Illinois Public Media News
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.
The Department of Energy has decided to move forward on a stalled futuristic coal-burning power plant in central Illinois that languished under the previous administration.
The project known as FutureGen would burn coal for power but store emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide underground. It was slated to be built in Mattoon but was canceled after a faulty cost analysis put the price of the project higher than it should have been.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a Friday morning statement that reviving FutureGen is an important step that shows the Obama Administration's commitment to carbon capture technology.
A teachers' union is taking issue with its district's policy requiring them to do medical procedures they say school nurses should provide.
The Mahomet-Seymour Education Association has been pressuring the school board to sit down and negotiate a protocol for those procedures - some students, especially those with special needs, sometimes require catheterizations, shots and other needs. But 5th grade teacher Linda Meachum says school nurses aren't dispatched to do those tasks, and it's been up to teachers.
"We should hire additional medically licensed personnel to take care of all students' medical needs," Meachum said. "No other staff member, as a condition of their job, should be required to perform medical procedures."
Mahomet Seymour superintendent Keith Oates has been unavailable for comment - he has said in the past that teachers have always been asked to change catheters, and the policy is not new. The union is demanding that medical procedures be negotiated, and they may file an unfair labor practice claim if the district doesn't bargain. Mahomet-Seymour's current teachers' contract expires next year.
Retired federal judge Abner Mikva says he wants to bring some transparency to the admissions process at the University of Illinois, and ensure that students are admitted on merit and not "political clout". Mikva has been named by Governor Pat Quinn to chair a seven member commission to investigate U of I admission practices and issue a report in 60 days. The commission was formed after news reports revealed that some less-qualified students had been admitted because of political connections. Mikva talked with AM 580's Jim Meadows about the new commission and its goals.
A Champaign County Board Policy Committee member who called for discussion of whether the county coroner, recorder and auditor should be appointed rather than elected, now says he's leaning toward keeping at least two of them as they are.
Democrat Brendan McGinty spoke at the close of the last of three Policy Committee hearings held this week on the issue. McGinty says he supports keeping the coroner and recorder elected, but hasn't decided about the auditor. The Urbana Democrat says the auditor in Champaign County has tended to lack the specific professional skills needed for the office. Auditor Tony Fabri testified Wednesday night that his job was to fight for and defend the work done by his professional staff. But McGinty questioned whether the auditor's staff needed an elected auditor to act as their sword and shield.
"I think a county engineer, a supervisor of assessments, a county administrator, other appointed positions in the county, provide their own sword by doing their job -- provide their own shield by providing information and being experts at what they do," McGinty said.
Still, he said he was impressed by some who spoke in favor of an elected auditor at last night's hearing, including former State Senator Rick Winkel, and Urbana Mayor --- and former auditor --- Laurel Prussing.
The Policy Committee will discuss the issue again in August. The Champaign County Board could vote to put a referendum on one or more of the three offices on the 2010 ballot.
There are new signs that the University of Illinois' Lincoln Hall is going to get its long-awaited renovation soon.
Last fall the university decided to transfer all courses to other lecture halls. Now the process of moving offices out of the aging Lincoln Hall has begun, first with the political science department.
Matthew Tomaszewski is an assistant dean with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, whose offices are also being moved out. He says now is the best time to vacate Lincoln Hall in case Governor Pat Quinn signs the capital bill on his desk - the bill that includes the bulk of the 57 million dollar project.
"This is our opportunity to vacate the building, said Tomaszewski. "If we don't vacate now and the money comes through, we're stuck because we can't move in the fall -- the students are back on campus, visiting offices; the faculty are engaged."
Tomaszewski says even though the capital bill hasn't been signed yet, the U of I will start removing asbestos from Lincoln Hall over the summer - it had committed to do so before the three-year renovation begins.
University of Illinois President Joseph White says he's receptive to an outside look at the U of I's admissions procedures.
But university spokesman Tom Hardy says until Governor Pat Quinn steps into the discussion over a list of prospective students who may have gotten improper admission assistance from political leaders, a task force announced last week will handle the task.
"If the Governor announces something that could work with that or separately or would supersede that, we'll certainly abide by whatever the governor's prerogative is," Hardy said.
Hardy says that task force would include people from outside the University, but critics say it wouldn't be a completely independent investigation. Monday night, President White told a Chicago TV interviewer that an investigation into the so-called "Category I" admission list should be as independent as possible.
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