Illinois Public Media News
The University of Illinois' educational outreach to the state is planning for big cuts over the next year.
U of I Extension plans to realign its offices in every county, combining several of those county offices into multi-county regions with shared administration. For example, one region would be made out of Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties.
"We will have a hub office which will contain most of our people," said Bob Hoeft, the interim extension director. "In the counties that don't have the hub, they will have a satellite office. That office isn't going to be what we've had in the past -- it will probably be smaller. It will probably not be open every day of the week."
But Hoeft says the satellite offices would be able to provide clients with publications and other information without the need to make a long drive to another county. He says the target of the consolidation is to save $7 million over the next budget year, about the same amount of money U of I Extension had to cut from the current year's budget.
The latest report aimed at cutting costs on the University of Illinois' Urbana campus suggests some redundancies are taking place, and that's partially brought on by a lack of communication.
College of Business Dean Larry DeBrock headed a team asked to review the Office of Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement. Units under it include the U of I's Office of Corporate Relations. DeBrock's team says that office doesn't always disseminate information it shares with the private sector with fundraising groups on campus. His team also learned that some faculty need more help in facilitating relationships with corporations. DeBrock says another key to his group's findings involved sustainable practices, like cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
"There's a lot of very great and intense interest in sustainability issues on this campus, as there are on all research campuses right now," said DeBrock. "Because these are imporatant issues off the front page of the newspaper, and they mean to where our society is going to go over the next generation that has caused a lot of interest among both faculty and students... indeed even the campus in a sense of thinking about the sustainability of our operations."
DeBrock's team suggests there should be a central position on the Urbana campus concerned with sustainability, but the group was unsure if a central office would be necessary for getting the message out. His group says the campus is missing an opportunity for failing to coordinate the work of U of I Facilities and Services with the energy efficient research, and studies of students and faculty.
The U of I will take letters in response to the report on Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement through May 28th.
Urbana's proposed budget doesn't include any tax hikes, but eliminates raises and leaves a number of jobs vacant in order to do that.
The city will also rely on $6 million in reserves to balance the budget. Mayor Laurel Prussing says the $48 million dollar proposed spending plan also relies on fine and fee hikes from the past year. The city will leave seven jobs unfilled, including a police officer, a public works maintenance worker, and an executive assistant job that's being eliminated for good. Prussing says one area of revenue - the state motor fuel tax... really hasn't changed in 20 years, and suggests the city should enact its own. She says a 2-cent tax would bring a half-million dollars a year for street improvements. "This is something that has to be discussed with the council, and I'd like to talk about it with Champaign," said Prussing. "But I think it's something that Urbana really has to take seriously because we have a need for this and I think since we'd only be asking for a fairly modest amount, we'll have to see what the public thinks." Prussing says a 5-cent motor fuel tax has worked well in Danville, where residents don't mind spending the extra money to upgrade streets.
Mayor Prussing says she's also concerned about what courts decide on Provena Covenant Medical Center's tax exemption. She says if local hospitals provide enough charitable care to be exempt, then Urbana taxpayers are paying for it. She says that doesn't seem fair for the city to pick up that cost. Urbana's city council gets its first look at the budget plan on May 24th - a final vote on the plan will be on June 21st.
The University of Illinois' 18th president says it's easy to dwell on the financial problems of the state, rather than the good things the 3-campus institution has to offer. When introduced Wednesday, Michael Hogan also stressed the need to look beyond an admissions controversy that led to the previous president's resignation. The Iowa native got a large ovation in Urbana... about six weeks before he takes the helm of the U of I. Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert has this report:
Vermilion County's financially struggling Health Department is cutting 16 more staff members by June 30th as it looks to maintain minimum state-certified status.
Adminstrator Steve Laker says even operating at that level will rely on another loan from the county - this one for $75,000. The Vermilion County Board will discuss the loan at its meeting Tuesday. The county is also being asked to pick up about 88-thousand dollars in buyouts for laid off employees. Laker says the health department will also implement a four-day work week later this month. "We're going to set a standard furlough day one day a week. The Fridays will be elimated," says Laker. "So our staff time will be elimated from 35 hours to 28 hours a week, and our operations will be a 4-day a week operation."
By July 1st, Laker says his department will only maintain three programs partially dependent on federal dollars. Those programs are communicable disease services, environmental health... and WIC, or the Women, Infants and Children program. Vermilion County's health department is owed more than $600,000 by the state. It started the year with 74 employees, and plans to have 31 when the next fiscal year begins.
The University of Illinois is expected to name its next president by next week. Trustee Pam Strobel confirmed today that the announcement will come between now and next Thursday's U of I Trustees meeting in Chicago. She says the person is a sitting university president or provost. Her comments came after the Trustees' finance committee meeting.
Illinois lawmakers have yet to approve a budget, but Interim President Stanley Ikenberry says trustees still plan on a tuition hike for next year of 9.5 % based on the best information they have. After the committee meeting, he said the U of I will also consider a short-term borrowing measure to make up for a loss of state dollars. Ikenberry says it's frustrating that lawmakers haven't completed their work. He says trustees have to give both the U of I, as well as parents, time to plan. But Ikenberry admits the funds from that tuition increase will fall well short of covering roughly $46 million dollars in lost state support, and a number of comparable budget reductions will still be required.
"I think our philosphy going into this is to ask academic programs and students both to share in this... that's been our practice in the past," said Ikenberry. "And that's what kind of a recommendation would provide for." Ikenberry says it remains to be seen whether the U of I would act on a measure giving short-term borrowing authority to public universities. Governor Pat Quinn has yet to sign the bill. Ikenberry says unless legislators solve Illinois' overall financial crisis, he says borrowing will be likely.
Today, Friday, May 7th, is supposed to be the last day for Illinois legislators in Springfield, based on a self-imposed deadline. With an eye toward adjournment, the Illinois Senate approved a spending plan in the early morning hours. But there's still no final budget agreement.
Partisan differences over the best way to proceed given Illinois' $13 billion deficit are the main holdup. Whether the GOP will continue to remain opposed to Democrats' plan to borrow money remains uncertain.
Unless one or two House Republicans go along with borrowing ... Illinois will skip putting about $4 billion into the state's already underfunded pension systems.
Another central component of the budget gives the governor flexibility to make cuts, borrow from earmarked state funds, further put off paying state vendors, and institute furloughs.
State Representative Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat, says there's good reason to give Quinn emergency powers.
"As much as none of us like this, we're in very uncertain times and trying to paddle through uncharted waters," says Harris.
Republicans say the governor has a poor record of managing state finances and argue he can't be trusted with such flexibility.
As the House and Senate look to reconcile on a budget ... a cigarette tax hike, tax amnesty program and possibly allowing video gaming at horse racetracks ... are all options. Whatever the final budget, it's clear legislators won't go through with education cuts that teachers unions say could have led to 20 thousand layoffs at schools statewide.
Vermilion County is once again on the warning list in a report on Illinois poverty put out by the Chicago-based Heartland Alliance.
The Alliance's "2010 Report on Illinois Poverty" lists Vermilion County among 29 counties in the state with high poverty, unemployment and teen birth rates, and low high school graduation rates. Christian and Kankakee Counties are also on the Warning List. The indicators are only a little better in DeWitt, Macon, Edgar, Coles and Clark Counties --- they've been placed on the report's Watch List.
Amy Terpstra with the Heartland Alliance's research unit says that while some counties are worse off, poverty has gotten worse in all parts of Illinois. But she cites differences between rural and urban poverty.
"When you look at rural areas, you see a lot of access issues", says Terpstra. . "Those people have a hard time getting to the services that they need to help them meet their basic needs. They have trouble getting transportation to jobs. When you start looking at some suburban areas, maybe slightly more urban areas, there's issues about enough resources to go
Overall, the report says about 1.5 million Illinoisans - 12.2% of the total --- were living in poverty in 2008, as the recession began. The study says those already living in extreme poverty have been the hardest hit, and their recovery is expected to be the slowest.
In addition, Amy Terpstra says the wealth of Illinoisans is eroding.
"You look at foreclosures and you look at bankruptcies", says Terpstra, "and you've seen both of those over the last couple of years really skyrocket. And so not only are families losing jobs and not drawing in that income, but their long-term wealth and their long-term stability is being eroded by bankruptcies and foreclosures and debt.
Terpstra says the Heartland Alliance calls on state lawmakers to find new revenue to shore up the state budget and preserve social service programs that help the poor.
The Heartland Alliance is a Chicago-based organization that grew out of that city's old Traveler's Aid Society. Terpstra says they believe that good government policy can help turn around the poverty rate. She says that includes putting "new revenue" into the state budget, and using the money to avoid deep cuts in social services.
A math error means Ameren can receive more revenue than originally anticipated in its request for a rate hike.
The Illinois Commerce Commission has corrected its projections. It says the utility company would get $15 million instead of the $5 million the agency when ruling on the request last week. But ICC spokeswoman Beth Bosch says while the additional $10 million dollars adds to Ameren's bottom line, it should have little, if any, impact on rates. "Because you spread it out over six companies, it doesn't change the rate impact significantly," said Bosch. "Gas rates will still be lower for delivery services. And the electricity rates will still be approximately the same as they were in the previous order." The increase between the rate case ruling released last week and the corrected one amounts about half a percentage point more for Ameren's IP, CILCO, and CIPS electric customers. Bosch says the mistake stemmed from a technical error in the calculation of Ameren's cash working capital.
But Ameren contends there are additional math errors in the ICC's ruling. Spokesman Leigh Morris says fixing 'several significant' mistakes would mean an additional $25 million in revenue, and the utility has filed an emergency motion with the ICC to have that done. But Morris says this decision is separate from whether the utility appeals its original rate hike request of $162 million. Ameren has until May 28th to request a re-hearing with the ICC.
The University of Illinois will forgo much of a contract agreed to with consultants for its strategic planning process in light of budget problems.
The news comes as members of the U of I's Campus Faculty Association question the $450,000 contract with Kokomo-based Renewal and Transformation Group, or RTG, agreed to early this year. University Spokeswoman Robin Kaler says the group will complete reviews that are on the table, but very little of that amount will be spent. The university has already paid more than $1 million of an agreement with RTG that dates back to 2006. CFA President and History Professor Megan McLaughlin says the U of I's cutting ties with the consultant justifies her suspicion that the contract wasn't needed in the first place. But she says the group isn't dropping its Freedom of Information request to learn what consultants have done for the U of I thus far.
"This is one consultant - there are many of them out there.' said McLaughlin. "There's a consultant firm, for example, involved in the new president's search... and a lot of other activities on campus. So we want to know what's going on with those as well." McLaughlin says administrators are providing little information on what these dollars went for when there are already people at the U of I capable of planning a long-range vision for the Urbana campus. The CFA contends around 1,000 faculty members would have been spared their 4 furlough days had the U of I not spent this money. The faculty group also says consultant fees would have paid the salaries of about 100 teaching assistants for a year.
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