Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 01, 2011

AFSCME Urges Champaign to Preserve Police Funding

With about 50 jobs eliminated in Champaign as part of a round of budget cuts over the last few years, AFSCME local 31 says some of those positions should be saved - especially as city department heads and the city manager are poised to receive a two percent pay hike.

One area impacted by recent budget cuts is the Champaign Police Department, which could lose a few positions that would keep the front desk from staying open overnight. At a time when administrator salaries are going up, AFSCME spokesperson Michael Wilmore said the city should do more to keep the front desk open 24 hours a day.

"We are trying to draw attention to the fact that they're giving themselves raises," Wilmore said. "It is really insulting to the workers and to the citizens of Champaign."

The Champaign City Council considered a liquor tax in June to restore funding for three of the department's front desk positions and one of its record services positions, but that measure failed to get enough support.

There are currently two out of three three positions at the police department's front desk that are vacant. No changes in the status of these jobs will occur until the Champaign City Council provides more direction, which means for now, the two vacated positions will not be filled and the third position will not be eliminated. The city council is expected to discuss potential new sources of revenue and the future of those jobs during its July 12th meeting.

Champaign Mayor Don Gerard said he is hopeful that the city will find a way to keep the front desk staffed all the time.

"Those positions are vital to the support of the police staff," Gerard said. "I voted against not giving the city manager a raise not because I didn't think he deserved it, but because from a leadership standpoint in these budgetary times, we need to have shared responsibility."

City Manager Steve Carter, whose salary will go up by two percent, defended the pay increases for non-union employees. Carter has not received a pay raise for the last couple of years. He noted many of the other non-union workers who are expected to make more money this year also did not get a raise last year.

"If there has been a group of employees that have scarified - if you will - recognizing the budget condition, it has been the non-union employees," Carter said. "All the union employees, including AFSCME, have received salary increases all along based on contracts, some in existence and some negotiated."

Union workers from the Fraternal Order of Police and the Plumbers and Pipefitters saw their salaries go up last year, and continue to rise this year. However, no future pay raises have been budgeted for AFSCME workers since contract negations with the city are ongoing.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 01, 2011

Cuts to Illinois’ Regional School Superintendents Leaves Questions

The Regional Superintendent of Schools for Champaign and Ford Counties says it is too early to speculate on the long-term impact of Gov. Pat Quinn's cuts to her office and others like it.

The Democratic governor signed a budget Thursday night that would cut salaries for Jane Quinlan and her assistant. The Quinn administration suggests local school districts should pick up those salaries. He has also cut out funds for professional development and training at regional superintendents' offices across the state.

But Quinlan said state lawmakers would have to decide whether to challenge those changes in the fall. For the time being, Quinlan is starting a new four-year term, and she said legislators appear to back that.

"It was put back in both the House budget and the Senate budget," Quinlan said. "The governor had vetoed it again, which would take it back to what his original proposal was. There are some comments in the newspapers that indicate that he thinks it might be paid from other sources, or from county sources. But I haven't really seen a plan for that."

Quinlan said she hopes to learn more about the governor's plan next week. Champaign Unit 4 School Board President Sue Grey said she intends to contact legislators to express her concerns about the budget cuts.

Like Quinlan, Peoria's Regional Superintendent of Schools was sworn in Friday to another term in office. Gerry Brookhart said the Illinois Association of School Superintendents will likely file an injunction to block Quinn's action.

"Myself and our staff will continue to work and the legal entanglement that this will create will probable take some time," Brookhart said. "Ultimately, it will be sorted out and the public will get what we think they really want and deserve which is good quality education delivered in a very effective and meaningful fashion."

The Executive Director of the IARS, Michael McCreery, said he is 'baffled and miffed' by the governor's decision to cut funding for regional school superintendents. Brookhart said the Peoria office brought in $16 million in revenue last year. He said Regional Offices statewide are responsible for more than $100 million in annual revenue. Brookhart said that makes it hard to understand why the governor would cut $11 million and jeopardize ten times that in revenue.

Meanwhile, Mary Fergus with Illinois Association of School Boards said her office has not had a chance to analyze the governor's plan.

There are 46 Regional Offices of Education in the state. Their duties include certifying teachers, overseeing school inspections, and running GED exams.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 01, 2011

Quinn Tries to Skip $75 Million in Raises

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

Gov. Pat Quinn wants to cancel raises for thousands of state employees to help cope with the Illinois budget crisis.

The administration notified 14 state agencies and the affected unions that the 2 percent raises won't be paid as required by contract.

Quinn's office says lawmakers did not provide enough money in the new budget to cover raises for nearly 30,000 employees. Quinn spokeswoman Mica Matsoff says 14 agencies won't have enough money to operate for the full budget year if salaries go up. Canceling the raises would save more than $75 million.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall stated:

"With his illegal and irresponsible actions today, Governor Quinn has trampled on the collective bargaining process and broken his contract with the men and women who do the real work of state government."

"These tens of thousands of Illinois state employees impacted care for disabled veterans, risk their lives in state prisons, monitor paroled convicts, protect children from abuse and neglect, rush to assist in disasters, and much more," Lindall added. "AFSCME will aggressively pursue every available legal recourse to ensure that the collective bargaining agreement is honored and employees are paid according to their contract.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 30, 2011

Quinn OKs New Ill. Budget, with Extra Cuts

Gov. Pat Quinn signed the new Illinois budget into law Thursday, after first trimming money for school buses, eliminating support for regional education offices and chopping Medicaid.

The Democrat suggested the cuts could be part of further negotiations.

"Implementing a budget is not a one-day event but rather a year-round process filled with robust debate and difficult decisions," Quinn said in a statement.

Quinn has repeatedly criticized the spending plan lawmakers sent him, saying it shortchanged many important services. But he cut further.

Money for Medicaid, a health program for the poor, is being cut by an additional $276 million. That brings the Department of Healthcare and Family Services budget to $14.3 billion, or about 4.5 percent below current levels.

Illinois will still have to pay for medical services, however, so less money means bills are simply paid more slowly. Unless something changes, about $1.5 billion in Medicaid bills will be left unpaid at the end of the year, adding to backlog that already amounts to $6 billion or more.

"The point is to get the interested parties to the table to negotiate in good faith" on controlling Medicaid costs, Vaught said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Transportation money the state provides to local schools will be cut by $89 million, which leaves nearly $206 million, a substantial increase.

Vaught said the purpose of that cut is to focus limited state resources on classrooms.

"That's a local function, getting the kids to school," Vaught said, referring to the transportation money as "excess" state funds.

Reducing state aid for transportation is likely to force schools to take money away from other educational services in order to keep buses running.

Quinn eliminated all the money the state provides for regional offices of education around the state. The cut of about $11.3 million does not eliminate the offices, but it would force local taxpayers to come up with the money or close the offices.

Lawmakers rejected both of Quinn's education cuts. They have the option of restoring the $376 million that Quinn cut Thursday. Unless they take action, however, Quinn's version of the budget is the one Illinois will follow for the next year.

His office said Quinn's cuts bring the key measure of state spending to $32.9 billion, about $2 billion below the previous budget. That's a reduction of roughly 6 percent.

Vaught said he didn't know the total size of the budget, including federal funds, fees and other special categories. For the previous year, it was $52.7 billion.

Quinn did not make any public appearance to discuss signing the budget. He does not have any appearances scheduled for Friday either.

The additional budget cuts are likely to frustrate groups that feel the version approved by lawmakers was already deeply flawed. It slashed money to institutions for the mentally handicapped, promised long delays in paying Medicaid bills, reduced education spending and cut money for state employees.

"This is a fundamentally broken budget, an unworkable plan that falls far short of the revenue needed to adequately support basic services," said Anders Lindall, spokesman for the Illinois division of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Lindall urged Quinn to spend at the levels needed to maintain services and then work with lawmakers to come up with more money later in the year.

But Vaught said Quinn must assume no more money will be available. "You implement right away and you do the cuts," he said.

A key question is what cuts Quinn can make. He reached a bargain with AFSCME last year in which the union agreed to make concessions and Quinn agreed not to cut jobs or close state facilities.

Vaught said Quinn will diclose more of his plans soon.

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 30, 2011

U of I Extension Cuts Mean Major Reorganization, Job Losses

More than 100 jobs will be cut from the University of Illinois Extension as a result of a large reorganization.

While initial budget figures called for more than $2 million in cuts, that figure increased to $7.6 million for the new fiscal year.

As it stands, the budget cuts will force the merger of several county offices, and the number of Extension units have been reduced from 70 to 27. And about 50 county extension director positions will be eliminated though layoffs and retirements.

Interim Associate Dean and Director Bob Hoeft said moving educators out of centers and into the counties should actually be a good thing. They specialize in areas like small farms, nutrition, and youth development in local 4-H programs.

Hoeft said while a number of the jobs cut were educator positions, he said no specific areas of expertise were targeted. He also noted that any counties that want to keep their extension office open could - but many will be operating only two to three days a week. He said in most cases, an office will remain open.

"The public spoke - the public said they wanted their offices," he said. "There are counties that said they don't need an office, and Douglas County is one example of that. Talking with elected officials, they've said that they had no real complaints, and it's worked real well."

Among the educator positions that were reduced, he says just six are left in agriculture, because few are needed anymore.

"We have a number of commercial ag people that come directly to campus," Hoeft said. "We also have 1,500 certified crop advisers in this state that are capable of giving sound, agronomic advice, and customers, the farmers of the state, go to them for that advice."

Hoeft said Extension will be relying more on electronic communication in the future since that is what younger generations demand.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 30, 2011

Illinois Group Gets $1.4 Million to Help Migrants

The U.S. Department of Labor is giving an Illinois group $1.4 million to provide job training and other services to migrant farmworkers.

The department said Wednesday the money will go to the Illinois Migrant Council. The money is part of $78.3 million being provided by The National Farmworker Jobs Program to 52 groups around the country to pay for job training, employment services and other needs for seasonal farmworkers and their families.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said the money is intended to help migrant farmworkers and their families lead more stable lives. Another $5.7 million will go to 16 groups across the country to provide housing assistance for migrant farmworkers.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 30, 2011

Quinn Expected to Sign Budget

Illinois' new budget takes effect Friday, the first day of the fiscal year. The state won't have enough money to pay businesses that are waiting for state payments.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to sign the state budget Thursday. He can accept the blueprint as lawmakers sent it over, or slightly amend it. State law restricts how much he can change.

Regardless, the budget won't include enough money to catch up on old bills. One person waiting to get paid is Ralph Ditchie, who runs two day care center for adults.

"I'm just a little guy from the south side of Chicago who started a business, and about five months ago, they owed us three-quarters of a million dollars," Ditchie said.

The state has caught up a little in what it owes Ditchie. But the delay he and others have gotten used to is not expected to ease up, even after Quinn signs the budget.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 29, 2011

Illinois Library Systems Prepare to Merge

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.

Categories: Business, Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 29, 2011

Emanuel to Unions: Concessions or 625 Possible Layoffs

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.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 29, 2011

Reconstruction Plan in Place for Fire-Damaged Campustown Building

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)

Categories: Business, Economics

Page 114 of 165 pages ‹ First  < 112 113 114 115 116 >  Last ›