Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign County nursing home will begin repaying a $330,000 loan that it received from the county a few years ago.
The County Board unanimously approved a plan Thursday night requiring the nursing home to make monthly payments of $1,000 a month into its general revenue fund. County Board member Jan Anderson sits on the nursing home board, and she said the repayment plan may seem like a modest amount. But she said "it shows good faith in wanting to repay" the loan given the nursing home's current financial state.
Champaign County Board Member Alan Nudo is also part of the county's nursing home board. He said since the loan was given out, the nursing home has made a profit and seen an uptick in occupancy.
"The likelihood of us going back to the county for another loan is slight at this time, but you can't predict the future," Nudo said.
Nudo said the nursing home will start repaying the loan by the beginning of May or June.
In about a year, the Champaign County Board will review the repayment plan to determine if the $1,000 a month rate should be increased. But nursing home administrator Andrew Buffenbarger said he is not sure when the center will be in a position to pay a higher monthly fee.
"We'll just continue to evaluate it as time goes on," Buffenbarger said. "It's one of those things that we would like to get retired just as soon as possible, but naturally have to consider the needs of the home."
Buffenbarger said the nursing home is also paying off a $4 million construction loan.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn granted 85 clemency petitions and denied 189 others in the latest round of action to clear a backlog of cases left by his predecessor, ousted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Quinn granted pardons and expunged convictions in most of the cases Friday that included offenses from burglary and drug charges to armed robbery and reckless discharge of a firearm.
This latest action brings the number of clemency petitions Quinn has granted to 467. He has denied 728 other petitions.
Blagojevich left a backlog of 2,500 cases when he was impeached and removed from office in January 2009 after his arrest on federal corruption charges. Blagojevich is currently on trial in Chicago for a second time.
Indiana Republicans have made two big gains in education policy. On Thursday a majority of the Indiana Senate approved what could become one of the most expansive school voucher programs in the nation. That comes just a day after the governor signed a new law that restricts collective bargaining for public school teachers.
Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels visited Valparaiso Thursday to tout the momentum he and the Republican-controlled legislature have seen for their education agenda.
Speaking on the collective bargaining issue, Daniels deflected criticism of being anti-union. He said, under the new legislation, teachers still have the right to bargain over salaries and benefits; they are only losing out on bargaining over things that have nothing to do with educating children. He cited things like like the color of paint inside teachers' lounges or the temperature inside of a school.
"This is the year we really transform Indiana for the better. I'm really very grateful for what the General Assembly has agreed to help us do," Daniels said before the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce at Strongbow Inn. "Now, we have to go and make that system work."
The restrictions on teachers' collective bargaining take effect July 1.
Republican lawmakers are expected to enact more changes in education before the end of the legislation session, which ends next week. Several include changes Daniels laid out in his State of the State address in January.
Next on the list is the school voucher expansion, which the Senate approved Thursday. It could be taken up again by the Indiana House next week. The measure would allow some parents to use public money to send their children to a private school.
"Choice will no longer be limited to the well-to-do in our state. If you're a moderate or low income family and you've tried the public schools for at least a year and you can't find one that works for your child, you can direct the dollars we were going to spend on your child to the non-government school of your choice," Daniels said during his visit to Valparaiso. "That's a social justice issue to me."
Opponents worry vouchers would siphon money from public schools. The voucher issue is contentious; so much so that House Democrats referenced it when they bolted from the statehouse last month.
Another item in Daniels school overhaul initiative would impose a merit pay system on teachers. If it passes, the provision would tie raises in teacher salary to annual evaluations. Unions say that system could short-change teachers who work with students who are tough to teach.
Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel is offering a handful of specifics about what he'll accomplish in his first months on the job.
In the first question of a 70-minute interview before an audience Wednesday night at the Field Museum, Emanuel was asked to set some benchmarks he'll no doubt be judged on later: what he will have done 100 days after taking office.
"You want to rush forward all 100 days and I haven't even gotten 100 hours in yet," Emanuel said to the interviewer, Chicago Tribune editorial page editor Bruce Dold. The paper endorsed Emanuel in his campaign for mayor.
Emanuel highlighted some of the things he's done in the transition, most notably key staff announcements.
Among his first moves in office, he said, will be to appoint a board to oversee economic development funds, reorganize some of city government and close what he called the "revolving door" for public employees who take jobs as lobbyists.
Emanuel on Wednesday night also mentioned something he says would not be accomplished quickly.
"I want the culture and the mindset in city government to be one of, we all...deliver a service to the people who are paying the bills," he said.
Emanuel told the audience that won't happen in 100 days - or even in a thousand.
The Lincoln Trail Library System says Champaign's library may no longer charge out of town residents a $200 fee to check out materials.
The head of the system says she understands why Champaign's library started charging the fee for residents of Mahomet and Tolono last fall. Champaign library Director Marsha Grove said reciprocal borrowing had become much higher through patrons from neighboring towns than in Champaign and Urbana. Last year, the library lent 700,000 items through the Lincoln Trial system, while Champaign -Urbana residents borrowed about 200-thousand.
Grove said the plan was to evaluate the fee after six months, and the library is sticking to it.
"The board and I will very carefully look at the all the facets of this, and do so, as we have always done, with our primary concern of serving our residents right here in Champaign," Grove said. "That's what we want to do well."
But Lincoln Trail Director Jan Ison said she's surprised to hear the Champaign Public Library board would wait about a month before deciding whether to waive that fee, and she said residents of rural towns still pay taxes for library services.
"They are not non-residents in a legal sense," Ison said. "A non-resident would live outside of any tax-supported public library. And so the residents of Tolono and Mahomet, of those library districts, do pay taxes. Now, those taxes may not be as great as Champaign's tax, which is one of the reasons the board understands that they should perhaps be restricted."
Libraries in the Lincoln Trail system are allowed to limit the items a non-resident patron can check out to five, but Ison called the special use fee 'unacceptable' to both the Lincoln Trail System and Illinois State Library.
The Lincoln trial board said libraries that continue to charge the fee could lose their reciprocal borrowing privileges. Ison said the idea is get Tolono and Mahomet patrons using their local libraries more often.
But no decisions are expected soon. Neither the Champaign Library Board nor the Lincoln Trail Library board will meet until the 3rd week of May.
Residents of a mobile home park that has become a center of Champaign-Urbana's Hispanic community has no central place to go in an emergency. As Jose Diaz of the investigative reporting unit CU-Citizen Access reports, residents want the situation to change.
Embattled Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White is appealing a judge's ruling sending a dispute over his November election back to the state recount commission.
Marion Circuit Court officials say the notice of appeal was filed today.
White lawyer Jim Bopp says the judge's ruling improperly asks the commission to decide an issue that's already being decided in a separate criminal case - whether White committed voter fraud.
Democrats are seeking to have White's candidacy disqualified and their candidate named winner in his place. Judge Louis Rosenberg ruled April 7 that the recount panel should reconsider Democrats' claims that White committed voter fraud by lying about his address on a registration form.
Bopp says such a decision is beyond the scope of the commission's powers.
Another Asian import has joined the Asian lady beetle and emerald ash-borer on the list of insect pests in Illinois.
The brown marmorated stink bug first showed up in the Chicago area last fall. By January, it was being seen in Kane County. And just this month, it was spotted downstate in Champaign and McLean Counties.
Kelly Estes of the Illinois Natural History Survey said the insects are a year-round problem, because they gather on and in the sides of buildings when cold weather comes.
"Looking for that place to hide out for the winter, and then in the spring," Estes said. "They move out and will feed on a wide variety of plants: ornamental shrubs and trees, as well as corn and soybeans, and many of the fruits and vegetables that we raise here in Illinois."
The brown marmorated stink bug is a big enough problem on the east coast that insecticides are marketed there to kill them specifically. Estes said experts tell her that insecticides may not be the best approach in Illinois, since the stink bug's numbers are still small.
"For infestations that people potentially have in their homes, just with the potential danger of using foggers and things like that, they're not recommending people necessarily bomb their houses to get rid of infestations," Estes said. "Vacuuming them up and physical removal is what they're recommending right now."
The brown marmorated resembles other stink bugs, but has a speckled body, red eyes, black and white banding along the edge of its body and white stripes on its antennae.
If you see any of them, Kelly Estes wants to know about it for the Illinois Cooperative Pest Survey. She would like to see a photo of any bugs that you find, or better still, a specimen in a crush-proof container. Kelly Estes can be reached at 217-333-1005.
The head of the Republican National Party says he thinks there's a chance the GOP can win Illinois in the 2012 presidential election.
Reince Priebus spoke at the Union League Club of Chicago Wednesday. He downplayed the thought that Republicans in Chicago would be nothing more than financial donors to campaigns, since it's Democrats who control most statewide offices.
"I don't really look at it as donor city or Cook County," Priebus said. "I mean, I look at it as the State of Illinois as a whole. And we're not conceding Illinois."
Priebus also gave insight into the rhetoric Republicans are likely to use in their campaigns against Democratic President Barack Obama.
"The battle we're in is more than just financial," he said. "The battle we're in is fundamentally a battle about freedom. It's a battle about opportunity. And it's a battle about self-determination."
Priebus gave little insight into individual Republican candidates for president.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, at an unrelated news conference, said he thinks Mr. Obama will receive less votes in 2012 compared to 2008, but he wouldn't say Republicans have a shot of winning Illinois in the presidential race.
(Photo by Tony Arnold/IPR)
Champaign's city council has reluctantly signed off on a new two-year contract with its police union.
Most council members supporting the average annual raise of one and three-quarters percent admitted the city couldn't afford it, while leaders are calling for $2-million in cuts. But concerns of the Fraternal Order of Police negotiating an even higher raise through an arbitrator resulted in a six-to-three vote. Council member Deb Frank Feinen said finances are a concern, but was willing to support the contract, saying the FOP met the city halfway.
"Part of what this contract tries to do is take into account where we are at today, and hope for some better times further into the contract," she said. "It's possible we won't have better times further into the contract, and I think we all have to go into this with our eyes open and understand it could mean layoffs or people without jobs." '
Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart backed the plan, saying unions in other communites are using arbitration to seek out two-to-three percent raises.
"If we decide to go that route on principal, we have to be ready to find some deeper cuts into the budget to amount to what it's going to cost us, and it's going to set the tone for the other unions that we're dealing with." he said.
But council member Marci Dodds said the city can't afford something that will ultimately lead to layoffs in a city forced to trim $2 million from its budget.
"I can't bring myself to vote for this," she said. "I know how much it is and I know the risk we're taking going to arbitration, if we go to arbitration. I just can't do it. Not this year. Not now."
Council member Tom Bruno voted the plan down, saying there's no guarantee the city would come out worse in arbitration. Aaron Ammons with C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice contends the city ignored his group's requests that the contract include a residency requirement for officers. It also wants drug testing for officers in the event someone is accidentally injured or killed, pointing to the 2008 fatal shooting of teenager Kiwane Carrington.
Bruno noted that residency used to be a requirement of officers, and says the city should provide incentives for the union to consider it again. Council member Michael LaDue said the drug test demand isn't unreasonable, suggesting the same could apply to employees that use heavy machinery that could result in accidental injury or death.
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