Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 21, 2010

Champaign City Council Approves Contract for Apartment Bldg Recycling Pickup

Champaign city officials are looking forward to having recycling for apartment buildings by the end of the year. The City Council voted Tuesday night to sign a contract with Allied Waste Transportation to provide recycling pickup for multi-family dwellings. Currently, recycling pickup in Champaign is only mandated for single family homes and apartments with four units or less.

Council Member Mike Ladue is a longtime recycling booster. He says the city had once been a leader in community recycling, before pulling back in the 1990s. But with the introduction of recycling pickup for apartment buildings, LaDue says the recycling will expand to a new scale and scope, "including the 55 percent of our residents who are renters, a great majority of whom live in multiplex dwellings. This will reach all those residents, many of whom have been interested in recycling for many, many years."

In contracting with Allied Waste Transportation, Champaign will join the city of Urbana in mandating recycling pickup for all residential buildings. City officials estimate the contract will cost about $ 1.5 million over five years, to be paid for with user fees.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 21, 2010

Champaign City Council Approves Firm for Regional Housing Study

The Champaign City Council took a step toward addressing area housing problems Tuesday night --- by voting to hire a consultant to conduct a regional study of the issue.

Plans for the study were first announced last November, after Champaign County was hit by a slew of housing crises --- the sudden closures of Rantoul's Autumn Glen and Champaign's Gateway Studios apartments, a narrowly averted financial crisis at Restoration Urban Ministries and the Safe Haven group of homeless people who defied zoning regulations by living as a tent community. Champaign City Council Member Deb Feinen says the study will give them a fresh look at the countywide housing situation.

"It seems to me before we can make any changes, or start trying to figure out what type of housing should be provided, we need to know what's going on and what currently exists", Feinen said during the council meeting. "So updating our information is a great start."

Champaign, Urbana, Champaign County, the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission and the Housing Authority of Champaign County will pay an Columbus, Ohio-based consulting firm Vogt Santer Insights Ltd. $45,000 to do the study. The city of Champaign's portion will be $21,411. Other groups, including the Champaign County Realtors Association and the United Wat of Champaign County, will also be asked to contribute.

Champaign Neighborhood Programs Manager Kerri Spear says their current analysis of the area housing situation is based on the 2000 census. She says the study will provide projections based on other, more recent data sources, until new census figures on housing are available in a couple of years. Results of the study are expected this coming November.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 20, 2010

104th House District Candidates Don’t Expect State Party Donations to Play a Role

Both candidates running to replace Bill Black in the Illinois House say they can't be concerned with whether their state party will provide some campaign money.

Black, a Danville Republican, is retiring after nearly 25 years. With Tuesday's deadline to disclose campaign donations passed, Republican Chad Hays of Catlin holds a clear edge in fundraising. The city's former mayor says his grassroots campaign has included a lot of contributions of $100 or less, which is why disclosure reports show he's collected more than $12,000 in non-itemized donations. Hays says his campaign has seen a large response throughout the 104th House District. "We're going to continue to be very assertive in our fundraising efforts to match that with our plan to run a very effective campaign clear to November," said Hays. "So as it relates to any party money, it that remains to be seen in terms of need."

Hays' campaign fund still has more than $50,000... while that of Michael Puhr has about $3,000 left. The Danville Democrat and city alderman admits he hasn't held many fundraisers, saying running against Hays is somewhat like campaigning against an incumbent. But Puhr says a lot of things can change... calling himself an 'independent Democrat' who plans to spend a lot of time knocking on doors. "I believe the best way to win a race is to go out and meet the people," said Puhr. "And that's one thing I've been doing.. a minimum of 5 to 6 events in any particular weekend, and numerous other contacts and things, so money doesn't buy a race." And Puhr says he's not thrilled of the prospect of receiving state money, saying he doesn't want to serve as the Democratic Party's mouthpiece.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 20, 2010

Urbana Council Hears More Arguments for Gasoline Tax

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing continued her promotion of a local gasoline tax, Monday night, by bringing in an official from another city that already has one.

City Manager Dennis Keif of Pekin told the Urbana City Council about the four-cent-a-gallon gas tax his Tazewell County city has had since 1996 to raise money for a major highway project, regular street maintenance and property tax relief. He says gas station owners warned that the tax would force them to charge more for gasoline than competitors in Peoria with its two-cent gas tax, and smaller nearby towns with no tax. But Keif says there's no sign that gas stations in Pekin have suffered.

"Almost without exception, the price is exactly the same in all of the communities", Kief told Urbana council members. "Typically, it actually runs a little bit higher in Peoria than the other communities. But Pekin is no higher than the other communities."

Kief's answer was in reply to questions from Alderman Dennis Roberts, who said afterward that he's "inclined to support" Mayor Prussing's proposal for a two-cent gasoline tax to help pay for street maintenance. He thinks a vote could come later this summer.

Also Monday night, the Urbana City Council approved a $250 administrative fee to be imposed on motorists whose vehicles are towed after being arrested for certain serious offenses like D-U-I, felony drug offenses, and fleeing and eluding a police officer. The fee would be charged in addition to the towing fee. Champaign began imposing a similar fee for cars towed for serious offenses last year.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 20, 2010

Blago Brother Calls Fundraising Offer “A Joke

Rod Blagojevich's brother says a businessman claimed he could raise millions in campaign funds if Jesse Jackson Jr. were named to the Senate, but that he and the Illinois governor considered it "a joke.''

Robert Blagojevich testified Monday at the ousted governor's corruption trial. He said businessman Raghuveer Nayak told him that he could raise $1 million if the congressman was appointed to the seat Barack Obama was leaving to move to the White House.

Robert Blagojevich said Nayak said he could raise another $5 million eventually. But Robert Blagojevich said neither he nor his brother took the offer seriously. He said he told Nayak that Jackson was not going to be appointed.

Both Blagojevich brothers have pleaded not guilty to taking part in a scheme to sell the Senate seat.

Meanwhile, the federal judge presiding over Blagojevich's corruption trial has denied a motion from defense attorneys asking that the ousted Illinois governor be acquitted.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel on Monday refused to acquit Blagojevich and told attorneys to go ahead with the defense case. Zagel said he was basing his decision partly on the testimony in the prosecution's case and partly on the tone and manner in which witnesses answered the questions.

Defense attorneys often ask judges for such acquittals at the close of the prosecution case during a trial. The prosecution at the Blagojevich trial rested last week. Such motions are rarely granted.

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 19, 2010

IL’s Attorney General on Senior Scams, Federal Regulators and Blagojevich

Attorney General Lisa Madigan sat down with Illinois Public Media's Tom Rogers to discuss her office's new Silver Beat effort to combat fraud against senior citizens. But she also took time to talk about her reaction to wiretap tapes played in former Governor Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial naming her a a potential US Senate replacement for President Obama as Blagojevich considered the politics of the selection. Madigan also talks about financial reform legislation and a new nationwide consumer protection agency -- but says she'd rather see someone other than her get the job of heading it.

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 17, 2010

Gov. Quinn Cuts Staff Pay after Flap over Raises

Governor Pat Quinn has responded to outrage over raises he gave to high-level advisers by cutting their pay, but many other state employees will see their paychecks reduced as well.

The Governor used extra powers given to him to get Illinois through the budget crisis by ordering a pay cut he says amounts to 9.2 percent. Quinn says he'll set the example -- he and anyone working directly for him must take 24 unpaid days off.

"I am a diligent hard-working governor," said Quinn. "I understand that we're in difficult circumstances. So I'm cutting my own pay."

State workers who aren't in a union, such as agency heads, managers, and policy staff, must also take 24 furlough days.

Quinn's action comes after revelations that he doled out salary hikes averaging about 11% to 35 members of his staff, including a raise for his budget director. Republicans called on Quinn to roll back the pay increases.

While making his announcement, Quinn also challenged state legislators to double the 12 furlough days they're supposed to take. He also wants the state's largest public employees union, AFSCME, to agree to furloughs.

An AFSCME spokesman says the union will hear what Quinn has to say, but adds that employees are already overworked even as the economy has increased demand for state services. AFSCME and Quinn are currently working under a deal that encourages voluntary furloughs. It also saves the state money by deferring a portion of the pay increases members were scheduled to receive through a contract that was negotiated by former Governor Rod Blagojevich's administration.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 17, 2010

Urbana is Named Officially Bicycle-Friendly

The city of Urbana has been trying to make the area friendlier to bicyclists, and tomorrow an organization will give some recognition to that effort.

For the first time, Urbana will be listed as a Bicycle-Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. It's also a first for any downstate Illinois community.

Jennifer Selby is a civil engineer for the city. She's overseeing Urbana's pro-bicycle effort, which involves what she calls the "5 E's" -- engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation.

"Engineering means bike lanes, bike paths and those types of things," said Selby. "Education is the types of education programs you have, for adults and for kids -- campaign programs, videos, any kind of printed materials. Encouragement means programs such as Bike to Work Day, which we held the first one in May of this year."

The city also stepped up enforcement of bicycle safety issues - both for riders and motorists - and having a long-range plan for further improvements. Selby says more bike routes and year-round efforts to encourage bike use could raise the level of the bicycle-friendly community recognition from bronze to silver.

The League of American Bicyclists formally announces the title at a Saturday morning event at Urbana's Market at the Square.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 16, 2010

Tests Find Low to No Toxicity Levels in Clinton Lake Algae

Tests have found little to no toxicity from the algae in Clinton Lake, but state officials still say swimmers and other users should be concerned.

A 12 year old girl from Urbana had become ill after swimming there over the Fourth of July holiday. The state Department of Natural Resources posted an algae advisory. But they've amended it now that 2 out of 4 water samples found only very low levels of the type of algae that would cause a public health concern.

DNR spokeswoman Januari Smith says blue-green algae scum is common in most bodies of water, but it's best avoided. "We didn't close the lake to swimming or boaters or any other lake users," said Smith. "We just advised them -- we did this last week and we are still doing it -- to be very cautious. Do not swim in stagnant water or in obvious algae blooms."

Smith says Clinton Lake is not treated for algae and they don't plan any treatment.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 15, 2010

New UI President Cautions about Future Cutbacks

The new University of Illinois president says he has experience dealing with state governments that are struggling with meager budgets, and more struggling will take place in the next year.

Michael Hogan says he wants to correlate the yearly increases in tuition with state funding reductions that are forcing universities to pass the cost on to students and parents. Hogan sat down for an interview with Illinois Public Media's David Inge, telling him that the U of I has to concentrate just as much on controlling costs, and future staff reductions are possible. He wouldn't specify where layoffs could happen, but he says a committee report has focused on certain services that could be restructured.

"We're going to begin right away when it comes to IT, human resources, strategic purchasing and a variety of other back-office operations, administrative operations. We can begin implementing the recommendations coming out of that committee and begin realizing the savings quickly."

Hogan expects a steering committee to help implement the first of the cost-cutting measures soon. In the meantime, he foresees opening a line of credit to keep up with bills, admitting that doing so makes him uneasy.

Meanwhile, Hogan says some steps to help ease the budget crunch can also be of academic benefit. He admits that students from outside Illinois pay much higher tuition rates - but he also says they're needed to bring a diverse perspective.

"We're trying to create a learning environment on campus that's more cosmopolitan and prepares people for life in the world they're going to face when they get their degrees," Hogan said. "So the best argument for more nonresidents, or more diversity or more international students, is not really a financial argument. It's an intellectual and academic argument, an educational argument." But when asked, Hogan would not give a target number of out-of-state students the U of I wants. The report recommended keeping in-state enrollment level.

Hogan says he won't get defensive about the $620,000 salary that trustees approved for him before he took over as president earlier this month. But he says he plans to forgo pay raises or deal with furlough days if the university calls on other employees to do so.

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