Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign County Board has ended its long-running debate on Olympian Drive.
On a 19-to-7 vote, board members settled on a plan to connect the dead-end road north of Champaign with Lincoln Avenue in Urbana, where it connects with Interstate-74. Two weeks after rejecting a 'green' option, the Board approved a 'purple' configuration of North Lincoln expected to have less of an impact on residents, cutting diagonally through property owned by Squire Farms.
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing praised the board's diligence after backing the Olympian project herself for years.
"This has thoroughly discussed," she said. "There's people around the world that want democracy. I don't know if they realize how exhausting it is, but certainly it's a better system that people have ever come up with. And I think the county board really took this seriously. And they studied it, and I think they've come to a conclusion."
Thirteen Democrats and six Republicans supported the project. Five of the seven 'no' votes came from rural Republicans, as well as Champaign Democrats Pattsi Petrie and Alan Kurtz.
The plan was approved with an amendment offered by Urbana Democrat James Quisenberry, who wanted to ensure the design didn't move any further south and east, where it could impact other residents.
"The property owners that the road goes right next to are the ones that are going to be most affected," Quisenberry said. "And they didn't really want the road there in the first place, but now that it's going there, we have to make sure they're protected as much as we can."
Prussing said the city will still work with individual landowners to alleviate any concerns as the project moves forward. She said anyone losing land will be paid for it by Champaign County or the city of Urbana, but those that do not agree would require govermment use of eminent domain for property.
The Olympian Drive portion of the project is expected to be built in 2013, with the stretch of Lincoln Avenue to be finished in 2015. The entire project is estimated at nearly $20-million, paid for through Illinois Jobs Now funding, the state motor fuel tax, and federal funds.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels says it's "sad but necessary'' for the Republican leader of the Indiana House to end negotiations with boycotting Democrats.
Daniels says the more than 30 Democrats staying in an Urbana hotel have forfeited their right to participate in the legislative session. They've been staying in Illinois since Feb. 22.
The Governor says Republican Speaker Brian Bosma has bent over "double backward'' to meet unreasonable demands from Democrats on education- and labor-related bills. But Daniels still hopes the lawmakers will return from Illinois.
"I still hope they'll do their duty and come back." he said. "They're welcome if they do, but we can't wait forever."
Bosma says the time for negotiating is over.
"Time has expired," he said. "We're now in our fourth very expensive week of an unprecendented walkout. Approaching an American record, not just an Indiana record."
Bosma and Indiana Senate Pro Tem David Long says the Senate would start hearing next week on the state budget plan that has stalled in the House during the four-week walkout. The Senate will also work on advancing other proposals without waiting for House Democrats to return. Long says the Senate has tried to stay out of the dispute, but that it's 'disingenious' for the boycotting Democrats to claim they're negotiating.
Democratic House member Win Moses of Fort Wayne said there have been good communications on those issues and that ending talks would be an arbitrary and harsh choice by Bosma. The legislative session is scheduled to end by late April, but Daniels said he was prepared to call a special session if necessary.
A health care advocates group says the findings of environmental experts from a Boneyard Creek pipeline confirm their fears about contaminants.
Champaign County Health Care Consumers brought in the researchers to investigate the old pipe that extends from the site of a former manufactured gas plant at Champaign's 5th and Hill Streets owned by Ameren. Grant Antoline, an activist with the group, said lab results confirmed there was coal tar in the pipe, and it contained organic compounds like benzene, and hydrocarbons that exceed safety standards.
"We've always been concerned that there's been some sort of dumping into the Boneyard Creek from 3 years ago when we started this campaign," Antoline said. "It's just common practice for these plants to be set up next to a waterway. But to see results of one million, 300-thousand percent higher than they should be is outrageous, and there's no excuse for not investing in the pipe when it's this serious."
Residents in the 5th and Hill neighborhood have long complained over odors in their basements, and nagging health problems. The consumer group's 60-day notice of intent to sue the city of Champaign over cleaning up the pipe will expire April 11th. Its executive director, Claudia Lennhoff, says they simply want the line capped off.
"Their part of the action should be fairly simple and straightforward in terms of the notice of intent to sue," Lennhoff said. "All that we require of them under the Clean Water Act and that notice of intent to sue is to block off the discharge into the Boneyard."
Lennhoff said the city should make Ameren pay for sealing up the pipeline. EPA Spokeswoman Maggie Carson said it is testing results from the Boneyard site have yet to be released, and Champaign city attorney Fred Stavins says the city is waiting on those results, and to find who's responsible for cleaning up the pipe.
In February, the Champaign city council recommended repealing its groundwater ordinance on a case-by-case basis. Stavins said the issue will re-surface by mid-April at the earliest.
The conservative group Americans For Prosperity says Illinois Congressman Tim Johnson needs to stay the course when it comes to balancing the federal budget.
Johnson can get the message by turning on his radio. A commercial running on Champaign-Urbana and Bloomington-Normal radio stations this month begins with the voice of the late Ronald Reagan: "You know, we could say they spend like drunken sailors. But that would be unfair to drunken sailors, because the sailors are spending their own money."
An announcer comes in to say that Reagan's words are still true today: "We cannot spend our way to prosperity. But big-government advocates are trying to convince Congressman Tim Johnson to go along with their high-tax, big-spending ways." The radio spot then goes on to urge listeners to call Congressman Johnson, and sign an online petition in favor of more federal spending cuts.
The Americans For Prosperity campaign is meant to convince Johnson, already known as a fiscal conservative, that he has the popular support to make difficult cuts in spending.
Joseph Calomino, AFP's Illinois State Director says Johnson has "voted right on many of the issues. Our theory is now, to provide those congressmen and women in the state of Illinois and throughout the country with the kind of support they need from the majority, to hear from the majority of their public to stand tall and cut spending now."
Americans For Prosperity announced their campaign Thursday at a Champaign news conference attended by representatives of other groups dedicated to lower government spending. They included Mary Lou Ferguson of the Decatur group, Citizens For Responsible Government. She says Americans largely support cuts in federal spending --- and will continue to do so when the choices get more difficult.
"That support we had last year for the election is not going away", says Ferguson. "That concern, that amount of energy and paying attention is going to grow. We just cannot sustain this. It has to be fixed."
A spokesman for Congressman Johnson says he's committed to cutting federal spending, and that the AFP campaign is "preaching to the choir". Press Secretary Phil Bloomer says Johnson has voted to reduce federal spending to 2008 levels, and voted against the latest continuing resolution to keep the federal government running --- because it didn't include sufficient spending cuts.
Meanwhile, Americans for Prosperity is launching similar campaigns in a few selected congressional districts across the country.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels says it is "sad but necessary'' for the Republican leader of the Indiana House to end negotiations with boycotting Democrats.
Daniels said Thursday that Democratic representatives have forfeited their right to participation by continuing to stay in Illinois in order to block legislative action.
Daniels says Republican Speaker Brian Bosma has bent over "double backward'' to meet unreasonable demands from Democrats on education- and labor-related bills.
Democratic Rep. Win Moses of Fort Wayne said there have been good communications on those issues and that ending talks would be an arbitrary and harsh choice by Bosma.
The legislative session is scheduled to end by late April, but Daniels said he was prepared to call a special session if necessary.
Indiana lawmakers continue to debate a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions.
Indiana law already prohibits marriage between same sex couples, but some Hoosier lawmakers want to take the ban a step further. They want to amend the state's constitution so the ban can't be overturned by what one legislator described as "activist judges."
The Indiana House approved the amendment last month and it moved on to the Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee heard arguments on it yesterday at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. There, the committee heard from two prominent companies in Indiana; pharmaceutical maker Eli Lilly, and diesel engine manufacturer, Cummins Inc. Company representatives testified that a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage would hurt on recruiting top notch employees.
The committee delayed a vote on the matter until next week. If it's approved, it will move on the full Senate. And if it passes there, the amendment would still need to be approved by the Indiana General Assembly next year.
If the amendment makes it through next year's legislature, Hoosier voters will have the final say if it becomes part of the Indiana constitution by voting on the measure in a referendum.
The earliest such a ban could be in the constitution would be in 2013.
Champaign voters had the chance on Wednesday March, 16, 2011 to hear from the two candidates running for mayor. Current mayor Jerry Schweighart and political newcomer Don Gerard debated for about an hour at the Champaign Public Library. They addressed a range of issues from the economy to reducing youth violence.
Schweighart touted his efforts during his 12 years as mayor in maintaining a balanced budget without increasing property taxes. He also defended a proposal to cut overnight service in the lobby of the Champaign Police Department. Meanwhile, Gerard criticized those cuts saying they create a public safety risk. He said he would push for a financial audit on all city departments to improve Champaign's economy.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
An apartment building for people with physical disabilities is planned for downtown Champaign.
Eden Supportive Living plans to build the $15 million building at the corner of State and Park, across from Westside Park. The vacant building currently on the site served as a dormitory for Parkland College students, and before that a hotel. Champaign Deputy City Manager Craig Rost said the new nine story will house about 100 adults, aged 22 to 64.
"A supportive living environment is what they're calling it," Rost said. "It's for people that need some assistance --- and they have a physical handicap that requires some level of assistance. But it doesn't have other kinds of care facilities --- it's really a residential project."
Eden Supportive Living already operates two facilities in the Chicago area, with a third Chicago facility in the works. The Champaign project would be their first one downstate. Eden is buying the site from Robeson's Inc., a real estate firm operated by the family that ran Robeson's Department Store for many years in downtown Champaign. Rost said the location is a good one for Eden Supportive Living.
"It's an exciting project," Rost said. "We don't have very many big projects going on right now. So it's garnered a lot of attention. (Champaign is) a good sit-down town, and I think it'll be good for Eden to have that site."
Robeson's Inc. Chairman Eric Robeson says talks have gone on for some time, but his group took to the idea right away.
"From the very beginning, we loved the sound of the project," said Robeson. "We loved what the vision was and what they were going to do. We thought it was going to be a great reuse for the building. Of course, everything's still potential, and nothing's been finalized, but we're very excited that this building, that our family built back in the early 1970's. It's a great reuse for the building."
Eden officials couldn't be reached for contact Wednesday, but press reports indicate the company plans to raise the building, leaving only the foundation. Robeson says he wasn't aware of those plans.
Rost said the Champaign City Council will be asked to vote this spring on a development agreement to lease out parking for the new building --- but Eden is not asking for any financial assistance from the city. The company hopes to have the project open for residents in spring of 2012.
(Design courtesy of Eden Supportive Living)
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said he has a solution to fund the state's $31 billion construction plan. The project was supposed to begin as soon as the weather would allow, but it is currently tied up in the court system.
Cullerton said the state could raise funds by adding one dollar on to each pack of cigarettes sold in the state.
"This is money that is going to the capital projects, projects that the Republicans have all benefited from throughout the state. They see the unemployment rate drop. They want to continue those projects and this is how we fund it," Cullerton said.
Cullerton pitched his idea to a road builders meeting in Springfield. The group would directly benefit from more highway construction.
The original infrastructure plan relies heavily on controversial funding sources like video poker and an expansion of the state's lottery.
Some lawmakers say they won't support a cigarette tax hike because they think it would drive people to neighboring states to make purchases.
(Photo courtesy by Geierunited/Wikimedia Commons)
Champaign City Council members have unanimously rejected the use of pension obligation bonds as a way to avoid service cuts during tight financial times.
Council members sided with administrators, deciding that using a low-interest loan to fund police and fire pensions carried too much uncertainty. City Finance Director Richard Schnuer said the investment risk was just too high. Council member Deb Frank Feinen said she made up her mind after reading a memo from Schnuer, and doing a quick web search on the bonds.
"When our financial adviser sits before us and talks about governments being risk averse, he's right, and there's a reason for it," Feinen said. "We're not individuals. I'm not playing with my home finances. Instead, I have a wider obligation not to take the easy way out."
Schuner also said issuing the bonds could affect Champaign's triple-A credit rating, making it harder for the city to issue debt in the future. Council member Tom Bruno said the city should only consider such an option if it wants to place today's financial burden on future generations.
"This is the year we should be feeling the pain," Bruno said. "Because this is the year that the recession has really hit the municipalities with a loss of revenues. I wish it wasn't a painful year. But if there's going to be painful years, maybe it ought to be this year, and not when my kids are my age."
Council member Mike LaDue said the city has managed its debt conservatively in the height of a recession. And he said those kinds of decisions, and not the issuing of the pension bonds, have allowed the city to take on a project like drainage improvements along John Street, where several homes have experienced flooding.
Champaign Mayoral Candidate Don Gerard said the pension obligation bonds would have been an option had Schnuer started researching the idea about 10 months earlier, when interest rates were about 2-percent.
"This will go right down the chute, but it's a shame that a year ago this wasn't looked at," Gerard said. "Because a year ago, it could have been a great opportunity. And I think the budget is something that we've been looking at for two years. These type of options should have been looked at a year ago. I'm very disappointed that they weren't."
The plan to use the bonds lost 8-0, but Mayor Jerry Schweighart said the discussion will likely go on for one more night. He and Gerard will debate one another Wednesday evening.
The debate, organized by the Junior League of Champaign-Urbana, begins at 6:30 at the Champaign Public Library.
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