Illinois Public Media News
As one University of Illinois report released last week looked at potential cost savings, another sought out ways to bring in money.
The chair of the committee looking at revenue generation says it was important to investigate ways to improve the Urbana campus' financial situation without cuts. College of Education Dean Mary Kalintzas says it will take a shift in the university's thinking to find income sources outside state tax money.
"We have a public purpose, we do research, we do teaching," Kalintzas said. "But we have intellectual capital that sometimes faculty capitalize on and commercialize, or other people take on and commercialize. But we've been so focused on breakthrough research and teaching that we have in the past thought that it's not our job, or it's an extra job, to take on the commercialization of the knowledge that we generate."
Kalintzas says it may take changes in state law to let the U of I get more return from its intellectual property. She says loosening those state-imposed limits may also help jump-start an online education program after the ill-fated Global Campus project. At the top of the committee's list of recommendations is an increase in out-of-state student enrollment while keeping the number of in-state U of I students level.
A center that helps immigrants and refugees in Champaign County is facing funding shortfalls and may be forced to close. Shelley Smithson's report is part of the "CU Citizen Access" project.
22 Champaign County union employees would take unpaid furlough days to help keep the county in the black --- under an agreement that the County Board ratified Thursday night.
he 22 are all members of AFSCME Local 900, which represents about 150 county employees paid by the county's General Fund. County Administrator Deb Busey says they only needed furlough days for a few of the union employees, as part of mid-year budget cuts approved by the county board last month.
"Because the midyear cuts we did that led to these furlough days were done at the department level", explains Busey. "And only six of the departments needed to use furlough days, as part of their solution for the cuts that they had to make."
The departments using furlough days include Administrative Services, the Auditor, the State's Attorney, the Juvenile Detention Center and Emergency Management. The furloughs will range from four hours to three days in length.
Members of AFSCME Local 900 will vote on the furlough agreement next week. If the agreement is ratified, the 22 AFSCME workers will join 57 non-union employees who also face furlough days over the next few months. Busey says Champaign County is also trying to negotiate furlough days for 48 Fraternal Order of Police union members in the county court system.
An advisory referendum to reduce the size of the Champaign County Board will be on the ballot this November. County Board members voted 21 to 4 Thursday night to put the question before the voters.
Few county board members --- even those against shrinking the board's size ---- wanted to be seen as denying voters the chance to weigh in on the matter. One who did vote no was Democrat Alan Kurtz. He says cutting the county board from its current 27 seats down to 22 would hurt the level of diversity among board members.
"I enjoy the diversity on the board", Kurtz told his fellow board members, "the rural representation, the minority representation, the expertise, and experience of our board members, who all bring something to the table."
But others, like Republican Alan Nudo, say a smaller county board would be more accountable, and retaining multi-member districts would help it stay diverse.
"With 27 members, it's a little bit too much", says Nudo. "I think 22 will give it the diversity that we need, that many people want. And I think the biggest issue for me is that compact and contiguous districts will produce the diversity that we want to get."
The proposed county board reduction is a compromise for some members, who wanted an even smaller board, or preferred single-member districts. Democrat Brendan McGinty first proposed the county board reduction, along with Republican Greg Knott. McGinty says the current county board is "dysfunctional", and admits he'd like the reduction to go further.
"I'd love for the board to be much smaller", says McGinty, "but I'm willing to compromise, because this is a good step. It might be baby steps, but this will create, in my opinion, more accountability. This is a good thing to do."
State law says that the county board reduction referendum must be non-binding, and that only a local county board can officially decide how many members it should have.
Construction of the first development at the I-57 Curtis Road Interchange could begin this fall.
"Wellness at Prairie Village" is to feature a community wellness center, a 50-unit senior living facility, as well as shops office space and residential development. But the only firm commitment at the site is a new Christie Clinic facility. Developer Todd Raufeisen says they're talking to other potential tenants who will want to build next to Christie Clinic.
"Christie is the one that's providing the momentum to get the project started", says Raufeisen. "A lot of the users that we talk to like to be next to hospitals and clinics such as Christie. But as with any development, you got to start with somebody. And Christie's our anchor at the end of the day. They're taking 20 out of the 60s acres for the sake of round numbers. And that's what we'll start around."
Champaign City Council members gave the go-ahead Tuesday night for city staff to continue working with Raufeisen on planning for for Wellness at Prairie Village .
Several council members expressed concerns that the development might contain excessive parking --- they want the site to be more aesthetically pleasing that the retail developments in the North Prospect area.
However, Councilman Tom Bruno added that he was just grateful to see a developer interested in the Curtis Road site.
"But I don't want those concerns about parking at this early stage of discussion about the planning stages of this take the luster off the delight I feel that all of you players are thinking about developing at this location in our community at this time in our economic history", said Bruno.
Raufeisen says Christie Clinic wants to start construction this fall --- he says it could take 5 to 7 years to completely develop the rest of the 60 acre site. Wellness at Prairie Village would take up about one-eighth of the land at the Curtis Road Interchange.
The city of Champaign is instituting changes to its Police Complaint Process --- in the wake of last fall's police shooting of teen-ager Kiwane Carrington.
The revamped complaint process is meant to be simpler and less intimidating, with a PR campaign to tell the public how it works. But all complaints will still be reviewed by the police department --- with appeals going to the city manager. At Tuesday night's city council study session, about a dozen Champaign and Urbana residents said the council should consider a citizens review board or other outside body to hear appeals. Councilman Will Kyles agreed.
"I support what has been brought forth, but I know that an outside voice has to look into these things" said Kyles. "It just has to be or we will continue to have these conversations over the next few years."
Councilman Tom Bruno remains cool to the idea --- he says those who spoke in favor of a Citizens Review Board are in the minority citywide.
"I frankly don't hear a preponderance of the citizens of Champaign asking for one", says Bruno.
City Manager Steve Carter says one new part of the police complaint process will allow residents to opt for working things out with a professional mediator, bypassing the formal complaint process.
"What they really want is to seek some fairness to the resolution, which involves a face-to-face discussion with the officer" says Carter, "so that they can express their feelings at about what happened, and their concern. And then also hear back from the officer about why the officer did what he did or she did,and just arrive at an understanding and just an ability to talk through that."
The mediation option was singled out for praise by several council members, and by several members of the public who criticized the city for not including a Citizens Review Board as part of the complaint process.
Council members voted unanimously to endorse the new Police Complaint process during the study session. No further action is needed
Less revenue, less spending, and more vacant positions are features of the budget approved by the Urbana City Council Monday night.
The$ 48 million budget avoids any staff layoffs by leaving seven positions vacant, and by freezing salaries --- although contract negotiations with city unions are still in progress. It also relies on six million dollars in city fund reserves to fill the gap between city spending and projected tax revenues.
In introducing some last-minute revisions, Mayor Laurel Prussing says she had some good news from city Comptroller Rod Eldridge. According to the mayor, "Ron Eldridge says that even though our revenues are going to be down a little bit more for this year, our spending is going to be down even more. So we're going to have more of an ending fund balance than he originally anticipated."
The budget passed on a 5 to 2 vote.
Meanwhile, Urbana council members had mixed opinions during their first discussion of the mayor's proposal for a city motor fuel tax.
Republican Heather Stevenson says the mayor's tax would simply send motorists to Champaign to shop for gasoline --- and they might shop for other things as well.
"If I can save it by going across Wright Street, then I might as well continue to go and spend the money that I've saved, not spending money on gas in Urbana, at the shops in Champaign", says Stevenson.
But Mayor Prussing says a two-cent motor fuel tax would hardly be noticed amidst the ups and downs of gasoline prices.
"Two cents per gallon - the price fluctuations are much bigger than that", says Prussing. "You see 20-cent differences in prices per gallon, so I think two cents is very small."
But Prussing says a 2-cent tax would be enough to bring in another $500,000 a year for the city to spend on improving its streets. Urbana already receives money from a state motor fuel tax, but the mayor says that revenue hasn't kept up with rising costs. Prussing says she'll have her staff do more research on her gas tax proposal, and come back to the council with information on other small cities with motor fuel taxes.
By a 5 to 2 vote, the Urbana City Council has banned the outdoor use of indoor furniture.
Council members Heather Stevenson and Dennis Roberts cast the two votes against the ban. Both of them said the government had no business telling people what they could do with furniture at their own homes and yards. Roberts says he's gotten a lot of feedback from the public on the ban, most of it in opposition.
"They agree that the city is sort of tip-toeing into overregulation of people's habitats and homes", said Roberts.
But Alderman Dave Gehrig argues that the dangers involved in keeping flammable indoor furniture out of doors are too great to ignore.
It's more than a decade since we had a fire death in Urbana, and this is about trying to keep it that way", said Gehrig.
Gehrig cited last month's fire at a rental house on Stoughton Street near Lincoln Avenue. Eight people were displaced --- one of them severely burned --- when fire in a couch on the front porch spread to the entire house.
Urbana Fire Chief Michael Dilley says the outcome could very well have been fatal.
"We dodged a bullet, so to speak", says Dilley. "And we decided, I don't want to ever go to another fire again, and see a young lady of that age, with the type of burns on her body pulled out of a building like, if I can do anything about it. As fire chief, that's my job."
Dilley says indoor furniture stored on a porch or elsewhere outdoors can be easily set ablaze, and a fire can be well underway before people inside the house find out about it.
Urbana's ordinance is similar to one already on the books in Champaign. Repeat offenders will be subject to possible fines set by a judge. The ordinance makes exceptions for furniture brought outside to be sold at a yard sale, or left out for garbage pickup.
Illinois' financial uncertainty has prompted a lot of school districts to move to one-year contracts for teachers.
But a union spokesman says that's not the case in East Central Illinois. The Illinois Education Association's Gene Vanderport says the districts in the area have been pretty fair to those he represents. He says there have been a lot of early settlements with multi-year contracts, including Urbana, and he expects those in Gifford and Rantoul City Schools to settle soon as well. But Vanderport admits it's been a struggle for most school districts. "Nobody's getting rich in public education, that's for sure,"said Vanderport. "We're down to absolute bare minimum of people doing the services that need to be done, to educate the kids. We're not making Buicks, we're educating brains, and it takes X number of people to do that. School boards recognize that we gotta keep feeding our families, and they've been relatively decent across the board in recognizing our needs."
Still, Vanderport says his union and others are trying to settle without asking for too much, while urging state and federal lawmakers to work on a consistent and sustainable school funding formula. "That's why we're for progressive funding mechanisms that aren't in place at this point," said Vanderport. "And we hope to continue to lobby for those, and make those issues election-year issues." Vanderport says negotiations with Champaign teachers are still taking a while. The two sides have been bargaining since January, and he says salary and benefits remain the sticking points. Vanderport says Champaign Unit 4 schools and his union should wrap up talks by August, but he says it's hard to say what the length of the contract will be.
Preliminary tests of a liquid spill near a railroad track in Danville show that residents there aren't at any health risk. Illinois' Environmental Protection Agency hopes to have more information at a public meeting in the city on Wednesday. But agency spokeswoman Maggie Carson says the first samples prove that the smell of the fatty acids used in industrial settings are the only problem so far. "We're fully aware that there are odors and the neighbors have experienced them, and this is a problem," says Carson. "Even though there's not a hazardous chemical involved, the odors affect the quality of life of the neigbhors."
The substance appeared to have come from Double-S Liquid Feed Service on North Bowman Avenue. Carson says some of it spilled as it was being off-loaded, and rain waters carried it into a ditch. She says the area isn't heavily populated, but enough people were adversely affected to call for the meeting. Carson says it's also not yet known how much of the liquid had spilled, but she says inspections of site show small quantities of the substance may have spilled before there. The EPA is working with Double-S and the city of Danville to clean up the site. Carson says if the problem proves to be severe, the EPA could call the Attorney General's office over possible fines or other penalties. The EPA's public meeting over the spill is Wednesday at 12:15 at the Danville Boys and Girls Club.
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