Illinois Public Media News
The state of Illinois has another lodging facility on its hands, and it's trying to find a buyer.
The state already owns one hotel in which it had invested money, and last year it unloaded a second. The latest possession is a property on state park land. The firm that held the concession for the Eagle Creek Resort and Conference Center near Shelbyville had fallen into receivership, and last month the receiver asked that it be closed. Today the state began asking for bids to revive the sprawling resort.
Tom Flattery is a planner with the state Department of Natural Resources. He says the closure has come at a bad time for the resort industry, so finding an operator may be tough.
Flattery says the Eagle Creek Resort had deteriorated over time, so he estimates that it could take 1.5 million dollars to restore it. In the meantime, the DNR is keeping the resort mothballed, spending about 50 thousand dollars a year to provide security and maintain the 18-hole golf course.
Bids for running the resort are due by mid-November.
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:
Organizations that help the poor in east-central Illinois are giving out more and more assistance. But there may be many people who for some reason or another have not made that call for help. In the latest of our series of stories in connection with the outreach project "WILL Connect: The Economy," AM 580's Tom Rogers introduces us to people who decided to make the leap and reach out for aid, and people who encourage others to do so.
The union representing a majority of Illinois state workers wants a judge to halt plans for government layoffs. The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees has filed suit in Johnson County, home of the Vienna Correctional Center.
It's in response to Governor Pat Quinn's plan to cut as many as 26-hundred jobs across state government, some as early as next month. Quinn says the plan would provide savings for the cash-strapped state. But AFSCME Spokesman Anders Lindall says the layoffs could create other problems...
"We need to know how will the work be done in whatever agency we're talking about," Lindall said. "Will this significantly increase caseloads in the Department of Human Services? Will it cause further shortages in state prisons that drive up overtime costs and make conditions less safe?"
AFSCME's lawsuit argues the state should be prohibited from going through with layoffs until it finishes bargaining with the union over the impact of job cuts. No hearing date has been set. Quinn's office did not respond to calls seeking comment.
With the economy shaky and unemployment up, more people are turning to food pantries for help in getting enough to eat. In east-central Illinois, food pantries -- and the regional food bank that supplies them -- say more people are coming to them for help, some of them for the first time. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.
A coordinator of a tent community for the homeless wants to turn the project into a full-fledged not-for-profit organization.
In the meantime, Abby Harmon is asking Champaign city officials to practice what she calls "a higher level of ethics" and let the Safe Haven community keep camping on the grounds of St. Mary's Church, at least until winter sets in. Harmon says city regulations forbidding camping ought to be revisited in tough economic times.
"The city has a housing crisis on its hands that it needs to recognize," Harmon said. "Given the housing crisis, there are times when the pre-existing city ordinance is not working for the people. When the law no longer works for the people, the law needs to be modified."
Harmon says in the long term, the Safe Haven group would like to purchase "micro-houses" to replace tents for homeless residents. She describes them as 8x10-foot pre-fab rooms with solid walls that can accommodate heaters. They'd be served by a common kitchen-and-bath facility. Some Champaign council members have criticized the tent community, which was forced to leave its first home at Champaign's St. Jude Catholic Worker House because it violates city codes.
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.
Officials with the Federal Reserve say they're committed to returning to Washington with proposals for modifying mortgage loans, and foreclosure mediation. But they also want to hear more from communities hit the hardest by the mortgage crisis.
In Decatur over the weekend, about 500 people from the region heard from the enterprise that creates monetary policy. They also had a chance to apply pressure for changes in lending practices. AM 580's Jeff Bossert reports:
Restoration Urban Ministries in Champaign has survived another financial crisis. Financial officer Judy Stoll says Ameren has dropped its threat to cut off the homeless shelter's electricity --- now that they've caught up with their bill.
"Because of the generous outpouring of the community and the churches and private donations", says Stoll, "we have been able to get caught up with Ameren. and I actually paid the last of the Ameren bill off on Monday. We're also trying to get some of the other utility bills caught up".
Stoll says more than 25-thousand dollars has come to Restoration Urban Ministries since last month, when residents of the shelter came to a Champaign City Council meeting to ask for help --- and Ameren warned of a power cutoff if bills weren't paid. First amendment issues prevent the city of Champaign from giving money to the faith-based shelter. But Stoll says contributions are still coming in from the public. She says that helps make up for a 30-to-40 percent dip in donations to Restoration earlier this year.
The organization currently shelters about 91 people in a former motel on Champaign's northwest side, and provides them with life skills classes to help them get back on their feet.
Stoll says supporters of Restoration Urban Ministries are launching their own efforts to keep the donations coming in. Those efforts include a Facebook page, titled "Help Save Restoration Ministries". Pastor Vincent Elam is hosting the page, and asking 25-thousand people to give a dollar each to help out.
Unemployment has risen in all 12 Illinois metropolitan areas.
Figures released by the state Thursday show the highest jobless rate in June was 14 percent, in the Rockford metro area. That's up from 13.4 percent in May and more than 5 percentage points higher than last June.
Local jobless figures were released one week after the Illinois Department of Employment Security announced the statewide unemployment rate hit a 26-year high 10.3 percent.
Besides Rockford, other metro areas with unemployment rates above 10 percent in June were Chicago-Naperville-Joliet at 11.3 percent, Danville at 10.9 percent, Decatur at 11.3 percent and the Kankakee-Bradley at 11.1 percent.
Here's a look at rates for June and May:<
Metro area June Rate MayRate
Bloomington-Normal: 6.7 6.0
Champaign-Urbana: 7.8 6.7
Chicago-Naperville-Joliet: 11.3 10.7
Danville: 10.9 10.1
Davenport-Moline-Rock Island 7.6 6.9
Decatur: 11.3 10.0
Kankakee-Bradley: 11.1 10.6
Lake-Kenosha: 9.2 8.7
Peoria: 9.6 8.9
Rockford: 14.0 13.4
Springfield: 6.9 6.3
St. Louis (Ill. area): 9.0 8.2
Source: Illinois Department of Employment Security
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