Illinois Public Media News
Better traffic flow, new streetscape designs and a more pedestrian friendly setting are part of a long-range plan for University Avenue in Champaign-Urbana. The Champaign County Regional Planning Commission held a public meeting on the project last (Tuesday) night in downtown Champaign.
Between now and 2035, the project aims to transform University Avenue from downtown Champaign to the Four-Corners-Cunningham. Part of the corridor lies within the county board district of Champaign Democrat Alan Kurtz, who says the plan is sorely needed.
"The corridor itself is getting old"m says Kurtz.. "It hasn't been revamped, only in certain areas. And I think a long range plan working in this way to run the corridor both through Champaign and Urbana and to renew both ends right through the cities are very important to this mistake."
Kurtz says one remaining question is the cost of the project. Eric Halvorsen of the Regional Planning Commission says they'll be working on the cost estimates --- and strategies for paying the cost --- over the next few months.
The drive to come up with a state budget broke down completely Tuesday night, meaning Illinois will begin a new fiscal year without any plan for paying its employees or delivering government services.
Government won't shut down without a budget in place, but the situation creates uncertainty for anyone who depends on state money: government workers, road crews, community agencies caring for the sick and needy, and more.
The Illinois Legislature adjourned Tuesday night without any firm plans to return or even for the governor and legislative leaders to resume negotiations.
Earlier on Tuesday, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn promised a veto if lawmakers send him a budget that fails to balance and slashes key services.
In a hastily arranged speech to a joint session of the Illinois House and Senate, Quinn urged lawmakers to put aside their political concerns and do whatever is necessary to produce a sound budget.
The Democratic governor said he is prepared to stay in Springfield all summer to get results.
Quinn wants to raise taxes to close the largest budget deficit in Illinois history. But many lawmakers oppose that idea.
A federal judge says he intends to declare a mistrial on the remaining counts in the political corruption trial of ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The jury found Blagojevich guilty of one count of lying to federal agents in a verdict read around 4:30 Tuesday afternoon. There were 23 other counts against Blagojevich and four against his brother.
US attorneys say the government plans to retry the Blagojevich case "as quickly as possible.''
WILL-AM and FM have live coverage of the verdict until 6:00 tonight.
For 11 years, Champaign County government has had two administrators -- Deb Busey to look after staffing and finance and Denny Inman to take care of procurement and facilities. But that will change October 1st. The Champaign County Board has voted to switch to a single-administrator system, and to put Busey in the job. After the vote, Busey talked with AM 580's Jim Meadows about the challenges ahead and about the controversial clause in her contract that bars county board members from publicly criticizing her job performance. But first, Busey talked about the prospect of becoming the county's sole administrator after sharing duties with Denny Inman for over a decade.
A Carle Clinic official says a federal decision barring the admittance of new patients for clinical trials at Carle Cancer Center shouldn't be cause for alarm.
The grants administration office at the National Cancer Institute issued the order, saying its Office for Human Research Protections, or OHARP, won't allow new patients to be enrolled while a series of patient protection issues have been resolved.
Carle Clinic Vice President for Planning and Marketing Carol Koenecke-Grant says many of the areas cited were administrative functions, and that these problems are not unique to Carle. She says OHARP is planning to conduct an audit next month to review filings and documentations:
"When one has something like that, you put policies and procedures in place to explain how you're going to store records, how you're going to document things, all of that," Koenecke-Grant said. " This is pretty typical for any organization that conducts clinical trials."
An letter from OHARP obtained by the News-Gazette listed 11 separate cancer clinical trials in which concerns have been raised, including protocol changes conducted by a Carle research investigator without obtaining the required approval.
Koenecke-Grant says a protocol change cited by federal order could be citing something as simple as a scheduling change. She says one example could be that a patient on a protocol fails to attend a lab test on a particular day.
But Koenecke-Grant says it's important to note that this ruling does not affect current Carle Cancer Center patients and that federal officials felt comfortable that it continue with those clinical trials. Carle is to respond to two pages of recommendations by July 7th.
A doctor with the National Cancer Institute, which handles clinical trial programs wasn't available for comment Thursday.
Governor Pat Quinn is underlining the prospect of deep cuts to state services in advance of next week's special legislative session. On Thursday he paid visits to three sites that offer services to people with disabilities, including one in Champaign.
The Governor is still confident lawmakers will see it his way and pass an income tax increase that eases the state's 11 billion dollar-plus budget deficit before making cuts that are too drastic.
"The people of Illinois understand at this tough time that we're going to have to raise revenue in order to have a balanced budget and to have decent services," Quinn said.
As it stands, the stopgap budget lawmakers passed before adjourning their session would mean cuts in state grants for agencies like Champaign's Developmental Services Center. That threat got hundreds of clients and supporters of the DSC out to rally. Roger Webber's son Alex is about a year from graduating high school, where he's been mainstreamed after years of DSC services.
"For 17 years we have assumed there would be group homes, job coaching and programs available, and there would be a network to pick him up," Webber told the Governor in his address to the rally. "With these cuts -- and I feel like I'm preaching to the choir -- we have no idea, we are scared of how he will do and what happens if something happens to us."
Quinn has backed off slightly from his original income tax hike proposal, saying it should be in effect for only two years. Republicans say long-term budget cuts are needed first.
A new one-cent sales tax to fund school facilities will take effect in Champaign County next year. The Champaign County Board voted Thursday night to ratify the tax which voters approved in April.
County Board members did not have to enact the full one cent sales tax approved by voters. And county board member Stan James suggested a lower amount. In light of the bad economy, the Rantoul Township Republican said school districts should settle for a quarter-cent sales tax instead. "They can always come back and ask for more if the need is there", said James. "But now's the wrong time to send a message to people that are out there hurting that we're going to raise their taxes."
But the County Board voted down that suggestion. Urbana Democrat Tom Betz, who says he opposes sales taxes in general, argued the county board should heed the will of the voters --- even though the referendum won with a lower voter turnout than the first unsuccessful referendum in November. "Those votes need to count," said Betz of the April referendum result. "And the ballot proposition said 'at one percent'. It didn't say 'at a quarter percent', it said 'one percent'. It was promoted as one percent."
School officials attending the county board meeting say they'll use part of the sales tax money to pay off existing construction debt and lower property taxes. Urbana School Board President John Dimit says he expects all school boards in the county to spend the sales tax money quote "exactly how we promised the voters".
The Savoy Village Board has approved a joint agreement to design a sanitary sewer system for land surrounding the new Curtis Road I-57 Interchange ---- even though one partner in the agreement has already said "no".
The Savoy Board's unanimous vote in favor of the project comes a day after the Champaign City Council rejected the joint agreement. Savoy Mayor Robert McCleary says their action surprised him.
"We knew that development will happen around that interchange", says McCleary. "And for the Champaign Board (City Council) to say no to development in that area, it really mystified me. Because the development will follow the sanitary sewer, and we have to have that engineering done to get that going."
Officials say that if design work for the Curtis Road Interchange sewer project is completed in time, Champaign, Savoy and the Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District could apply for state loans and federal grants to get it built next year. But without agreement from all three governmental units, that work could be delayed a year or more.
Champaign council members who voted against the project said they didn't like voting for new development work after passing a budget that forced them to cancel or delay projects for existing neighborhoods. Mayor McCleary says he understands their position, but hopes they'll reconsider.
he Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District Board is expected to vote on the joint agreement in two weeks.
The Champaign City Council voted 8 to nothing to pass a difficult 114-million dollar budget Tuesday night. It uses spending cuts and new and increased fees to help bridge a 6-million dollar gap.
Council member Deb Feinen says it wasn't easy balancing the new budget, but she's satisfied with the final result. "We may not have agreed on every piece of the (budget) process," says Feinen. "But we have a budget that does what we set out to do, which is trim about 6-million dollars, so we are prepared fiscally for what's going on --- in the world, not just in our community."
The new Champaign budget includes 114-million dollars in spending, with funding re-allocations that bring up the total to 158-million dollars. To keep costs down, the budget keeps some city positions vacant, and lets others go away through attrition. Some road projects will be delayed or cut back. And the budget includes more revenue from fees ---for instance, Champaign's cable TV franchise fee goes from 3 percent to 5 percent. And there's a new fee for motorists whose vehicles are impounded by police for certain traffic and criminal offenses.
But council members also voted against spending already budgeted money to help design a sewer system to serve future development at the new Curtis Road interchange. That vote came after passage of the budget, and after hearing a complaint from West Washington watershed resident James Creighton --- that the budget included nothing for sewer upgrades in his frequently flooded neighborhood. Councilwoman Marcie Dodds represents that neighborhood. And later, when the council considered funding to design a sewer system for the undeveloped Curtis Road I-57 interchange area, Dodds voted no. "I'm not going to support this," explained Dodds, "because I think that we have too much in-town needs --- infrastructure, watershed and sewer needs --- that we don't need to be building new stuff, for something that's not going to be out there, and borrowing money for it." Plans for the new sewer system include applying for a State Revolving Loan to help pay for it.
Dodds was joined by four other council members. Together, they defeated the joint agreement with Savoy and the Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District. Mayor Jerry Schweighart says the four acted emotionally. He says they need to start preparing the Curtis Road site for what city officials have said could be the next big wave of new development in Champaign. "It's a project we need to do to be proactive," says Schweighart. "It (the Curtis Road Interchange area) is a location that's fast developing, and this sets it back maybe a year --- or more."
Despite the risk of delaying the Curtis Road sewer system, council members seemed more mindful of James Creighton's complaint, that his neighborhood isn't due for major sewer work by the city until 2025. .
University of Illinois students from Iran say it's incumbent upon foreign media to spread the word of protests in their country following the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
More than 40 of these students and their friends rallied in downtown Champaign Monday. One of them, going by the name 'M', says while election fraud in his country is nothing new, two things separate Friday's votes from elections past. M says the huge voter turnout is part of a new reformist agenda there, and that the large military presence during the violent protests is a result Ahmedinejad's ties to the officers. But he says pro-reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi will learn through foreign press that he has the support to challenge election results.
"We think that media is the guardians of democracy,' says M. "We think think that reporters are soldiers of freedom. Our reporters inside Iran, our media, is shot down inside Iran. We expect from the reporters and the foreign media to spread information inside Iran." M says if information of election fraud is spread, the military is faced with either waging civil war against 2 million people, or giving in to their demands. A high-level clerical panel called the Guardian Council is expected to investigate the claims of voter fraud.
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