Illinois Public Media News
Optimism remains that construction on the long-delayed FutureGen power plant will get the federal government's okay soon.
In the meantime, local officials can do little more than watch and wait for a decision from the Energy Department. It's in talks with corporate members of the FutureGen Alliance who want to get the $1.8 billion dollar coal-to-energy plant built and operating near Mattoon.
Angela Griffin heads the economic development group Coles Together. "As far as we know they're still in negotiations," Griffin said. "There's still a lot of details to be worked out with the agreement going forward, and they're not at liberty at this point to talk about those."
But Griffin says she and others in the Mattoon area are being kept up to date on the talks, even if she doesn't know the details. Griffin wouldn't estimate when the government and the Alliance can reach a conclusion.
She does say that once that agreement takes place, the construction phase will have a big impact on Mattoon. She says plant developers expect to keep cement plants within a 100-mile radius of FutureGen busy as they drill the initial wells for the plant's carbon-sequestration unit.
The Illinois Commerce Commission has rejected most of a request from Ameren to raise electricity and natural gas rates.
Ameren had sought an additional $162 million from customers. On Thursday, the ICC approved $5 million of that increase. The utility company released a statement, saying the decision may hinder Ameren's ability to provide the service customers expect. Spokesman Leigh Morris says the company will spend a few days reviewing the decision to decide its next steps... including whether to appeal. The Citizen Utility Board's Jim Chilsen praised the decision. "Ameren was asking for way too much," said Chilsen. "And the rate hike that it got will give the company all the funds it needs to provide safe, reliable service and to return a fair profit to stockholders."
ICC spokeswoman Beth Bosch says the cuts of more than 95-percent came from various line items on the delivery side of Ameren's power. "Ranging from incentive compensation to benefits, working cash, what kinds of projects they consider useful the rates could be collected on, operations and maintenance," said Bosch. She says the ICC also brought down the rate hike from what an administrative law judge had requested. The decision is also based on reviews from several parties, including local governments, the Attorney General, and AARP. Bosch says all of Ameren's gas rates should go down as a result of the decision, with electric rate hikes of 10-percent or less for Ameren IP, CILCO, and CIPS customers.
Up to 15,000 people are participating in one of the biggest rallies in the history of the Illinois state Capitol.
The secretary of state's office says about 12,000 people marched the streets of Springfield on Wednesday. Even more were on the Statehouse grounds, bringing the total to about 15,000.
The event was billed as a "Save Our State'' rally. It drew state employees, teachers and advocates from social service organizations.
Fired-up speakers urged the crowd to turn to the Statehouse. They shouted slogans such as "Show some guts!''
Don Dixon is a teacher at Jefferson Middle School in Champaign and a board member of the Illinois Education Association. He brought 20 students to the state capitol for the rally. Dixon says there will be more layoffs in his district unless the state puts more money into education.
We just laid off 153 people in the second round. The first round we laid off about 50. And it's only going to get worse," Dixon said. "The state has pretty much screwed up entirely as far as funding anything. So bills are being paid late. Eventually we're just going to have to close down if we don't get an increase in revenue and get some sillier things cut out."
Gov. Pat Quinn wants a 33 percent increase in the income tax, but House Democrats have been reluctant to back a hike.
An Illinois Senate panel has rejected proposed legislation that would allow Illinois school districts to hold classes only four days a week.
Only two of the 11 members of the Senate Education Committee voted Tuesday in support of the plan to allow local districts to give students a full school year of three-day weekends.
Although the measure received widespread backing in the House, committee members expressed concern that a third day off school would cause problems for working parents.
The bill's sponsor, Democratic State Sen. Michael Frerichs of Champaign, said the measure would simply allow districts to move to four-day school weeks, not mandate them to do so.
A number of rural districts had lobbied for the option in hopes of saving money.
Illinois home foreclosure activity during the first quarter of 2010 fell 4.6 percent from the previous quarter, but was still higher than the first quarter of 2009.
A report released Thursday by Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac shows Illinois with 45,780 foreclosure filings in the first quarter of 2010. Filings include default notices, auction-sale notices and bank repossessions.
The filings represent one in every 115 housing units in the state. That rate is nearly 17.5 percent higher than in the first quarter of last year and 9th-highest nationally.
Nevada again had the nation's highest foreclosure rate _ one in every 33 housing units.
Other states with foreclosure rates higher than Illinois were: Arizona, Florida, California, Utah, Michigan, Georgia, Idaho and Colorado.
University of Illinois Trustees could begin interviewing its 10 finalists for university president by the end of this week. The presidential search committee is not naming the finalists, but committee chair and trustee Pam Strobel says 8 of the 10 come from the public universities, and some have ties to the U of I. Five of them are current university presidents.
On Monday, she says the committee updated the rest of the Trustees on those finalists. Strobel says the board is on track to name a new president by sometime next month. And she says the finalists aren't concerned about the economic climate affecting the U of I, along with many other campuses. "And it seems to be almost an epidemic that is going on, affecting especially public universities in so very many states," says Strobel. "And so we are not alone even though we are in a very serious financial crisis... and the caliber of people who we are looking at seem to be very able to rise to the challenge." Strobel says the trustees aren't releasing when or where candidate interviews will be conducted. U of I board members met in closed session Monday in Chicago... and may interview some of those finalists when meeting again Friday. Stanley Ikenberry, the U of I's president from 1979 to 1995, has served as interim president since Joseph White stepped down last year amid an admissions scandal.
The newly-combined Carle Foundation Hospital and former Carle Clinic may have a deal with local governments over property taxes.
Up to now, Carle Clinic Association had been an independent for-profit firm. But now that it's been bought out by the Carle Foundation, it's got not-for-profit status under the name Carle Physician Group. That means it's no longer liable for property taxes at its clinic buildings - and that could cost government entities in Champaign County at least $2.4 million a year.
When the merger was announced last November, Carle CEO Dr. James Leonard was quoted as saying Carle would make payments to those government in lieu of taxes. Thursday, he said they're getting close to an agreement.
"We're not done with the discussions yet," Leonard said. "In terms of of their needs, they're very concerned -- particularly with the recession we've been in -- about the resources going forward. It's been an active, positive discussion."
Leonard wouldn't say when a final agreement on tax payments would come out. Meanwhile, he says the Carle Foundation would continue to challenge the state's decision to strip it of its tax-exempt status for some hospital properties. The hospital has put money into an escrow account as the case is still being challenged in court.
University of Illinois administrators are meeting with two 'green energy' student groups next week to decide if a plan for placing a wind turbine on the Urbana campus still has life. A $2 million grant awarded in 2005 will expire in three months, unless the U of I can find a funding source to pick up the remaining cost. With dwindling state funds, members of groups like the Student Sustainability Committee and Students for Environmental Concerns suggest the capital bill approved by Illinois lawmakers, or the U of I Foundation, could pay the remaining $1.7 million for the turbine.
U of I Interim Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement Steven Sonka says the turbine would appear to produce a reasonable rate of return, and would be an attractive option if financing were available. But he suggests there are more effective uses for that kind of money... including retro-commissioning of some campus buildings. "These are very high payoff in terms of energy savings, because it's the energy savings that pays back the initial investment,' says Sonka. "And we want to do those, too. But that's a question of financing as well. We've gotten grants in the past to change lighting in buildings, and those tend to have attractive payoffs." With Urbana campus energy costs exceeding $75-million a year, student groups contend the turbine would quickly show some benefits.
Sonka says the student proposals for paying for the turbine's remaining cost would be considered. He says discussions with other 'outside entities' are being considered, but wouldn't comment on them. The initial grant for funding the wind turbine came from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation. On Monday, Governor Pat Quinn indicated his support for the project in a visit to campus, noting wind energy was one goal of the recently-passed capital bill.
Just over 600 employees on the University of Illinois' Urbana campus want to take advantage of voluntary separation programs offered early this year.
Friday is the deadline for applicants looking to leave their jobs or retire through the program. The incentive was offered earlier this year as a means for the U of I to cut costs amid Illinois' bleak financial picture. Spokeswoman Robin Kaler says human resources staff had no idea how many applicants they'd get, but she says the mere volume means employees won't hear word on a decision until the first week of May. Kaler says departments will soon have their work cut out for them when reviewing names. "Would allowing 'Person X' to separate save you money?,' says Kaler. "And obviously, if a unit has more than one person who's signed up, they would look at the whole picture. It might be that 'boy, we'd need to replace a piece of this person, but if that person also left, we could replace two people with one, or something like that." Kaler says the 613 applicants included about 350 civil service workers, and 180 academic professionals. Meanwhile, about 90 tenured faculty members, and another 16 adjunct professors and lecturers took advantage of a voluntary retirement incentive. About 30 applicants weren't eligible for the program, with about 20 more names to review. Human Resources on the Urbana campus offered the Campus Separation Incentive programs to anyone who had been on campus for at least four consecutive years. The retirement incentive applies to staff who meet State University Retirement System eligibility requirements. Eligible employees approved for either incentive would receive a lump sum payment of half their annual salary, with a maximum payment of 75-thousand dollars.
Fight in Lincoln's Challenge Dining Hall May Lead to Expulsions
30 to 50 cadets at Rantoul's Lincoln's Challenge program could face expulsion over a fight in the academy's dining hall Sunday night.
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