Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 09, 2009

Urbana Council Wavers on Aid to Displaced Tenants

Supporters of relocation aid for tenants who are forced to leave condemned buildings took their case to the Urbana City Council last Monday night. The idea was sparked by the sudden closures recently of apartments in Rantoul and Champaign, after their owners failed to pay utility bills.

Danielle Chynoweth of Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice says that in such cases, the city should provide emergency funding to help displaced tenants find new housing. The former Urbana alderwoman says the city could recoup the money through fines on landlords whose negligence led to the shutdown. Chynoweth says there's little danger of the landlords being unable to pay.

"The first question the Council should ask its staff is how many condemnations have happened against landlords that were bankrupt," Chynoweth told the Council. "I think you will find not very many in Urbana. So in most cases, you'll have recouped the costs."

But Urbana Neighborhood Services Director Libby Tyler says the proposed level of relocation assistance --- at least 2-thousand dollars for each displaced tenant ---- is too expensive for the city. "You can imagine situations where a municipality would not be able to afford to condemn an unsafe building, would not be able to afford the relocation costs," Tyler said.

She also worries that money might sometimes go to tenants who don't need the help. Tyler says Urbana will work with Champaign and other agencies to create a coordinated plan for helping displaced tenants. That plan could be ready in the fall. Meanwhile, Tyler says Urbana already has a small fund for tenant relocation assistance, and the city may look for ways to boost it.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 08, 2009

Champaign County to Hold Hearings on Appointments Over Elections

Public hearings in Champaign County this week will consider whether the elected county offices of auditor, coroner and recorder of deeds should be appointed instead.

Any member of the public can speak at these hearings --- including the three office holders, who will argue for election by voters over appointment by the county board. Champaign County Auditor Tony Fabri says making his office an appointed one would make him beholden to the same county officials whose spending he's supposed to review. "When you take that position and make it subordinate to the folks who are actually making the expenditures," says Fabri, "it weakens the independence of the office, and it weakens the financial safeguards that the county has to protect taxpayer money."

County Board members Brendan McGinty and Greg Knott first proposed appointing rather than electing the three county offices a couple of years ago. McGinty says initial research reveals that counties as big or bigger than Champaign County elect rather than appoint their coroner, auditor and recorder. --- and he says there may be good reasons for that. "I wouldn't be disappointed if we ended up making no changes or making changes that make sense," says McGinty. "All I want to do is have the conversation on it, do the research on it."

McGinty and Knott serve on the Champaign County Board Policy Committee, which is holding the hearings. Committee chairman Tom Betz says the hearings will help the county board decide whether to put a referendum on the fall 2010 ballot asking voters if they want to make any or all of the offices appointed instead of elected.

All hearings will be held at the Champaign County Brookens Center in Urbana. The recorder of deeds hearings starts at 6 PM Tuesday followed by the coroner's hearing at 7. The auditor's hearing is Wednesday night at 6.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 06, 2009

Ameren files for Delivery Rate Hike with State Regulators

Ameren is seeking an increase in its electricity and natural gas delivery charges. The energy company filed the request Friday with the Illinois Commerce Commission.

The increases would affect the price of delivering energy to the customer, not the actual price of electricity and gas. If approved, Ameren says that the typical AmerenIP customer would pay $152s more per year. Ameren CILCO customers would pay $102 more. And Ameren CIPS customers would pay $119 more --- higher in the Metro East area. In this case, the typical customer uses 10-thousand kilowatt hours of electricity and 785 therms of natural gas a year.

Ameren has compiled details about its rate hike request on a special website, IllinoisRateFacts.com.

The ICC granted Ameren its last rate increase in September of last year.

Categories: Energy, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 04, 2009

House Lawmaker Seeks Changes to Measure Affecting Farmer’s Markets

Restrictions on the sale of baked goods at Urbana's Market at the Square have prompted an area lawmaker to find ways of relaxing or modifying a state law.

Danville Republican Bill Black wants to start up a task force to find out what prompted a 10-year old measure that requires those cookies and pies to be prepared in commercial kitchens. It was recently enforced in Urbana for the first time, driving away some vendors. But Black contends the enforcement of the measure is 'spotty' at best:

"The opening day of the farmer's market in Danville there were home-baked goods," says Black. "I asked somebody if this was done in a commercial kitchen. And he said 'yeah, my kitchen.' So just thirty miles apart there was some confusion."

But Kolby Riggle, Director of Environmental Health with Vermilion County's Health Department, contends the law has always been enforced there. Champaign-Urbana Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde says she doesn't have an opinion as to whether the measure is necessary, but says it will continue to be enforced locally. Black suggests that changes to the law could be as simple as placing a label on a baked good - advising that it was homemade. His task force would consist of legislators, local public health professionals, officials with the Department of Agriculture, and members of the public who sell at farmer's markets. Black hopes to begin meetings by fall, with hopes of completing a report by the end of the year.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 04, 2009

Proposed Ill. budget held up by Senate president

Gov. Pat Quinn declined comment Wednesday on a parliamentary maeuver that kept the bare-bones budget passed by the Illinois General Assembly over the weekend from coming to his desk,

The budget would have kept state agencies running during a financial crisis, but little else. But State Senate President John Cullerton quietly blocked the budget after lawmakers voted on it, holding it in the Senate instead of sending it to Quinn, who said he wouldn't sign it.

Quinn spokeswoman Katie Ridgway said the governor will keep working to pass revenue to support a fair and balanced budget Cullerton, Quinn and House Speaker Michael Madigan -- all Chicago-area Democrats -- support raising taxes to avoid the worst of the cuts that would be required to close an $11.6 billion budget deficit. The Senate approved a tax increase, but it failed in the House.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 04, 2009

Countywide School Sales Tax Headed to Champaign County Board for Final Vote

The one-cent school sales tax that Champaign County voters approved in April still needs the county board's approval. That's why several area school officials turned out for Wednesday night's county board Policy Committee meeting. Several of them told the committee about how the sales tax would provide money for building new schools and renovating old ones. And like Mahomet Seymour school board member Becky Ryherd, they mentioned how the sales tax would also allow school districts to lower their property tax rates. "Tax abatement was the one thing that's always caught the public's ear", Ryherd said. "They want to see a different way to fund schools.

Ryherd's own school board has promised to commit one third of its sales tax revenue towards property tax relief. But some Policy Committee members, like Republican Alan Nudo, worry that some school boards are modifying their tax relief promises, now that the sales tax has won voter approval. "If there is a difference between what was promised before the April election, and what now a board resolution shows, we need to know why", says Nudo.

The Policy Committee voted unanimously to send the school facilities sales tax to the full Champaign County Board for a final vote on June 18th. County Board Chairman Pius Weibel says he'll ask school districts to explain in writing, any changes they've made since the election in how they plan to use the sales tax money. But Nudo worries that once enacted, the county board has little say over the school sales tax, It has no sunset provision. State law says it can't be repealed by a county board, as long as a school district is using to pay off bonds.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 03, 2009

Quinn, Lawmaklers Set Stage for Budget Talks

Gov. Pat Quinn is eager to build support for his proposed income tax increase, so he chided lawmakers yesterday Tuesday for not raising taxes to help fix a budget deficit of at least $11.6 billion.

Quinn didn't offer up any new cost-cutting suggestions but he said he would be willing to listen to anyone. The Democratic governor remained optimistic he could get a budget paid for by a tax increase in place by July 1 when the new fiscal year begins.

Quinn wants the income tax increase to stave off cuts he says will decimate state human services programs.

In response, Quinn is pressuring lawmakers by pledging not to sign the $28 billion statewide construction program they want until they give him a balanced budget.

Michael Madigan's spokesman Steve Brown says the House speaker would continue to meet and work cooperatively with Quinn.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 03, 2009

GM Dealers Mull Over the Company’s Future

Area General Motors dealers are looking at the automaker's bankruptcy from different perspectives.

Most dealers in east-central Illinois expect to keep selling cars despite GM's decision to cut hundreds of dealers. Bill Abbott owns a GM dealership in Monticello -- he says his company didn't receive a contract cancellation notice, and they are looking forward to being there for a long time.

Hoopeston dealership owner Dave McFadden says he's also not worried about the future of Anthem Chevrolet Buick Pontiac, and he's optimistic about what a new GM will look like.

"I'm looking forward to a new GM emerging, being more competitive with less liabilities and returning to the giant automotive manufacturer that it has been for almost a hundred years," McFadden said.

But a small Chevrolet dealer in Iroquois County may not be a part of GM's future. Still, Rust Chevrolet doesn't plan on closing anytime soon, despite receiving a letter ending its franchise agreement with GM.

Co-owner Karen Rust Walder says the family-owned operation in Cissna Park will continue offering parts and service and plans to keep selling used vehicles when their agreement with GM ends in 2010.

Walder says she knows that some dealerships plan to fight the contract termination, but as for Rust Chevrolet, she says they don't really know what their next step will be.

The Rust family has sold Chevrolet vehicles since her grandfather signed on with the car company in 1915. Walder is the only salesperson at the dealership.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 03, 2009

Champaign City Council Rejects Ambulance License Fee Hike, Endorses Other Tax and Fee Increases

The Champaign City Council approved about one million dollars Tuesday night in new and increased fees to help balance the next budget. However, a big increase in license fees for the area's two ambulance companies was rejected.

It would have been a VERY big increase for Carle's Arrow Ambulance and Provena's Pro Ambulance --- jumping from the current 125-dollars a year to 20-thousand dollars a year. City Fire Chief Doug Forsman said the money would help pay their costs as first responder to emergency calls, which often includes assisting ambulance workers. Councilman Tom Bruno thought the increase was reasonable, when the two ambulance companies were considered in the context of the hospitals that owned them.

"It'd be very interesting to see how the the 20-thousand dollar fee we proposed compares to the annual marketing budget of either Provena or Carle," said Burno.

But the ambulance companies, especially Pro Ambulance, said their ability to provide service would be jeopardized by the 20-thousand dollar license fee, especially if other communities followed suit with their own fee hikes --- Urbana was already planning to do so. Council member Marcie Dodds said she thought the increase went too far. "A 16 thousand percent increase is just troubling," said Dodds. "I'm concerned with unintended consequences."

The ambulance license fee hike failed on a 4 to 5 vote. But Champaign council members approved several other new and increased fees, from a higher franchise fee for cable TV to a fee for truck drivers who miscalculate and get their rigs stuck under railroad viaducts. A final council vote on the budget --- including the fee increases --- is set for June 16th.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 01, 2009

Ethics Reform Passes, “Fumigation” Bill Stalls, No One’s Happy

An historic measure to limit campaign contributions in Illinois is headed to Governor Pat Quinn's desk, despite criticism it does little to actually curb the flow of campaign money.

Quinn admits the measure is flawed, but backs it anyway, saying it's the best the state can get right now.

Critics say there are too many loopholes. Representative Bill Black, a Danville Republican, says one of the biggest flaws is a lack of limits on so-called in-kind contributions. "That means those people who control the committee funds can use unlimited contributions to hire staff, lease computers, pay the rent on an office, buy hundreds of thousands of dollars of campaign commercials," Black said on the House floor.

Meantime, the Senate failed to act on another reform measure the governor has called a top priority. The proposal would allow voters to decide to change the state constitution so an unpopular governor could be recalled.

But critics say the measure would put too much power in the hands of lawmakers. At least 30 lawmakers, with equal support from both parties, would have to sign off. So either party could block a recall effort. Critics also say other statewide elected officials should be eligible for recall.

Meanwhile, a legislative purge of state workers is not going forward after all. For now, state employees and commission members who could have lost their posts are safe.

The Illinois House overwhelmingly approved a plan to "fumigate" state government of people hired under disgraced former Governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich. Anyone current Governor Pat Quinn chose to keep on could stay, but otherwise the legislation would have fired seven hundred fifty of these political hires.

But when Senators took up the measure they voiced opposition. Republican Dan Cronin of Elmhurst called it a power grab. "It's irrelevant whether or not you had any connection whatsoever to Governor Blagojevich," Cronin said. "We're going to tell you that you're fired because we can. And you gotta come hat in hand, back into the office, come kiss the ring."

Senate President John Cullerton says in lieu of that criticism, he pulled the measure before Senators could take a vote, leaving open the opportunity to try again later. "I think there's some real confusion as to what it does, and I didn't want to rush into that until we make sure everybody understands what it is," Cullerton said.

House Speaker Mike Madigan drafted the measure. Madigan says it's needed to rid Illinois of anyone who abetted the former Governors' corrupt practices.


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