Illinois Public Media News
Champaign County Administrator Deb Busey said lagging state dollars and a poor economy mean further cuts to county departments, but she said departments are being asked to make 4% average cuts for fiscal 2011. She said they should be able to maintain their current level of services.
The full budget plan will be unveiled next month, with a vote by the county board in November. Some county departments have already seen furlough days, including the State's Attorney's Office, Court Services, the Supervisor of Assessments, and Emergency Management. Many positions were also left vacant. Decreased revenues, including state income tax dollars, have led to the new cuts, but she said she believes the worst is over.
"From this point forward, hopefully with some stabilization of the economy, we should be able to maintain this going forward," she said. "We don't anticipate a great deal of growth anytime in the near future, but hopefully we've reached the point where have reached the point where we should not have to continue cutting."
She said part of that preparation is also knowing to expect less and less in state revenues.
"This budget anticipates a fairly substantial reduction in state revenues," said Busey. "This budget is balanced, with the anticipation that those revenues are going to continue to be at a lower level than what we saw in 2008, and prior to that."
Busey added only possible impact on the public from the new cuts could come in a delay of requests for information.
The Champaign County Board has gone on record opposing the county clerk's plans to move early voting to an alternate site on the University of Illinois campus.
On a party line vote of 13 to 11, Democrats backed a resolution in support of using the Illini Union, but Republican County Clerk Mark Shelden said he was not at all swayed by the vote, and he will follow through with using a location at 700 South Gregory Street in Urbana. Members of three U of I student groups spoke up to oppose the change, saying Gregory Place is hard to find, and will not have the convenience of the union. Democrat Steve Beckett said he has been a long supporter of student voting, but he added that Shelden and prior Champaign County Clerks have made it difficult.
"The only thing the students are asking for is the same opportunity to early vote as everybody else in this county," said Beckett. "And they want an opportunity to vote in a place that's close to them just as I want an opportunity to vote for early voting in a place that's close to me."
Shelden, a republican, said his goal all along was to find a location free from political activity, and accessible to everyone.
"If we really want to have a discussion about early voting, if people are really concerned, then we need to have a discussion about how we offer this to every voter in Champaign County."
In four years of early voting, Shelden says this is the first time the county board has taken interest in the issue. With some marketing, he says the Gregory Street location can be a big success.
On Saturday, October 25th, from 10 AM to 2 PM, enforcement agencies, pharmacies, and other sites will be accepting unwanted prescription drugs as part of a nationwide Drug Enforcement Administration take-back program.
Scott Collier of the US Drug Enforcement Administration in St. Louis says the initiative is part of a larger effort to combat prescription drug abuse.
"There are actually more prescription drug abusers than there are abusers of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and other drugs combined. It's second only to marijuana", says Collier.
In 2009, an estimated 7 million Americans used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes.
Another goal of the initiative is to reduce water pollution. Medications flushed down the toilet or washed down the drain go straight to a waste-water treatment plant.
Research hydrologist Dana Kolpin of the U.S. Geological Survey says those plants were never designed to remove pharmaceuticals - and there's no law requiring them to do so. Kolpin says studies have found drugs in effluent and sludge - and trace levels in rivers and streams, where they're having effects on wildlife.
"They're not acute effects where it's causing say massive fish kills", says Kolpin, "but we're seeing say fish that have both male and female characteristics, and those kind of subtle effects that are certainly a concern as well."
Kolpin attributes most water contamination to the routine use of medications to treat people and livestock, but says improper disposal does contribute to the problem.
You can dispose of prescription drugs during the DEA's National Take Back Day, Saturday, September 25th, from 10 to 2, at the following east-central Illinois locations:
Arcola - Arcola Police Dept., 920 S. Washington St. Arthur - Arthur Visitors Center, 106 E. Progress Clinton - Clinton Police Dept., 118 W. Washington St. Danville - Sheriff Office at the Vermilion County Courthouse, 7 N. Vermilion St. Decatur - City-County Law Enforcement Center, 333 N. Franklin St. Normal - Normal Police Dept., 100 E. Phoenix Tuscola - Douglas County Sheriff's Dept., 920 S. Washington St.
The University of Illinois Board of Trustees Thursday finalized its fiscal 2011 budget of $4.8 billion, which is a 3.9% increase over fiscal 2010.
At the meeting, U of I President Michael Hogan said the school's image has been badly damaged by last year's admissions scandal as well as the state's financial crisis.
A recent U.S. News and World Report poll shows the U of I's Urbana campus dropped out of the survey's top 10 ranking as one of the nation's best public universities. At the University of Illinois Board of Trustees' regular meeting Thursday, Hogan said the most striking trend in the report is that the U of I is not improving as fast as other schools.
"So, we need to understand what contributed to this decline," he said. "Cause believe me all good things come to highly ranked institutions."
Hogan said the U of I must concentrate on winning over transfer students who spend a year or two at a community college.
The U.S. News and World Report ranking indicates faculty resources are down at the Urbana campus. Interim Chancellor and Provost Robert Easter said last year, 25 faculty members earning around $106,000 left for better paying jobs.
"Our faculty are held in great esteem by institutions across the country," said Easter.
Hogan said the state's uncertain budget has left the university searching for other revenue streams. About 550 employees took advantage of the voluntary separation and retirement programs, which Easter estimates will save the university about $1.4 million a month.
In June, an Administrative Review and Restructuring (AAR) work group appointed by former President Stanley Ikenberry recommended that the university improve efforts to run its health programs. Following the recommendation, the U of I is considering a plan to hire a new vice president to oversee health services at its three campuses, and administer college of medicine sites in Chicago, Urbana, Rockford and Peoria.
The recommendation to hire a new administrator comes amid sluggish state support with about a $245 million backlog in payments to the university. The U of I has taken steps in recent months to consolidate programs as a way to cut costs, but Hogan said adding this new position would help fulfill the U of I's commitment to health sciences
"Most universities have long ago recognized the size, the complexity of the clinical enterprise, and have responded to it through a single vice president for health affairs, who among other things, can integrate that enterprise across all the campuses and all of its various sites," he said.
Hogan said about a third of the university's budget is dedicated to clinical support. The U of I Board of Trustees would have to vote to add another vice president.
At the Thursday meeting with the Board, Hogan also suggested re-naming the chancellors at the three campuses as vice presidents to re-affirm their role in helping him set a university-wide agenda.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Next April's race for mayor of Danville has become a bit clearer with a veteran lawmaker's decision to stay out.
State Rep. Bill Black (R-Danville) said after 24 years in the Illinois House, going back into full-time work right after he retires at the end of this year would not be a good idea at the age of 69.
"My wife and I just decided that we need to slow down a little bit, and that's what we're going to try to do," he said. "I will give everything I have to the city council if I get elected, but the stress and strain of being a mayor at this point of my life is probably not the best thing for me to do."
However, Black noted he does intend to run for Danville's city council in his home seventh ward. He said he plans to run a collegial campaign against incumbent alderman Ron Candido.
Current Danville mayor Scott Eisenhauer has not announced whether he plans to seek another term. Black said he may or may not make an endorsement in that race.
Family members of Kiwane Carrington are condemning the wrongful death settlement unanimously approved by Champaign City Council members Tuesday night.
The father of the 15-year old killed in a police shooting nearly a year ago, Albert Carrington, said he will do whatever he can to get a larger amount, but he would not indicate how much more than the $470,000 settlement he is seeking.
Kiwane Carrington's sister, Kenesha Williams, got emotional when telling the council that she had turn the settlement down.
"This amount of money that you guys have offered or are deciding on tonight," said Williams. "You guys don't need to decide on it because I'm not taking it."
Williams declined further comment, but Albert Carrington challenged council members.
"Just think about what's going on," said Carrington. "My son was not an insurgent. He was not in Afghanistan. It's real out here."
Council members say they know no amount can make up for what Carrington's family has lost. Will Kyles said it is unfortunate that it took this tragedy to bring about change in the community, but he said those changes are underway, citing improved police relations with the African-American community.
"I do see people coming together," said Kyles. "I do think that we're going to make it out of this. I don't think we're going to make it out of it over rhetoric, but I do believe that we're going to make it out of it."
Council member Michael LaDue said Tuesday night's decision is "not a consummation." He said said city officials are grieving too because the community "is our family."
"The depth and range of emotion with respect to this has brought home to all of us who are charged with representing the people and their interests in this community," said LaDue, who choked up as he talked. "It is a profound thing but there is nothing more profound than the loss of an immediate loved one. There's nothing so permanent."
Champaign County NAACP President Jerome Chambers told the city council not to be satisfied solely with this decision.
"It's time for us now to build bridges instead of walls," said Chambers. "You've got this facade up that we can throw money at a situation. A band-aid will not cover a bullet hole."
Community activist Martel Miller told the council he is willing to meet with city officials and Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney. He noted that there is something wrong with a community if it can't settle its differences after the death of a young person.
The board president of the Lincoln Trail Libraries System said she hopes a compromise can replace a new policy of charging Tolono and Mahomet library members $200 a year to check out materials from the larger Champaign Public Library.
The topic was a major topic of discussion at a meeting of the Lincoln Trail board Monday in Champaign.
Board president Roseanne Reidner said a recent change in Lincoln Trail's Reciprocal Borrowing policy allows a member library to restrict out of town borrowing in some cases. She added the Champaign policy is extreme, especially since it bars inter-library loans.
"The change that we made in the Reciprocal Borrowing Policy really was meant to allow some restrictions in reciprocal borrowing, and not to take the borrowing down to zero," said Ridener. "And it was to have nothing to do with the Interlibrary Loan."
Patrons in the Lincoln Trail Libraries System can normally borrow materials for free from any public library in its nine-county region, but Champaign library officials say residents of Mahomet, Tolono and Savoy are using their library so much that it is causing a strain on the system during times of tight budgets.
Reidner said she will organize a "brainstorming" session with Champaign, Tolono and Mahomet library officials in the next few weeks to try to come up with an alternative plan.
Reidner said the principle of allowing reciprocal borrowing is important to all member libraries in the nine-county Lincoln Trailsystem, and she said she wants to preserve that principle.
"But at the same time, we realize that there are certain financial concerns," she said. "We hope that those can be resolved, and we also hope that people are able to use their home library more."
Champaign library officials say the use of their library by out of town residents is up sharply --- especially by members of the Mahomet and Tolono libraries. Officials with the larger library say that is a financial strain on them. Ridener attributes the heavy use of the Champaign library to changing lifestyles, with many people finding it more convenient to use the library near where they work, rather than using a library in the town in which they live.
The Champaign Public Library plans to institute its new policy in November, on a six-month trial basis.
(Photo courtesy of Lester Public Library/flickr)
A health advocacy group says benefits from the new health care reform law are just starting to come to Illinois residents.
It will be 2014 before one of the biggest benefits takes effect, but the group Families USA says more than a million people in Illinois will be eligible for some sort of tax credit from the legislation that passed this spring. Those tax credits are meant to offset the cost of insurance.
The slow introduction of the health care law coincides with political opposition to the law as election season nears. But Jim Duffett, who heads the Champaign-based Campaign for Better Health Care, says more and more Illinois residents will hear about the program's intended purpose in the weeks ahead, such as health insurance exchange programs aimed at offering lower-cost policies.
"I think as these programs start to kick in, and definitely as the focus at the state level is intensifying, those types of activities are going to start to generate much more interest and education so that the people in Illinois will be able to know exactly what they need to do to sign up," Duffett said.
The group cites a survey that suggests the biggest tax credits will affect people at the lowest income levels, with about 60% of the credits going to those who carry health insurance but are struggling to keep up with premiums.
The Champaign County Coroner's Office has identified a body found near Longview Monday afternoon as that of a missing University of Illinois German Studies professor.
Coroner Duane Northrup has identified the man as 48-year old Frederick Schwink of Longview. He had been missing since September 9th, and his disappearance prompted a plea for help from local authorities. A farmer discovered the body in a car sitting in a cornfield northwest of Longview Monday. An autopsy was conducted Tuesday morning. Northrup said dental records were used to identify the body, and an inquest may be held at a later date. Schwink's death is under investigation by U of I Police, the Champaign County Sheriff's Department, and the Coroner's Office.
Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden will follow through with plans to make a vacant storefront the early voting site for the University of Illinois campus.
Shelden said he will sign a lease Tuesday to use the property on South Gregory Street, instead of the Illini Union's Pine Lounge. County Board Democrats and the U of I Student Senate oppose the move, saying state law dictates that the location of the polling site should be in a high traffic location, like the Union.
A spokesman for Illinois Senate President John Cullerton also said public universities are legally obligated to provide the space, and that local elections officials will work with them.
However, Shelden said political activity in the Illini Union make it an unsuitable location for early voting, and he added the U of I cannot afford what state law mandates.
"Maybe if the state legislature properly funded the University or if Lincoln Hall wasn't in the middle of renovation, and had been completed like it should have been 4 or 5 years ago," he said. "I can give a variety of ways in which the university could have less problems with space if the state of Illinois had done what they were supposed to do."
Champaign Senator Mike Frerichs was a sponsor of a law ensuring that public universities will provide polling places. He said Shelden is trying to 'flout' state law by using the Gregory site for polling. Frerichs also said it 'smells' that the building is owned by JSM Development. One of that company's principals is former Champaign County Republican Chair Steve Hartman.
"This University did offer the space for free," said Frerichs. "He would rather pay money to a private developer than take the space for free, and that doesn't make sense."
Shelden said he did not base his decision decision on politics, but rather, finding a convenient location for voters at an affordable price. It will cost his $800 to lease the site.
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