its application this week to build the wind farm. A set of public hearings on the project is scheduled Aug. 25, and Sept. 1, 8 and 29 at the Champaign County Zoning Board of Appeals.

"I don't know if the county board is going to want to do a study session," county zoning director John Hall said. "They are all pretty familiar with the wind farm requirements since it was such a relatively recent amendment, so I never presumed that they would want a study session...there are no plans for a study session at this time."

The Champaign County Board could vote on the application as early as Oct. 20.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 11, 2011

State Panel Addresses Hunger in Rural Communities

A member of a panel looking at issues related to hunger says while state funding remains a concern, some are not aware of federally-funded programs literally in their own backyard.

Kate Maehr co-chairs the Illinois Commission to End Hunger. She was among those taking testimony Sunday from migrant farm workers in Rantoul at the first of eight meetings statewide to discuss access to food in rural areas. Maeher said the key now is connecting people to the federally-funded SNAP program, or summer meal programs in schools. She cited what she calls 'poignant' testimony from one of the migrant workers, who discussed visiting a local food pantry.

"He said you (operators of pantries) should ask questions," Maeher said. "When people come in for a bag of food, ask them if they're getting a paycheck. Ask them if they have other things they need. I think that's a really important reminder for all of us. Sometimes we get caught in our silos, whether it's to get a bag of food or some other service, it's really incumbent upon us to extend ourselves to find out if there are other things that individual may need."

Maehr said only 15-percent of those eligible for the school-based summer meal programs are taking advantage of them.

Donna Camp with the Wesley Evening Food Pantry in Urbana said her facility often tries to deliver bags of food to migrant farm workers, since they'll be working after the pantry closes at 7:30. Camp said the testimony from the event in Rantoul didn't surprise her, but she did not know how much state funding had been cut to the Illinois Migrant Council, which does outreach for the SNAP program. Camp said many resources exist within communities if they learn to share with one another.

"How can the employers work with community organizations, government or non-profit, to have food ready when workers arrive in town?" she said. "How can school districts get involved? The children of these workers are being educated. This year, the Urbana school district has the contract to do that in our area."

Camp said while SNAP benefits are important, there are a number of undocumented workers who are not eligible for the program. She said her food pantry will keep tabs on the state commission and its recommendations, with hopes it responds better to the needs of migrant workers.

(Photo courtesy of Darrell Hoemann)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 08, 2011

Champaign Schools Hopes to Hire New Superintendent by December

The Champaign Unit 4 school board expects to begin interviewing candidates for a new superintendent sometime in September.

But the position has yet to be posted, and board member Tom Lockman said that is partly because the district is letting the public to give their input. A search firm has started some informal recruitment, but there have also been more than 300 replies to community surveys on the district's web site. Former superintendent Arthur Culver resigned at the end of June, and Bob Malito is serving in an interim role for 100 days.

But Lockman said the board wants to make they hire someone the community wants, and that is the reason for the public surveys and two search committees involving the public in the process.

"We certainly have our opinions, and a lot of that we draw from what we hear in the community," he said. "But this is such an important part of what we do. I mean, it's the biggest thing that we will do as a board is make a decision on superintendent, and making sure the community is involved in that process."

Lockman said the school board and a search firm have some qualifications in mind, while the surveys highlight some priorities as well.

"There are certainly some themes in there, and certainly some answers that are more popular that others," he said. "And I think as we continue to talk about it, that will become apparent as well. But I think we have anything set specifically - this person has to have this person has to have this many years of experience, or has to have this kind of education. We have specified any of that at this point."

Lockman said most of the input thus far has come from Unit 4 staff, but the district is starting to find some common themes among the surveys.

A tentative timeline calls for the school district to name four to seven finalists by November, with hopes of hiring someone by December.

The new superintendent would start next July.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 30, 2011

Getting Rural Residents Where They Need to Be

The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District gives passengers about 10 million rides each year. But as Dan Petrella of CU-CitizenAccess reports, for Champaign County's rural residents, getting where they need to go isn't as easy as walking to the nearest bus stop.

(Photo by Dan Petrella)

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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 29, 2011

LIFE ON ROUTE 150: Cost of Keeping Communities Clean

Champaign, Urbana and Danville handle about 6,000 nuisance property cases a year. While most property owners fix problems when they receive notification, those who don't cost the city-and taxpayers-thousands of dollars in clean-up costs. As part of the series "Life on Route 150," CU-CitizenAccess reporter Pam Dempsey looks at how cities in east central Illinois are working to keep blight out of neighborhoods.

(Photo by Pam Dempsey)

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Categories: Business, Community, Economics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 27, 2011

LIFE ON ROUTE 150: The Stigma of Food Stamps

The 2008 recession has taken its toll up and down U.S. Route 150 - and the U.S. Department of Agriculture says almost every Illinois county along the 150 corridor has seen an uptick in 2010 in use of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. But anti-hunger advocates say many people who have lost their jobs are NOT taking advantage of SNAP. Illinois Public Media's Dave Dickey reports as a part of the series "Life on Route 150.

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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 24, 2011

LIFE ON ROUTE 150:  Rural Churches Look for Ways to Survive

In rural towns throughout Central Illinois, deciding where to attend worship service today could mean giving up youth activities or choir for a smaller service, or sacrificing a local connection to seek out parishioners of a similar age in a large congregation. As part of the series, 'Life on Route 150', Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert looks at rural churches, and what some in the region are doing to survive in today's climate.

(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)

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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 22, 2011

Champaign Sesquicentennial Celebration Ends with Thursday Night Bash

The last event in the city of Champaign's 150th anniversary celebration is an open family-oriented party Thursday night.

The city is using the brand-new Boneyard Second Street Basin development as the backdrop for what it calls a Unity Celebration. The first one-thousand attendees will be treated to free food, and there will be music, entertainment and games.

LaEisha Meadards is heading up the sesquicentennial events for the city. She says another highlight will require the help of as many Champaign residents as possible. "All of the visitors who come to the Unity Celebration will get together and take a community-wide photo," Meadards said. "It will be used as a commemorative item for city-related documents, and it will be on sale for the community at large."

During a dedication ceremony at 5:40, the city will also place a time capsule at the Boneyard commemorating a series of 150th-anniversary events that began more than a year ago. The Unity Celebration takes place tomorrow evening from 5:30 to 8:30 with the community photo at 6:10.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 21, 2011

LIFE ON ROUTE 150: Weighing the Value of Small-Town Police Depts.

Even though small towns may not have big crime problems compared to larger areas, they still need law enforcement. As part of the series "Life on Route 150," Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers visited one town that's keeping its local police presence intact despite the state's economic challenges, and another town that recently dismantled its police force to save money.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

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