Illinois Public Media News
As the Urbana City Council looked over the mayor's $48 million budget plan during Monday night's Committee of the While meeting, some members wondered if they should be making plans in case they need to make some mid-year spending cuts a few months from now.
Mayor Laurel Prussing's budget plan for 2010-2011 would freeze salaries and wages, and leave several positions unfilled. But some Urbana council members worry more cuts might be needed if tax revenues don't meet projections. When city Comptroller Ron Eldridge mentioned provisional plans for mid-year staff cuts if needed, Alderwoman Diane Marlin said she needed to know more.
"I'm concerned that these optimistic projections on revenue may not come to pass", said Marlin. "And I think it's my job as a council member to kind of think of more of a worse-case scenario, and at least about being prepared for it."
But Mayor Prussing was reluctant to release details --- in part because the staff cut scenarios name specific people. Later, the mayor said if they needed to cut more, they wouldn't just consider one plan.
"There isn't just one way of doing it", said Prussing. "We'd come up with many different things, and the council would have to decide what our top priorities are."
Prussing says her administration will monitor city tax revenues carefully, to see if mid-year spending cuts are needed --- and also watch for new revenue sources. One potential source is a local motor fuels tax. The mayor says Urbana council members will discuss that idea next month.
A Champaign Police officer involved in the fatal shooting of a teenager in the city last October has seen the appeal of his 30-day suspension denied.
Champaign city manager Steve Carter says the decision on Daniel Norbits was handed down on Friday. Norbits was given the month's suspension without pay last month. Carter said while Norbits didn't intend to fire his weapon, he failed to maintain control of it on October 9th when Kiwane Carrington was shot and killed following a report of a break-in. The Fraternal Order of Police then filed an appeal on behalf of Norbits, who said the suspension was unjustified. If the officer chooses to continue in the appeals process... Carter says the next step would be for Norbits to appear before an arbitrator.
An attempt to expand the state's early voting program to college campuses in time for November's general election is stalled.
Senator Michael Frerichs, a Champaign Democrat, wants to make it easier for students to vote before Election Day by letting them cast ballots without leaving campus. "You can go on campus and see long lines waiting to vote, and students stand there for a little while realizing, 'Eh, I don't have the time. I'm going to go off to my class'," Frerichs said. "And if we spread this out over a longer period before the election, I think that won't be as big of a problem."
He's sponsoring a measure that would begin a trial program at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Southern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, and Lewis and Clark Community College. The legislation requires county clerks to set up early voting stations at those schools. While the proposal made it through the Senate, it hasn't moved in the Illinois House. Critics, including Representative Chapin Rose of Mahomet, estimate it could cost counties about one hundred thousand dollars to set up the voting stations. Rose says communities shouldn't be left to pick up that tab when college students can already head to the polls on their campuses on Election Day.
The General Assembly is back in Springfield this week, with the House back Monday and the Senate in on Wednesday.
Legislators' main mission is to pass a new budget. The Illinois House will convene after an approximately two week long break to work on a budget with the same framework as the spending plan that has already passed the Senate. That plan relies on some cuts and granting Governor Pat Quinn extraordinary authority to make more financial decisions. It's expected the House could tweak it to protect certain programs and rein in some of Quinn's powers. An outstanding question is if the House will borrow money to make a $4 billion public pension payment, or skip the payment altogether. Democratic Representative Ken Dunkin of Chicago says either are better than taking money from social services and education.
"Some of us simply are not looking at reality," Dunkin said. "The reality is if you're in a jam, at this level, and this is a rare occasion for us to be in such significant deficit, borrowing or suspending payment to one year is not a bad option."
Also unclear if is there will be support to pass a cigarette tax hike to help fund schools. Democrats -- who control the legislature -- are aiming to finish before the end of the month. Thereafter, passing a budget will be tougher because some Republicans will need to get on board.
Furlough days for 127 employees are part of a mid-year budget cutback approved Thursday night by the Champaign County Board.
County Administrator Deb Busey says she consulted with county department heads and elected officials to find nearly a million dollars in cuts for the 2nd half of the fiscal year.
But Busey is projecting a total shortfall of $1.6 million for Champaign County --- due to continued delays in state funding and a drop in county fee revenue. She says she'll wait a couple of months before cutting any further.
"The remaining $600,000 is with the hope that those revenues will improve more than what the current projections show", says Busey. "And cutting a million dollars out of half a year's budget seemed fairly aggressive, and it's what we did at this point. "
The majority of those cuts are coming from Personnel and most of that through unpaid furlough days for county employees. For 70 employees, the furlough days are subject to negotiations with their unions --- a process Busey says is still ongoing.
The Carle Foundation is bringing more defendants into a lawsuit over the hospital's property tax status.
Carle has had to pay property taxes for several hospital buildings since 2002, when Champaign County and Cunningham Township officials ruled that Carle didn't provide enough charity care to be considered tax-exempt. The hospital appealed - that case is awaiting a ruling from state revenue officials. In the meantime, Carle sued the state, the county and the township claiming they improperly revoked Carle's tax exemption.
Now Carle's senior vice president for legal affairs, L.J. Fallon, says they've added the city of Urbana, the Urbana school district and the Urbana park district to the suit. He claims they should pay back their share of nearly $800,000 Carle agreed to put up in lieu of paying property taxes if Carle won its suit.
Fallon acknowledges this will put a crimp in talks over the tax exemption of several former Carle Clinic buildings - property that could also be taken off the tax rolls now that they're part of Carle Hospital under this year's merger.
"I can't imagine that the filing of this lawsuit -- although we tried to give them advance notice and prepare them -- I can't gauge whether or not they'll still want to have discussions about payment in lieu of taxes," said Fallon. "They, like us, probably want to see how this is going to resolve so that we can have some really meaningful discussions."
Earlier this year the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that another Urbana hospital, Provena Covenant Medical Center, was liable for property taxes. A Champaign County judge is set to hear Carle's latest motion Tuesday.
In a statement released late Thursday afternoon, Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said she was disappointed by Carle's decision to add defendants. Prussing contends that Carle never mentioned the concerns it outlined in the suit.
University of Illinois trustees will vote Thursday (May 20th) to confirm the schools' incoming president and to raise tuition. But first ... a trio of legislators and union members will protest.
Michael Hogan will make $620,000 a year as the U of I's president. The last Illinois president. B. Joseph White, made $450,000.
State Senator Marty Sandoval of Cicero is one of several Democrats who say Hogan should forgo the hike. He says it will start Hogan off on the wrong foot ... given that the school's set to increase tuition by 9.5%.
"Everyone has been very public about holding the line on cost", says Sandoval. "And ... it's just apparent that the board of the University of Illinois, and President Hogan just don't get it. That people are hurting."
Sandoval wants a tuition freeze. The SEIU union says when its members are asked to take furloughs and accept layoffs, the university's top administrator should set an example. University spokesman Tom Hardy defends Hogan's package as comparable with peer institutions. Hardy says the pay is what's needed to get the best person for the job.
The state of Indiana says the boyhood home of famed World War II journalist Ernie Pyle will no longer be a state historic site, but its supporters say the battle to reopen it hasn't ended.
The home in the Vermilion County town of Dana has been closed to visitors since January. The state Department of Natural Resources has put off a vote to de-access the property - in other words, to sell or reassign the frame house, a Quonset hut and the exhibits on the site. Spokesman Phil Bloom says the museum attracted few visitors and wasn't economically viable.
But Phil Hess, who heads the group Friends of Ernie Pyle, contends that the state didn't give the museum a fair chance when it laid off the site administrator.
"That was the first position lost, and the staff was cut periodically through the whole time to where the Ernie Pyle site was down to only 1/6 the hours of the average of the other sites in the Indiana system," said Hess. "We were kind of predestined to fail."
Now that the DNR has postponed a decision on disposing of the property until November, Hess says his group will ask the governor's office to reverse the closure decision. Hess claims museum donors were led to believe the exhibits would remain in Dana. DNR officials have proposed moving the most important Ernie Pyle memorabilia to the state museum in Indianapolis.
Recycling pickup for multi-family housing will come to Champaign next year, under an item approved for the new city budget.
In a tight budget year, Champaign officials are counting on user fees to pay for recycling pickups at multi-family buildings. The fee is expected to be 2 to 3 dollars per month per dwelling, or per person in shared housing such as fraternities and sororities.
City Councilwoman Deb Feinen says she's waited a long time for Champaign apartment dwellers be able to get recycling pickup, which has been offered in Urbana for years.
"When I got on Council, I was basically told by some other council members, 'no way, not gonna happen, we've voted on that before, go away, I don't wanna talk to you about it'", says Feinen. "I am delighted that we are now in a situation, four years later, to see multi-family recycling."
Apartment building owners in Champaign were always allowed to contract for recycling pickup on their own. But the budget item approved Tuesday night requires the service at all multi-family dwellings citywide.
The recycling issue was part of a review of the proposed city budget which Champaign City Council members wrapped up Tuesday night. They'll take a final vote in June.
The renovation of an old warehouse on Champaign's north end will mean the end of a mural celebrating local African-American history.
The Champaign City Council approved a special use permit Tuesday night that will allow Sullivan Plumbing to convert and expand a one-story warehouse at 5th and Park into a two-story building with both office and apartment space.
But the conversion will cover up the African-American history mural painted on the building's north wall in 1978. Dave Monk was among those involved in the mural project, which he says helped bring white and black together.
"It has connotations of not only local interest, but a demonstration at the national level of how we could interact on the fringe of black-white communities", Monk told council members.
Monk said a way might be found to preserve the mural, if Champaign council members would delay their vote. But the council approved the special use permit unanimously.
Councilman Tom Bruno noted that the mural's creator, Angela Rivers, had told the News-Gazette that it would be too expensive to restore the badly faded work.
"It would be nice if this mural could be preserved", said Bruno. "But it would be even nicer if this building could improve that neighborhood. And perhaps we can't have both."
However, other council members said they hoped the mural would be well-documented for history's sake.
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