Illinois Public Media News
Faced with a $5.5 million budget cut proposed by Governor Quinn, the University of Illinois Extension says it will close 12 of its regional Extension Centers around the state, and eliminate 46 administrative positions.
The regional centers house Extension Educators, who will now do their work elsewhere. Extension spokesman Gary Beaumont says the goal is to trim expenses, with a minimal impact on the services they provide.
"What we're trying to do is reduce rental costs, and keep more people around", says Beaumont, "especially the people who deliver education programs. So that's why the Centers have been targeted. And our goal is to move our educators to county offices."
Extension Centers in Carbondale, Effingham, Macomb, Mount Vernon and the Chicago suburb of Matteson will close on or about June 30th. Centers in Champaign, Springfield, East Peoria, the Quad Cities, Rockford, Edwardsville and the Chicago suburb of Countryside will close as soon as possible, depending on their leases
Beaumont says the 46 administrative positions being cut will result in fewer than 46 people leaving, because many of those positions have been vacant. In addition, Beaumont says some of the administrators have applied to leave on their own, under the U of I's Voluntary Separation program.
But the closures and job cuts are only the first phase of reductions planned by the U of I Extension. Beaumont says plans are being made to consolidate county offices down to just 30. And he says there will eventually be cuts made in the number of Extension educators and civil service secretarial positions.
Interim President Stanley Ikenberry says he's lowered his own projections for how much tuition new students will go up at the University of Illinois next year. . Ikenberry says he's backed away from worst-case projections of 20% tuition increases, and is now projecting increases of 9 or 9.5%. He says that's because of success in reducing university spending, and because Governor Pat Quinn's proposed budget wouldn't chop the U of I's appropriation as severely as he feared. However, Ikenberry still expects the university to lose somewhere around $45 million in state funding, which he says would be a 6% reduction.
"The range of possibilities is pretty large out there", says Ikenberry. "But right now, at least in the short term, we think we can see the outlines of next year's budget. It's going to continue to be difficult, but we think manageable within the framework of a 9.5% increase."
U of I trustees are scheduled to vote on a tuition recommendation until their May 20th meeting in Chicago. But Ikenberry says he wanted to get his projections out now, to help students and parents.
"This is a tough time for students and parents", says Ikenberry. "So we're trying to make the decision as early as we can, so they have a basis to plan, but also to hold that number as low as we responsibly can make it."
Ikenberry says a 9.5% tuition increase can still be affordable when considering that it stays the same for students during their undergraduate enrollment. Over that period, he says the increase amounts to about 3.5% percent a year.
The increased tuition would come to about $10,337 a year at the Urbana campus, plus room and board. At the Chicago campus tuition would be about $9,092, and $8,068 in Springfield.
-- additional reporting from the Associated Press
A rural mass transit system serving Vermilion County hopes to be providing its service to some rural Champaign county cities by the fall.
The Champaign County Board's committee of the whole approved the plan from CRIS Rural Transit this week. The buses in Vermilion County have run based on appointment for 25 years, and are open to anyone on weekdays. CRIS Rural Transit is a branch of the CRIS Healthy Aging Center. CEO Amy Marchand says she came before the Champaign County Board based on responses to surveys and her appearances at village meetings. She says many have come to rely on their buses each day.
"Some people use it to go to dialysis treatment two or three times a week," says Marchand. "Some people use it to take classes at a college. Some people use it to just have regular doctor's appointments. There's a group from a senior high rise that go to Wal-Mart once a week to buy their groceries." The CRIS buses are partially funded through federal funds. Marchand also says a small percentage of local sales tax goes to downstate funding for mass transit, but it's currently distributed elsewhere since Champaign County doesn't provide the service.
County Board member Steve Moser opposes the plan, contending that more taxes, including property tax, would be needed to pay for the service. He also says CRIS buses would duplicate what's provided by the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission. But the agency's Darlene Kloeppel says it may let CRIS replace its Rural Rider program, which serves solely senior citizens, if it can help most of its clients. Kloeppel says there are other bus providers in rural Champaign County, but no one will be forced to end their service. "If people don't want to continue to provide service, or if they're able to do it more efficiently in another way, they certainly can do that as well. That's why this is a good thing, because it gives people options."
If the County Board approves the plan April 22nd, CRIS would apply for the service in July, and Illinois' Department of Transportation would have to approve the plan. The initial towns served would be Rantoul, Thomasboro, and Ludlow.
A retired firefighter, a politically active businessman and a healthcare consultant all appeared before the Champaign City Council Tuesday night to state why they should be appointed to fill the seat left vacant when Dave Johnson resigned.
The three all hope to fill the vacant District Five council seat covering southwest Champaign. Retired Deputy Fire Chief Tim Wild says he knows Champaign well after working for the city for more than 30 years.
"I think my experience in working for the city gives me some insights into the different departments and how they work", says Wild, "and some of the people, some of the strengths and weaknesses. So I might have some insights that others don't have."
Gordie Hulten has worked on several political campaigns, and says he admires the City Council's ability to tackle tough issues without giving into partisan rancor.
"That you can address difficult and controversial issues like Big Broadband, Unofficial St. Patrick's Day, police-community relations, Olympian Drive --- all of these contentious things reflects how your collegiality can lead to more reflective governance", said Hulten.
Hulten helps operate and writes for the local political blog, "Illini Pundit". But he says he would give the blog up, if selected for the council seat.
Cathy Emmanuel says her experience as a health care consultant demonstrates her ability to foster collaboration.
"I have been in health care administration, working and trying to represent and collaborate between hospitals and physicians", said Emmanuel, "which isn't always an easy task. And I've been able to do that, and maintain a good relationship on both sides of the aisle over the last 15 to 20 years."
Afterwards, Mayor Jerry Schweighart said it was a strong field.
"I think you couldn't go wrong with any one of the three", said Schweighart. "All three of them I know, or met with. And they appear to be top-quality people, who would fit very well with this
Council members had given the applicants written questions earlier.
And in the replies --- released by the city Tuesday night, the three candidates all say they think City Manager Steve Carter is on the right track with efforts to improve police-community relations in the wake of the Kiwane Carrington shooting.
They generally support the extension of Olympian Drive --- although Emanuel wants more financial questions answered before making a final decision.
And, if given a million dollars of city money to spend, Hulten would use it to repair and replace aging city infrastructure. Wild --- a retired firefighter --- would use it to hire more police and firefighter personnel. And Emanuel says she would spend the million on needs identified in Champaign's Fiscal Sustainability Plan, in order to avoid layoffs and continue city services.
Champaign City Council members will vote in two weeks on their choice to fill the District Five eat until a mid-term election next year.
Feedback gathered in a community forum on police-community relations in Champaign is now online at the city's website.
More than 300 people attended the March 15th forum, which city officials organized in the wake of criticism following the shooting death of Africa-American teenager Kiwane Carrington during a scuffle with police.
Comments from each of the forum's discussion table are now in a 43-page report. They include responses to the forum's main questions about police-community relations and how they can be improved.
City Community Relations Specialist Garth Minor says the Community Forum Working Group --- made up of city officials and community members --- will meet Thursday morning to start going over the report, looking for common themes.
"Once we find those themes, then the next step will be to prioritize and develop those themes into action items", says Minor. "This information then will be shared with forum participants for their review and comment. All of that information then will be compiled into a final report that will be presented to the city manager for implementation."
Some of the recurring ideas from the Community Forum included the need for mutual respect between police and young people, and increased contact between police and young people in non-crisis situations.
Champaign-Urbana is ready to say "yes" to a federal grant for a fiber-optic broadband network. The Urbana City Council voted 5 to nothing Monday night to accept the grant --- joining Champaign and the University of Illinois in endorsing the "UC2B" Broadband project.
Champaign, Urbana and the U of I are accepting a $22.5 million federal recovery grant to pay the lion's share of the cost of building the fiber-optic rings linking schools, hospitals, city buildings and libraries --- plus fiber-optic connections to send low-cost service to 4600 homes in underserved areas. U of I Associate Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement Pradeep Khanna told council members of the value of the new high-speed telecom network in attracting business.
"From first-hand experience, I can say, the lack of redundant broadband access already has been cited by many firms, as the key reason for not being interested in locating in Champaign-Urbana", said Khanna, who also heads Corporate Relations for the university's Public Engagement office.
Once the broadband network is built, local officials will have to figure out how to manage and market it ... and how to find the money to complete home service connections for the rest of Champaign-Urbana.
Alderman Brandon Bowersox, who will now serve on the Broadband Project's Policy Committee, says the economic questions pose the biggest risks. He says UC2B must offer service that makes enough money to pay for its operations and maintenance.
Meanwhile, project organizer Michael Smeltzer says they've already applied to Google, which is planning to install high-speed broadband service in select cities. Although he concedes it's a long shot, Smeltzer says they hope Google will consider funding the installation of broadband connections in the rest of Champaign-Urbana.
Monday night's vote commits Urbana to $345,000 in matching funds for the UC2B project. Champaign, the U of I and the state are also providing funding.
Smaller towns in Champaign County are taking the lead in returning 2010 Census forms.
Overall, the county is just over 50 % percent in the rate of response. A planner with Champaign County's Regional Planning Commission says it's not surprising that rural communities like Ivesdale and Ogden each have a rate of return around 70% since they have smaller populations - and those populations don't change much. Andrew Levy says the lack of response from University of Illinois students are a big reason Champaign and Urbana's response rates are just under 50%. The US Census Bureau is requesting that the forms be returned by mid-April. For those that haven't, census workers will be going door to door to ask the same questions on the form. Levy is asking U of I students to accommodate those enumerators the best they can. "As local governments, we're asking that everybody help and particpate, especially around apartment buildings, to make sure census workers have access to the buildings," says Levy. "They'll have badgets, and it's really important that everybody identify that it is a census worker."
Levy says he hopes his office and others handling the census can end the misconception that the census forms can be filled out on line. He says neighboring counties like Vermilion and Piatt have higher response rates than Champaign County... since they're made up of more small rural towns. An accurate count in the 2010 census ensures that counties receive the right amount of tax dollars and proper representation in Congress.
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.
Gubernatorial candidate Rich Whitney says the other candidates for governor may have parts of the solution to Illinois' fiscal problems --- but only he has the full package. The Green Party candidate commented during a campaign stop in Champaign-Urbana Thursday.
Whitney told a gathering of University of Illinois students that Governor Quinn is right to support a state income tax increase --- but he says such an increase should be modeled after past proposals for education funding reform.
"It's not just an income tax increase", says Whitney. "You have to provide protections for lower and middle income class earners, so that they're not actually paying the higher tax, in order to make our system more progressive. You also have to provide property tax relief to the people as part of the package. And you have to give voters some assurance that this extra revenue you're raising is going to be going to our schools."
Whitney says Quinn's promises to protect lower and middle income earners under an income tax hike are too vague. And while he supports cuts in spending, Whitney says Republican Bill Brady's call for across-the-board cuts is too crude.
Whitney also supports a tax on financial transactions ... and creation of a state bank like North Dakota's, to finance state spending projects. Whitney first outlined his budget plan in March, but says the news media focused mainly on one proposal --- to legalize and tax marijuana.
US Senator Dick Durbin says an overhaul of federal student loans will end years of students having to pay back a costly bank subsidy.
In a visit to Parkland College Thursday, Illinois' senior senator met with recipients of Pell Grants, a program that will add more than 20-thousand recipients in Illinois as the result of the overhaul. Durbin says the loans haven't kept pace with the cost of tuition, but they'll be increasing in value under this measure.
The overhaul also cuts out commercial banks and other lenders from the loan process. Durbin says the 45-year old loan program carried no risk to banks -- and they'd be paid in full -- even if a student defaulted on a loan:
"So banks were being given this opportunity to add to the interest rate on student loans in a risk-free environment. That is known in most circles as corporate welfare," Durbin said. "It cost us as a nation $8 billion a year that we were giving to banks and they were adding to the cost of student loans all around America. Students now struggling to pay back their student loans are now struggling to pay back this bank subsidy."
Federal student loan dollars will now be shifted to the direct loan program. For current 10-year loans, a person making $30,000 annually would have to pay $460 a month.
When the overhaul takes affects in 2014, Durbin says that amount will be reduced to just over $100 a month - and no more than 10% of someone's annual income when the program is fully implemented.
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