Illinois Public Media News
Come July 1st, four library systems in Decatur, Champaign, Edwardsville and Carterville will merge to form the Illinois Heartland Library System.
The change comes in response to the state's financial problems.
One of the groups involved in the merger is Rolling Prairie Library System in Decatur. Executive Director Beverly Obert said her library system is waiting on about $350,000 from the state. She said the system's nearly 260 member libraries will notice some changes following the merger, such as a lack of continued education and consulting services
"It's a little bit of looking forward to it, and also sadness at what's being lost," Obert said. "Next few days is to get through the merger, and start serving the people."
Obert noted that there will be more of a focus on resource sharing, delivery and the "Talking Book Service" in the new library system. She said reciprocal borrowing privileges between libraries in the system should also stay the same.
Another library system involved in the merger is Champaign-based Lincoln Trail Libraries System, which serves 120 libraries. It is currently waiting on $300,000 to $400,000 from the state, according to its executive director Jan Ison. She said the people who will notice a difference in service are librarians who rely on her staff to answer questions quickly.
"Now that doesn't mean my staff won't answer questions and they won't be quickly, but hopefully we're going to do the best we can," Ison said. "It's quite likely that some staff will be telecommuting, or perhaps working out of some of the member libraries."
While some library systems involved in the merger are cutting staff - like Rolling Prairie - Ison said the only positions that will be eliminated at the Lincoln Trail Libraries System are those that are currently open. She said all existing staff who want to stay on board will be able to do so.
Illinois Heartland Library System will include 594 member libraries: 38 Academic, 231 Public, 260 School and 65 Special. In addition, five library systems in northern Illinois will merge into one consolidated system known as Reaching Across Illinois Library System (RAILS). Meanwhile, the Chicago Public Library System will remain as its own entity.
Hundreds of city workers could face layoffs if they don't agree to make concessions that would save the city $20 million, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday.
Emanuel said that he will not have to lay off workers if he and the unions reach an agreement by a Thursday night deadline, but added: "If they don't agree to it, then 625 people and their families will lose that job. And that's not necessary."
The mayor would not say whether layoff notices would go out immediately.
Emanuel said he still hopes unions can be his "partner" in helping close a multimillion dollar budget gap left to him by former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. In order to balance the 2011 budget, the Daley administration struck an agreement with labor to make workers take several unpaid days off, for an annual savings of $30 million. But that agreement expires Thursday at midnight, leaving it up to the Emanuel administration to negotiate with labor on concessions for the second half of the year.
Emanuel has said he is against imposing more furlough days on city workers. But he declined to offer specifics on the $20 million in savings he proposed to Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez when they met on Tuesday, other than to say that they comprise several "work rule and workplace reforms and efficiencies" that he said are common practice among private sector unions.
The 625 workers who could be laid off have been identified as a "precautionary" measure, Emanuel said. But he declined to say which workers might face layoffs, or what city services they could affect.
A statement Wednesday afternoon from union leaders claims there have been no negotiations between them and the city. Jorge Ramirez from the Chicago Federation of Labor and Tom Villanova of the Chicago & Cook County Building Trades Council said union workers have already sacrificed a lot, and should not be blamed for the city's budget problems.
A building nearly destroyed by fire in Champaign's Campustown neighborhood could be operating again by early 2012.
The fire that began in the upstairs of the structure in the 600 block of East Green Street brought business to a halt at Mia Za's café, Zorba's restaurant, and Pitaya clothing on March 23rd.
But an architectural firm has filed a permit to rebuild, and work with the three owners going from the drawings of the shell of the outer building. Neil Strack with Architectural Expressions LLP said the initial plans are to place a new upstairs, roof, and front façade on the building. He expects it will be about 60 days before the building's occupants can do their work.
"How long does it take for their drawings to get ready, ordering materials, contracts, so on and so forth," said Strack. "That would be past that 60 days, so you're talking about another 3 or 4 months after that before you see your first tenants open back up again."
Strack said communication will be a big concern moving forward since the building has three different owners and four different tenants, which includes two upstairs apartments.
Champaign's Building Safety Supervisor, Gary Bowman, said the challenge now is restoring the roof and outer shell after reviewing drawings of the building's original 1920's design.
"It's always a bit more complicated when you're trying to go back and repair something that's damaged and somewhat of an existing structure as opposed to building brand new from ground level," Bowman said. "A lot of times it's actually faster to build brand new than it is to try to repair an existing structure and correct all the things that are necessary for that. That inevitably adds time to the project."
Strack said it will take some time to comply with current codes in the old structure. The demolition and removal of remaining debris has been completed.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
The automotive parts company Thyssen Krupp Presta Danville, LLC, has announced an expansion, creating up to 100 new jobs in central Illinois.
The company also said Wednesday it would close its cold forge facility in Danville and relocate it to Puebla, Mexico. Thyssen officials said the 40 workers at the plant would be offered positions at its Presta manufacturing facility in Danville.
The company said it will invest nearly $40 million to increase production capacity at the Presta facility. The money will be spent on new assembly lines and machinery to be installed by December 2012.
Thyssen officials say expansion is needed because of increasing customer orders. They are looking to hire line and machine operators, equipment technicians and production support workers.
Thyssen received state tax credits and grant money.
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)
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
Legislation to authorize five new casinos in the state is waiting for Gov. Pat Quinn's signature, but the governor cannot sign the measure just yet.
The bill seeks to add casinos in Danville, Chicago, Rockford, Lake County and southern Cook County. Quinn has criticized the plan, calling it "top heavy." Though, he has said he could envision a casino in Chicago if it is properly done.
To buy some more negotiating time, Senate President John Cullerton is using a parliamentary procedure to hold the bill. Gambling supporters hope adjustments can be made to the legislation so that Quinn will sign it in the fall.
"He's obviously expressed concerns publicly on some of the provisions in the bill," Cullerton said on Monday. "So we're taking the time to go over the bill with the governor to make sure if there's any changes that he wants, that he can make those through a trailer bill."
During a visit to Champaign Tuesday afternoon, Quinn said lawmakers should just send him the gambling measure.
"I have 60 days to review the bill," Quinn said. "In this case they're holding it. I don't know what that's all about. I find it kind of a maneuver. I don't think that's necessarily the best way to go, but they can do what they want to. We're still going to analyze the bill from top to bottom."
The measure also seeks to add slot machines at horse racing tracks, Chicago's airports and the state fairgrounds. Supporters of the legislation say increasing the state's gambling industry would bring in $1.6 billion dollars in upfront fees and $500 million dollars or more annually.
Convicted former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is likely to lose his $65,000 annual state pension.
Director of the General Assembly Retirement System Timothy Blair said according to state law, any elected official or public employee convicted of a felony committed on the job, is ineligible for retirement benefits.
"No other benefits would be payable," Blair said. "So that's happened several times, in most of the retirement systems. That would apply to people who are teachers, state employees, and of course members of the General Assembly Retirement System. And that's the provision that George Ryan was subject to."
Blair said employees like Ryan can get back contributions they made to their pensions. He said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office will be asked to make a recommendation on whether Blagojevich should lose his pension. Then the board will take a vote based on that opinion.
A spokeswoman for Madigan's office said the former governor must first be sentenced before the pension can be denied.
It is uncertain when he will be sentenced.
The 54-year-old Democrat could start collecting his state pension on his next birthday December tenth.
Blair said he hopes the pension board will have a ruling before that.
Blagojevich could get $15,000 a year in federal retirement for the years he served in Congress. He could start drawing his federal pension at age 62.
New regulations clamping down on workers' compensation abuses in Illinois have been signed into law.
The changes include a 30 percent reduction in medical payments. Other provisions include letting payments for carpal tunnel syndrome last only 28 1/2 weeks, instead of 40. New guidelines also will make it harder for intoxicated workers to win claims.
During a visit to Champaign Tuesday afternoon, Governor Pat Quinn praised the measure, saying the changes are reasonable.
"The reforms we enacted I think will help workers and maintain their right to get compensation for an injury and at the same time be fair to the employers, and not in any way take advantage of them," Quinn said.
But State Senator Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) said the workers comp legislation does not go far enough. He said it could do a better job connecting injuries that happen as a result of a job, rather than at a job.
"With causation, it's like putting a band-aid because you're still going to have claims filed that probably shouldn't be filed and attributed to workers' comp," Cultra said.
The changes to workers' compensation are expected to cut between $500 million and $700 million from the $3 billion workers' compensation system.
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.
The inventory of available houses and condos on the market in Champaign County is ample and growing. So says the head of the county's Association of Realtors - potentially good news for buyers, but he says sales are relatively slow.
May figures from the state realtors' organization shows 204 sales during the month, down 20% from May of 2010, with year-to-date sales down more than 15%.
Champaign County Association of Realtors president Max Mitchell says tax credits for first-time home buyers have come to an end, and since then buyers have been hesitant. "In 2011, with the interest rates being so favorable, it has gotten people out, but people are a little bit nervous simply because they've heard on the news that you have to have a higher credit score to qualify for a loan," Mitchell said.
Mitchell says the potential for higher required down-payments also has buyers and real estate observers worried. On the other hand, state figures suggest that home prices in Champaign County are holding their own compared to the rest of the state - the median sale price in May held nearly steady with the median price a year ago.
But Mitchell cautions that foreclosures are becoming more of a problem for the market. He says up to now, foreclosed homes have been a target for investors. "Now there are more foreclosed properties, and unfortunately, investors see that if you're going to own a foreclosed property, you aren't going to be able to resell it for a much higher amount in today's market.
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