Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign City Council voted last night to extend the life of its East University Avenue Tax Increment Financing District for another year. That will give the city time to seek a 12-year extension from the state.
Enacted in the 1980s, the East University Avenue TIF District covers the commercial area east of the Canadian National tracks, including University Avenue and nearby sections of First and Second Streets. City officials say the TIF district has helped spur development --- but not as much as in downtown and Campustown. As the city makes plans to seek a long-term extension of the TIF district, City Councilwoman Marcie Dodds says she thinks flood control and beautification work done on the 2nd Street reach of the Boneyard Creek will spur development that can link downtown and Campustown together.
"It'll do it not only geographically and physically, but also psychologically", says Dodds. "For years, it was campus over here and Champaign over there and downtown far away. The two never met. It was even sometimes difficult to get to one from the other. And I hope that this changes that."
Property tax revenue above a certain level in a TIF District is spent within the district, focusing on building renovations, streetscape work and infrastructure improvements.
A proposal to use tax money from Champaign County wind turbine farms to pay for renewable energy for county facilities was voted down by a Champaign County Board committee Monday night.
Members of the Environment and Land Use Committee voted 4 to 3 against Urbana Democrat Sam Smucker's proposal to place a portion of those tax revenues into a special Renewable Energy Fund.
The County Board recently approved regulations for placing wind farms in the area, and expects to receive applications from companies in the coming months. Smucker says when that happens... the county should use a share of the tax revenue to cut its energy costs --- perhaps in league with other local governments.
"One possibility is that we would simply try to move some of our buildings towards solar energy," says Smucker. "Another possibility is that we would try to go in with other governments --- the city governments or the school boards --- and build a wind turbine to power our facilities. All of that's up in the air. But it seems to me the first step is to make sure the resources are there."
Smucker says his proposal would make sure some of the money made by wind farms in Champaign County, is used to help the county. "When a company builds a wind turbine in Champaign County, that energy is going to get sold on the open electricity markets", says Smucker. "So that energy's going to go outside of Champaign County, most likely. But this is the way we can capture some of the growth in renewable energy, and bring it right back home. "
Under Smucker's proposal, the Renewable Energy Fund would collect about 100-dollars per year from each wind turbine built in Champaign County.
Smucker says he may bring his proposal back to the County Board next year. He says his big challenge will be to convince his fellow board members of the need for long-term energy planning.
A Savoy man was expected to make his first court appearance Wednesday afternoon in connection to a fatal crash that occurred Monday night on Interstate 74 in Champaign.
State Police arrested 27-year old David McClain Tuesday on charges of reckless homicide and leaving the scene of a fatal accident. The wreck claimed the life of 26-year old Yingbo Zhou, a University of Illinois student from China. Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup says a preliminary autopsy shows the woman died of a traumatic head injury. Four others were injured in the crash. State Police say McClain's SUV crashed into a car in which Zhou was a passenger, and then sped away. According to court records, he had been arrested last month for driving with a suspended license, and faced many other traffic violations in Champaign County the last several years.
Unemployment has crept upward in Illinois' metropolitan areas, including Champaign-Urbana, Danville and Decatur. The state department of employment services says the October jobless rate in Champaign-Urbana and vicinity hit 8.6 percent, three tenths of a point higher than September and more than two and a half percent higher than October of last year. The rate for the Danville area rose to 12.1 percent, with Decatur checking in at 12.7 percent, third highest behind Rockford and Kankakee. The state says Champaign-Urbana lost about 18 hundred jobs when compared to this time last year.
The Gateway Studios shutdown ... controversy over the Safe Haven tent community ... and the financial crisis at Restoration Urbana Ministries. All three involved problems with housing for the poor in Champaign. And they were on the minds of Champaign City Council members Tuesday night, as they endorsed a three-pronged approach to city housing problems.
Champaign Council members told city staff to work up detailed proposals on a plan for emergency tenant relocation, for cases like the Gateway Studios shutdown ... a safety net fund to help local agencies provide more emergency shelter services ... and a comprehensive housing study done in cooperation with other local governments.
District Two Councilman Mike LaDue called the proposals conservative, given the scope of the housing problem.
"We're suggesting a very tiny amount of caulk for some very large cracks in the planks that constitute our social platform, through which people fall all the time", said LaDue. "And they will be falling more, and further and with greater frequency as the economy worsens.
But District Five Councilman Dave Johnson said they still have to decide the city's exact role in preventing homelessness.
"Are we a facilitator?" asked Johnson. "Are we the big brother to help these agencies, developers and the federal government to get involved and fund these projects and work together? Are we like (Priceline TV pitchman) William Shatner --- are we supposed to be the "Negotiator" and get this done? Or are we supposed to really be a builder and developer and get into the housing business. I mean, that's kind of the thousand-pound gorilla in the room here. Are we supposed to do that? Is this a fundamental issue that the city should get involved in? And of course, that begs the next question --- where's the money coming from? Who's the funding source? Is the city the funding source? Are our constituents, through taxing, the funding source?"
For now, the city has identified 60-thousand dollars in existing funds to play for two years of emergency tenant relocation, and 30-thousand to help fund the housing study.
Champaign Neighborhood Services Director Kevin Jackson says they'll be back before the council with specifics on the three proposals in December and January.
Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden says part of a new state election law threatens the principle of a secret ballot.
He's filed a lawsuit that would block local elections officials from utilizing the Undervote Notification Law in February's primary. That provision would indicate that someone failed to cast a single vote for a statewide office, like Governor or Comptroller, or even one that's uncontested, like Secretary of State. Shelden says after a tabulating machine indicates an error message, an election judge would give that person the option of keeping their ballot as is, filling out a new one, or completing their ballot. Shelden says people shouldn't be forced to vote for an office if they're not familiar with the candidates, or simply don't care.
"I believe that part of what's going to happen here is the intent is to try to intimidate people into casting all the votes for all the races," says Shelden. "Maybe they haven't made up their mind on a race, and for whatever reason, they want to leave that race blank, and we think it's their right to leave it blank and not be harrassed at this final step in the voting process." The Undervote law was part of the 2007 omnibus election bill. Shelden's lawsuit filed Friday in Champaign County Court would seek an injunction to block the use of the provision in February, but he hopes to have it declared unconstitutional. No other lawsuits have been filed in the state, but Shelden says other county clerks are considering such action, with hopes that state lawmakers will change the omnibus bill. He estimates around 8,000 Champaign County voters will receive the error message if the provision remains in place for the upcoming primary.
New York is only other state to have passed the undervote provision, but an emergency rule was passed there to block the use of it before the state's last election.
Graduate workers at the University of Illinois' Urbana campus are a step closer to finalizing a new 3-year contract.
Members of the Graduate Employees Organization ratified the agreement between Thursday and Sunday, forwarding it to U of I administrators. The GEO unanimously voted to suspend a 2-day strike at a membership meeting last Tuesday night, after coming to agreement on protection for tuition waivers. The two sides had already agreed on items like salary, health care, and child care.
Spokesman Peter Campbell says the GEO's 26-hundred members had ample opportunity to cast a ballot from Thursday morning through Sunday, and he's not alarmed that about 350 members turned out for it. "Given all of the work and labor and energy that GEO members have invested, it doesn't really surprise me that this sort of final step would not have quite as high of a participation as the strike authorization vote," says Campbell. Campbell says a small portion of the votes, or just over 30, were against the agreement during the ratification vote. GEO members have been at work since last Tuesday evening.
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler says the ratification will not require a vote from university trustees, as previously thought. She says the ratification vote could come yet this week, and involves five individuals, including the comptroller, interim Provost and Chancellor Robert Easter, and a chief negotiator. But Kaler says those campus leaders had yet to receive the contract from the GEO as of Monday afternoon.
The State of Illinois has established a new office called Public Health Advocate.
The state already has a public health agency... but this role will go a step further... according to the Governor. He says the Advocate will improve health through education. The Advocate will also develop strategies for preventing and treating diseases.... Including asthma and diabetes. Governor Pat Quinn says another task will include making sure residents understand their health insurance options and their public health rights.
As health care has become the most expensive part of state government, Quinn says the Advocate will consider cost conscious measures.
While it's likely you've not heard about the new office until now... it's expected to become high profile in the future. The Public Health Advocate will work directly with local agencies... universities... schools and others.
The Governor used the occasion of American Diabetes month to create the office through an executive order.
Governor Pat Quinn says the public admonishment of U.S. Sen. Roland Burris by the Senate Ethics Committee "speaks for itself.''
Quinn on Friday said he had nothing to add to it.
The governor says he intends to work with Burris through the end of his term in 2011, especially to help veterans and their families.
Burris isn't running for a full term after being appointed by disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The Ethics Committee didn't recommend that Burris be punished, but it admonished him for making "inconsistent, misleading or incomplete'' statements about the circumstances surrounding his appointment.
A new law will help the state get more federal money to pay hospitals that care for the poor.
The state is expecting to get more than $1.1 billion from Washington because the federal government has temporarily increased its Medicaid reimbursement rate as part of the stimulus package.
The money will help the state pay Medicaid bills owed to hospitals and some other providers, including pharmacists.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill Friday at Chicago's Children's Memorial Hospital.
State Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg of Evanston said the money can only be spent on health care and human services. It cannot be diverted to other projects in the cash-strapped state.
Schoenberg said the money should start flowing early next year.
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