Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - February 02, 2010

Urbana City Council Votes to Buy Goodyear Property, Buying Entire Downtown Block is Ultimate Goal

The Urbana City Council approved a ten-thousand-dollar option last (Monday) night to buy the Goodyear Tire Center property on Vine Street downtown. Buying the property would be another step toward the city's acquisition of the entire block for future redevelopment.

The 200 block of South Vine Street lies just north of the Urbana City Building --- the city already owns a parking lot on the block. And Mayor Laurel Prussing says the owners of the Goodyear property approached the city about a possible sale. The mayor says the city's long-term goal is to buy the entire block, and then find a developer for it. Prussing hopes for a mixed-used building on the site, with space for both commercial and residential tenants.

"We should just think about something that's a really green development", says Prussing, "and that fits in with our overall city plan. I think we have to think about what would be the idea height of this project, if we're talking about infill."

But development won't happen right away. The Goodyear Tire Center's lease runs until 2013. And some of the residential properties on the block are also occupied by tenants. Prussing says the city has contracts to eventually buy those properties as well --- but she says she doesn't want to displace any current tenants. The mayor says the city will first do its due diligence on the Goodyear property, including an environmental audit, before the Goodyear purchase is finalized.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - February 02, 2010

Candidates Brady and Giannoulias Visit Champaign on Day Before Illinois Primary

A Republican running for governor and a Democratic Senate hopeful both stopped in Champaign Monday, during the last day of campaigning before the Illinois Primary.

Gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady flew into Willard Airport, where he told reporters that his ten-percent across-the-board budget-cutting plans would not result in voter backlash.

Brady's proposals would mean about 75-million dollars less coming to the University of Illinois. But the state senator from Bloomington says the university will have an easier time solving its problems, if state leader live up to their commitments.

"Governor Quinn just recently admitted he spent money that he promised to the U of I", said Brady. "As governor I won't do that. I'll give the U of I a balanced budget that they can count on. Then, we begin building state revenues by partnerships between the University of Illinois and businesses to bring jobs back. It's the job growth and the natural revenue growth associated with the job growth in this state that will give us the resources we need to fund out universities and our schools."

Brady says all state agencies, including the U of I, have to share in getting Illinois' finances back in order.

Brady also cited new poll data, suggesting that he and State Senator Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale are now in a virtual dead heat for the GOP nomination for governor. Brady says his campaign has benefited from negative campaign ads by Dillard and former state GOP Chairman Andy McKenna attacking each other.

The crowded GOP gubernatorial primary also includes businessman Adam Andrzejewski, political commentator Dan Proft and former state Attorney General Jim Ryan. Bob Schillerstrom's name is on the ballot, but the DuPage County Board chairman has dropped out of the race, and is endorsing Ryan.

Later in the day, Democratic Senate Alexi Giannoulias called on his supporters in Champaign last to keep up their efforts through primary election day and beyond.

Giannoulias told about 30 campaign volunteers at the Clybourne tavern in Campustown that these are challenging times, but Americans always stand up to challenges, "and not only have we gotten by, but we've actually thrived." Giannoulias exhorted his supporters to "get to work", promising them that "we're going to kick some butt tomorrow, we're going to kick some butt in November, we're going to make history, and we're going to move this country forward."

Giannoulias declined a meeting with reporters, and spent much of his time at the Clybourne meeting one-on-one with supporters.

Giannoulias is one of four remaining candidates for the Democratic Senate nomination, along with former Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman, Chicago Urbana League President and former NPR executive Cheryle Jackson and radiologist Robert Marshall. A fifth candidate, attorney Jacob Meister, has dropped out of the race, but is endorsing Giannoulias.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - February 01, 2010

New Bike Lanes for Champaign Up for Public Discussion

Bicyclists in Champaign will get their own lanes on two major north-south arteries if city council members approve.

The city is proposing adding a bike-only lane to State and Randolph streets, from their north ends at Bradley Avenue south to Hessel Boulevard. City planners are holding an open house Monday afternoon at the Champaign Public Library to discuss the plan for the two one-way streets.

Planner Mishauno Woggon is aware of the grumbling that came from some motorists after one of the first high-profile bike lanes was developed along Urbana's Philo Road commercial area. She says the new lane configuration restricted vehicle traffic through what planners call a "road diet."

"With the State and Randolph project there is no lane reduction so there is no road diet as part of this project," Woggon said. "So for drivers they're really not going to notice a difference in terms lof less lanes to drive in or congestion or things like that."

Woggon says in some narrower parts of State and Randolph streets, the bike lanes will be marked as so-called "sharrows," meaning bike and vehicle traffic will share them. The open house at the Champaign Library runs from 4:30 to 6:30.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - February 01, 2010

Voluntary Separation Might Not Be for All UI Employees, says Spokeswoman

The University of Illinois plans to send out emails to its Urbana campus employees on Tuesday, providing details about its voluntary separation incentive program. The U of I is offering incentives for faculty and staff who retire or resign --- but only if the conditions are right.

The cash-strapped U of I is looking to save money by shedding some of its faculty and staff --- and it will pay a half-year's salary up to 75 thousand dollars for faculty and staff who resign or retire. But university spokeswoman Robin Kaler says campus units will only offer the incentives in cases where the employee's departure would provide a real savings --- because that person would not be replaced, or would be replaced at a lower cost.

"So for example, if you had someone who made $70,000 a year and you determined maybe that you could not replace that person if they went, spending $35,000 to recoup another $35,000 could be a savings for the university," Kaler said.

The incentive programs target civil service and academic professional staff who agree to resign or retire before next fall semester --- and faculty eligible for retirement who agree to retire before fall semester 2011. A two-month application window begins on Wednesday. The incentive program only covers the U of I Urbana campus, not the Chicago or Springfield campuses, or university administration.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 29, 2010

EIU Initiates Furlough Policy In Case It’s Needed

Eastern Illinois University now has a furlough policy to deal with the financial crunch facing higher education. But unlike the University of Illinois, there are no current plans to implement furloughs at EIU.

And if administrators make that decision, President Bill Perry says most collective bargaining agreements on the campus at Charleston currently don't include furlough language, including those for faculty. As things stand, he says about a fourth of employees at Eastern would be impacted. Some contracts call for layoffs instead of furloughs. Perry says there are those who feel that's the best option since layoffs been part of those contracts for a long time. "Other people are of the opinion with furloughs no one loses their job entirely," says Perry. "Everyone in the group shares a little bit of the pain. So you can see the arguments on both sides as to the right way to proceed. Rarely in a university do you have unanimty on any issue, right?"

The furlough policy released by Perry Thursday afternoon calls for an employee to take up to 24 furlough days over a 12-month span. He says EIU would try to provide 30 days notice before the implantation of furloughs. Eastern raised its housing costs last week, and implemented a hiring freeze. EIU is still owed about $33 million from the state. Perry says a tuition hike could happen, but no figure has been discussed.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 28, 2010

Two Years After Double Murder, State Police Seeking Public’s Help

After following hundreds of leads the past two years... Illinois State Police say they still don't have evidence that would make Mark Prasse and Ryan Riddell targets for murder.

But investigators also say they don't believe the shooting deaths of the two friends in Edgar County were a random act. Investigators say through their interviews, Prasse and Riddell were good people with nothing sinister in their past. "One of the first things we looked at was if it was anything job related or friend related or activity related," says ISP Investigations Commander Jill Rizzs. "These two victims, by all accounts, were good guys. The 'why' is the part that we need help on."

Their bodies were found in Prasse's rural Chrisman home two years ago Thursday. Both had been shot multiple times. State Police Master Sergeant Mike Atkinson says a lot of information on the ongoing investigation can't be released, including whether they're seeking one or more suspects. "I don't want people to think that we're looking for one person, and someone might have information thinking, gosh I sure thought it was somebody else, or, that we're looking for multiple folks, and then somebody says, well, they must already know that,' says Atkinson.

Investigators say they're dealing with a short time frame from January 28th, 2008. The few hours included Riddell picking up Prasse from his job in Paris at 4 p.m., stopping by Riddell's Villa Grove home, and stopping for gas in Newman just before 7:30. Edgar County deputies were called when Riddell didn't return home for dinner that night after he was to have dropped Prasse off at his home. Their bodies were found shortly before 11 that evening.

Illinois State Police have established a tip line for this case. It's (217) 278-5004. The FBI phone number for tips is (217) 522-9675. Tips can be anonymous.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 27, 2010

Illinois’ Senate Race Through the Eyes of Seniors

Health care reform has been a dominant issue when candidates for Illinois' US Senate race talk about the country's older Americans... but it's not the only issue. Seniors voting next week in the primary (including Rantoul's Cheryl Melchi, left) are not only questioning the future of issues like Medicare and Social Security but their candidates' ability to address them. AM 580's Jeff Bossert surveyed some East Central Illinois residents for their thoughts.

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 26, 2010

Illinois University Presidents To Issue Letter to Governor, Legislators

University of Illinois Interim President Stanley Ikenberry says administrators and faculty should be more aggressive to communicate to the public what's at stake if state funding remains at a standstill. Speaking to the Urbana Campus Academic Senate Monday, Ikenberry said he and all other public university presidents in Illinois will soon be sending a letter to Governor Pat Quinn and legislative leaders.

He says it will contain two messages. The first is to urge all involved to quickly find a solution towards fixing Illinois' fundamental financial problems. Ikenberry says the second is that public institutions like the U of I have a reliable schedule of state payments. "It is possible for us to imagine drifiting on now for several months with no material change in the rate of reimbursement from the state," says Ikenberry. "That just begins to create a nightmare of a situation that I don't think we can tolerate without a much more aggressive public position to alert the public of what the dangers really are." The Academic Senate passed a resolution yesterday urging its members to address these problems before state officials and the public. It was written in response to the U of I furlough policy impacting 11,000 employees. Some are considering taking common furlough days as a means for educating their students on Illinois' financial crisis through campus rallies or even trips to Springfield to address the legislature.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 25, 2010

Lower Cost Bonds Available to 5 School Districts in Champaign County

Several school districts in Champaign County now have a chance to save more money when issuing bonds for school construction projects. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.

The chance came last week when the Champaign County Board formally designated the county as a "Recovery Zone", ---- an area experiencing economic distress under terms set by the federal Recovery Act. That clears the way for eligible school districts to issue some of their school construction bonds as Recovery Zone bonds --- with the federal government picking up 45 percent of the interest charge.

Cameron Moore of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission says he's gotten "strong Indications" from the Champaign, Urbana and Rantoul City school districts that they would probably use the Recovery Zone bonds, as they prepare to issue bonds for construction projects in the next couple of months.

Assistant Superintendent Beth Shepperd of the Champaign Unit Four school district says they plan to use about about $1,300,000 in Recovery Zone Bonds as part of their bond issue next month. She calls the opportunity an exciting one, "because it certainly lessens the amount of money that the taxpayers pay for interest, gives us the lowest interest rate available to governmental entitites right now, and gives us more money to good things for our students in the schools." Shepperd says the rest of Unit Four's bond issue will be issued as Build America bonds. She says they are also subsidized under the federal Recovery Act, but at 35%.

The RPC's Moore says the Fisher and Rantoul Township districts could also use the special bonds. But the bonds can only be issued during 2010. The federal government is making $2,349,000 in Recovery Zone bonds available in Champaign County.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 22, 2010

UI Officials Mulling Tuition Hike of 9 Percent Or More

With still no clear picture on funds coming from the state, University of Illinois Interim President Stanley Ikenberry suggests it will be at least June before officials know what tuition rates will be for next academic year. But Ikenberry told U of I Trustees in Chicago Thursday that it's hard to imagine even a best-case scenario where officials aren't looking at a high single-digit increase of around 9-percent - or about 3 to 3-point-5 percent hikes in each year over a four-year period:

"That would be a best-case scenario. We may not be dealing with a best-case environment," says Ikenberry. "So we may be faced to look at a number that will be considerably in excess of that. But it's premature, I think to walk into those waters now. But we will start that journey in March." The U of I is still owed more than 400-million dollars by the state. While tuition won't be known for a while, trustees yesterday raised the price of student housing by 4-point-6 percent on the Urbana campus. It will cost just over 9-thousand dollars starting this summer. Trustees also voted to increase undergraduate fees in Urbana by 2.8 percent to 28-hundred 42 dollars. The annual fees pay for student health services, career counseling facilities repair and other services.

Meanwhile, the co-chair of a budget task force assisting the U of I is recommending 10-percent cuts in three areas, including information technology. U of I foundation executive Craig Bazzani told U of I Trustees that information technology alone has five chief information officers. He's challenging them to find ways to streamline operations among the U of I's three campuses, and trim about 30-million dollars over the next year or two. Bazzani says information technology can't afford the 'army' of people it has, but he says the cuts will impact both people and equipment. "And so we've grown fairly significantly for good reason undoubtedly and we want to embrace the idea that more automation is good," says Bazzani. "The curves will continue to go up. There isn't any way that we're going to be able to shut off the faucet on the use of IT. We want to encourage it, but we have to have a better delivery mechanism in the future than what we have today."

The other areas Bazzani is targeting for 10% cuts are strategic procurement and energy task force recommendations. He says budget cutting moves like furlough days and hiring freezes are merely temporary ways of saving at the U of I.

Bazzazi expects to have his report before Interim President Ikenberry by May.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

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