Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 02, 2009

Area Saturn Dealers Make Alternative Plans After Brand Dropped

At least one Saturn dealer in the area says it's heard nothing official about the end of the car brand and the shutdown of its dealership network.

General Motors says a deal to sell Saturn's distribution system and brand to Penske Automotive Group fell through because Penske wasn't able to find an automaker to make Saturns past 2011. GM now says the dealerships will be phased out.

Bill Lutes manages Saturn of Terre Haute, which has been in business for ten years. He says it's hard to tell his 30 employees what to do next because there's been no word from GM to dealers.

"I've met with everybody and told them Plan A is 'business as usual' and Plan B is to explore other options," Lutes said. "We'll just stay positive and keep smiling."

Lutes says the other options could include finding another new car franchise or selling only used cars. The dealership is owned by Evansville-based Romain Auto Group, which also owns three other Saturn dealers.

Categories: Business, Economics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 23, 2009

Prisoner Release Puts More Pressure on Decatur Facility

A Central Illinois program that helps ex-felons transition into jobs and homes lost its funding this summer. Now its executive director wants to know how a number of new parolees returning to the Decatur area will seek out such services.

Decatur's Promise Community Center used to receive a 100-thousand grant to help those getting out of prison. But most of those funds helped those leaving a prison in East St. Louis, and few of them relocating in Decatur. So the grant ended June 30th, and will be shifted to East St. Louis at a later date. Promise Center Executive Director Reverend Leroy Smith says that makes sense, but he's concerned about the additional 1000 parolees that Governor Pat Quinn plans to release within a month. Smith says the Promise Center is basically a one-man operation, in which he takes a handful of referrals.

"I'm a person who, if I'm making a commitment, I will follow through," Smith said. "And our organization is known to do that."

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Januari Smith says there's been no breakdown as to where the 1000 non-violent early-released prisoners will come from, but she assures there won't be a logjam of parolees in programs like the Promise Center.

"With that early release of inmates, Governor Quinn has allocated us two million dollars to help with that, which will help us electronically monitor those parolees as well as set up an increase support services that they may need," the spokeswoman said.

Reverend Smith says he still plans to advocate for ex-felons when possible. He still serves on an executive committee for prisoner re-entry under Governor Quinn.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 21, 2009

Utility Predicts Lower Winter Natural Gas Prices

If natural gas prices are stable this winter, central and southern Illinois homeowners will pay less to heat their homes.

Ameren predicts the price it will pay for natural gas will average 26 percent less than last year's heating season. The utility passes along the price it pays for gas directly to billpayers - and this fall, spokesman Leigh Morris says it's considerably less than the price spike we saw last year with gas and other types of fuel.

"Just going back one year, it was $1.32 a therm, and right now the October price is $0.56 a therm. That's the average for all three utilities," Morris said, citing the three divisions of Ameren's Illinois utilities. "That's about a 58 percent movement from a year ago."

The recession may be to blame for the worldwide drop in demand for natural gas - and thus the drop in prices. Morris is quick to point out that Ameren's pending request for a gas rate increase involves the fee the utility charges to deliver that gas.

Categories: Business, Economics, Energy

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 16, 2009

Central Illinois Bank Parent Declares Bankruptcy

The parent company of Central Illinois Bank has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy with hopes of reorganizing with a strategic partner in 45 to 60 days.

But CIB Bancshares Chairman and CEO John Hickey Junior says the filing will have no impact on the bank and its customers. He says Central Illinois Bank has the capital for it to continue doing business with clients, and is separate from the petition that the holding company filed Tuesday night in federal court in Milwaukee.

Hickey says trust-preferred securities holders had to agree to a pre-packaged reorganization plan that was similar to what auto makers GM and Chrysler went through:

"You get the pre-approval from the creditors in advance, and that allows you to go in on a pre-package basis and come out and emerge very quickly," Hickey said. "We've continued to keep the regulators all informed in terms of where we are in the process, and so we've kept them up to date."

Hickey says employees of the parent company are excited about prospects for the company's future. Discussions with potential partners are expected start once the reorganization is complete.

Central Illinois Bank has 12 branches in the region, including locations in Champaign, Urbana, Danville and Decatur. CIB Marine Bancshares also has offices in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Arizona.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 16, 2009

Champaign Councilman Proposes Northeast Side Family Resource Center

A Champaign city councilman is proposing a "family resource center" to provide services to residents of the city --- but especially to its northeast side.

1st District City Councilman Will Kyles says the need for a center to bring community services into the northeast side became clear to him in his work as outreach coordinator for Congressman Tim Johnson. He says the center could provide services and activities for children, teens, parents --- even ex-convicts trying to make a fresh start.

"We believe in structures, we need structures," Kyles said. "But the issue is that it'll take awhile to rebuild those structures, to redevelop the neighborhood. So in the process of redeveloping the neighborhood, why not have services that are building people up?"

Melorene Grantham of the Peer Ambassadors youth group told the city council a family resource center could provide activities for older teens that are currently lacking in the area. She says that's a need her group found out about from its monthly meetings with youth at the Champaign County Juvenile Detention Center.

They said they need other things to do to stay out of trouble, like jobs," said Grantham. "We went every month for some years; that was the top thing they say would keep out of trouble."

Kyles says the city of Champaign could work with the community, and leverage state and federal funds to put the family resource center together. But he says it wouldn't happen right away. He hopes the idea can be included among the Champaign City Council's goals for the next 5 to 10 years.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 15, 2009

Urbana Considers Taking the Extra Step on Broadband

Champaign and Urbana are vying for federal grant money to build a network of broadband computer service in underserved areas. But that could entice the cities to look into broadening the service even further.

Urbana city council members have held holding a study session on the subject. Mayor Laurel Prussing says the grant - if the cities win it - could be an opportunity to offer internet, TV and phone service at a competitive rate to nearly all residents.

"What I'd like to see, instead of having something that's going to be taking money from the cities over the future, I'd like to see it set up as a utility so that the cities can provide service to the public, and get revenue so we wouldn't have to rely so much on taxes," Prussing said.

The so-called big broadband project is already working to extend coverage to key community facilities like libraries, along with parts of the cities that may not be covered by private fiber-optic projects. Prussing says the council still needs to decide whether to pursue the federal grant, how much it would want to spend and how to develop a business plan for broadband service.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 10, 2009

Ban on Video Gaming on Champaign County Board’s Radar

Legal video gambling at Illinois taverns is expected to be in place next year, providing tax revenue for state capital projects and local governments. But some local governments have voted to opt out of video gaming. A Champaign County Board committee will consider such a proposal this fall.

The county board's Policy Committee will hold a full discussion on video gaming in November. But committee members heard both sides of the debate over the social impact of video gambling last night. Tom Fiedler of Melody Music in Champaign is president of the Illinois Coin Machine Operators Association, and he says research has shown legal video gaming adds little to a state's gambling addiction problem, thanks in part to strict limits on how many machines a bar can host. "It's a very low impact situation," said Fiedler. "It's not a destination type of thing. It's five machines. It's more for the casual player; it's a form of adult entertainment."

But University of Illinois Business Administration Professor John Kindt --- who's studied the economic impact of legalized gambling --- compares video gaming to crack cocaine when it comes to gambling addiction.

"When these come into a person's backyard, you're in fact doubling the number of addicted gamblers," said Kindt. "And among young people -- students in particular -- it's even worse. It goes up 200, 300, 400 percent."

The impact on students will mean more to the cities of Urbana and especially Champaign, where many bars specialize in serving students. But each city and village can make its own decision on whether to opt out of legal video gaming. Policy Committee Chairman Tom Betz wants local governments to act together on the issue, to avoid creating a patchwork of gambling and no-gambling areas in the county.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 10, 2009

UI, Grad Employees Continue Talks Amid Rally

University of Illinois negotiators and members of the union that represents graduate student employees held another bargaining session Wednesday.

Graduate Employees Organization members aren't happy with the direction talks are going -- they protested outside the Levis Faculty Center, where negotiations continued with the help of a federal mediator. The grad students' previous contract expired last month.

Carrie Pimblott is the GEO's lead negotiator. She calls the university's proposal for no raises over three years unacceptable - in fact, she claims most union requests are being rejected.

"They came back and said all of the proposals we had suggested that were monetary were untenable because they didn't have the money to do it. And a lot of our non-monetary issues they rejected for various reasons," Pimblott said. "Essentially they came back with a lot of very egregious proposals that not only rejected our central values but suggested that they would want to erode our grievance rights, erode our rights as union workers."

U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler says they won't comment on negotiations while they're in progress.

Pimblott says the GEO wants to put pressure on the university through rallies - she says a labor action is not out of the question.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 31, 2009

Tax Goes Up Tuesday on Some Candy. Liquor, Toiletries

Illinois consumers will pay more for toiletries, candy, soft drinks and liquor starting Tuesday as lawmakers raise cash to pay for a statewide construction program.

Most candy _ currently carrying a 1 percent sales tax _ will be taxed at 6.25 percent. And it'll be the same for shampoos and toothpastes that until now were considered "medicated.''

Bottled soft drinks with added sweetener or flavoring, such as iced tea, will be taxed more. And liquor distributors will pay more for alcohol. In many cases, the cost will be passed on to consumers.

All told, the changes should raise about $150 million a year toward a $30 billion roads-and-schools building plan. The program also includes hundreds of millions of dollars for local pet projects of lawmakers.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 27, 2009

Wanted: Someone to Run a Closed State Park Resort

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.


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