Illinois Public Media News
Sales tax money from new retail development has helped the city of Urbana avoid any cuts to services or staff in a proposed $48 million budget.
Revenues from the new Meijer store are part of the reason city leaders expect income to exceed expenses for the current fiscal year by $750,000.
But because of the economic downturn, city comptroller Ron Eldridge expects them to break even in the year ahead, meaning the city will hold the line on expenses. But Eldridge admits the city could be face problems within another fiscal year if the economy doesn't bounce back. "It makes no sense to add on a bunch of expenditures if you really, truly think you maybe you've going have to be cutting those expenditures the following year," says Eldridge. "Now nobody really knows, and so it certainly it is cautioned, but I think that's the reasons we try to do those long-term projections - to give people an idea of where we're heading in the future." At the end of the next fiscal year, Urbana will have to negotiate new contracts with its police, fire, and AFSCME unions. And Eldridge says pensions continue to be a problem, as the city can expect to pay 6-million dollars or more in fiscal 2009-10.
The assessed value of property is expected to increase by nearly 6%, largely due to new construction. Mayor Laurel Prussing says Urbana is getting another boost through federal stimulus money. More than a million dollars will cover highway projects on Windsor Road and Goodwin Avenue, freeing up local funds for other repairs.
The city council will hold two study sessions on the proposed budget this month, and will vote to approve the budget at a June 1st public hearing.
House Speaker Mike Madigan wants to get rid of thousands of people hired by Illinois' two disgraced former governors. He proposes firing state agency directors, board members and other employees hired by George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich.
The Speaker says Governor Pat Quinn has not done enough to remove holdovers from the Ryan and Blagojevich administrations. Madigan's legislation would force them out.
He says the action would be "clearly the type of fumigation of the Ryan and Blagojevich appointments that I think the people of the state of Illinois are demanding so we can move away from the scandals of the past."
Madigan says the measure applies to three thousand people ... including 90 boards and commissions, such as university boards of trustees.
Governor Quinn says it's a good idea. "I think it's one that we need to use to reassess everything in state government and if we see anything that we think is improper then we can act accordingly.," the Governor said.
If it becomes law, the employees and appointees would keep their jobs for 60 days. Anyone not rehired would then be out of work.
NASA is preparing for a phase-out of its space shuttle program. The shuttle will be replaced by the Orion space capsule. But there will be a 4 to 5 year gap in between the last shuttle launch and the first voyage of the Orion. AM 580's Jeff Bossert talked with the commander of the most recent shuttle mission, University of Illinois graduate Lee Archambault, for his thoughts on the future of the US space program:
A proposal to annex land along Curtis Road to for road improvements passed the Champaign Plan Commission Wednesday. It goes to the city council on May 19th. City officials want the annexation, because Champaign Township is refusing to let the road project continue.
A crew is already at work on Curtis Road, which is being improved for the increase in traffic that's expected from the new Curtis Road interchange at I-57. But there's no work being done along a three-quarter mile stretch of road controlled by Champaign Township. The township is holding up the work, until the city of Champaign agrees to concessions in a long-running dispute over tax revenue from past city annexations. In response, the city of Champaign and neighboring Savoy are talking to landowners about annexing property along that stretch of road, which would move jurisdiction over to them. Savoy's negotiations have been going slowly. But Champaign Planning Director Bruce Knight says the city has an annexation agreement with the owners of property at the northwest corner of Curtis and Mattis. He says that should allow work on the project to continue without a hitch.
"If necessary", Knight says, "the contractor could move to Mattis Avenue as a next step, while Savoy completes their effort to get control."
The Savoy Village Board last night put off discussion on annexation of another property along Curtis Road until next week. But village manager Dick Helten says he expects they'll eventually reach an agreement with the owners. He disputed a News-Gazette report that suggested the negotiations were not going well.
The University of Illinois and the union for graduate student workers on its Urbana campus have agreed to call in a federal mediator to help them reach a contract agreement.
The decision came Tuesday in the second bargaining session between the U of I and the Graduate Employees Organization. Administration spokeswoman Robin Kaler says they hope to eventually reach an agreement that the U of I can afford.
"We're looking to achieve a fair and equitable contract within the budgetary constraints that we face," Kaler said.
Meanwhile, G-E-O spokeswoman Peter Campbell accuses the administration of failing to reply to the contract proposal they offered at last month's bargaining meeting. Instead, he says the U of I negotiators only wanted discuss what he calls extraneous issues.
The current contract for graduate employees runs out August 15th. Campbell says they hope to keep the advances made by that contract and improve wages and benefits, especially health care.
A 3-and-a-quarter mile stretch of Staley Road that had been under state control will now be the city of Champaign's responsibility.
Champaign didn't necessarily WANT the responsibility of caring for Staley Road from Springfield north to Bloomington Road. But Public Works Director Dennis Schmidt says IDOT had wanted to give the city the unmarked state route for years, and they finally made a deal: take over the job of maintaining that stretch of Staley Road, and IDOT would approve and help pay for new entrance points along Staley for the Sawgrass and Boulder Ridge subdivisions. The subdivision entrances have been completed --- and on Tuesday night, the Champaign City Council approved an agreement with IDOT to take over that section of Staley Road.
Councilwoman Marcie Dodds cast the only "no" vote. When asked why, the District 4 councilwoman replied, "because I think we need more arterial roads that need upkeep and maintenance like we need a hole in the head.
IDOT will give the city of Champaign 2-point-9 million dollars for future maintenance and upgrade costs. Champaign Public Works Director Schmidt says the money will go for repaving the road in the next couple of years, especially along the I-72 overpass.
Three recent traffic stops on Interstate 57 in east-central Illinois have yielded significant amounts of cash and drugs, but it's only part of the flow of drug traffic along the highway.
So says an Illinois State Police spokesman, who says part of the purpose of an ongoing patrol team of troopers is to watch out for illegal cargoes in cars and trucks. Sergeant Bill Emery says just last week officers pulled over a vehicle with more than 100 pounds of marijuana in a luggage carrier. An earlier stop on 57 turned up 2.7 million dollars in hidden cash, with another finding nearly 600 thousand dollars.
Emery says police have to have probable cause to search a vehicle, but in these cases the drivers and passengers tipped themselves off. He says those who act unnecessarily nervous or contradict their stated travel plans raise police suspicions, and all three drivers signed consent-to-search forms.
Emery says the Strategic Enforcement Team has four troopers and a police dog working out of the Pesotum post - they vary their schedules to patrol problem areas on state roads, including I-57.
The Urbana City Council will not join Newcomb Township in trying to block passage of a county zoning ordinance for wind turbine farms. Council members voted unanimously Monday night not to file a protest against the county board zoning proposal.
The proposal would allow the construction of large wind turbine farms on land zoned agricultural, under a special use permit. Mayor Laurel Prussing says council members support wind farms. She says wind turbines can provide an alternative energy source that dovetails with the city's support for conservation and sustainable energy. "The city will do what it can in terms of energy conservation and sustainability,"says Prussing. "But we see the production of energy as a key ingredient in solving this whole problem, and that's why we are in favor of wind energy being used."
The Champaign County Board could vote on the wind farm zoning ordinance at its May 21st meeting. The proposal is currently in committee.
The Newcomb Township Board voted last month to protest the proposal. Their protest means it will take a super-majority --- or 21 votes --- for the measure to pass the Champaign County Board. In Champaign, the city's Plan Commission will discuss the proposal at its meeting on Wednesday.
The Illinois Department of Public Health says the state now has three confirmed cases of H1N1 (swine) flu and 51 probable cases of the new virus.
Illinois health officials call a case "confirmed'' when additional testing by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backs up the state's results. Kendall County has joined the list of northern Illinois counties with probable cases. The state says Kendall has one case. No cases have been reported yet in downstate Illinois, but Indiana health officials say three cases have been found there.
Illinois has tested more than 500 specimens from patients with flu symptoms and continue to receive more samples from doctors every day.
Health officials in Illinois say the state has enough flu drugs to treat more than one million people. And Illinois can raise that to a recommended level of stockpiled flu drugs within 12 hours with a request to the federal government.
An Associated Press survey finds that more than half the states have yet to stockpile the number of flu-treatment drugs recommended.
Chicago has its own stockpile of the drugs and earlier this week received an allotment from the federal emergency stockpile. Those drugs were delivered to 40 hospitals.
A Chicago Department of Public Health spokesman says the city won't discuss specific numbers "for security purposes.'' Chamapign-Urbana Public Health District administrator Julie Pryde says supplies of medication and protective equipment are being transported to a storage area in the county that she would not name.
The government recommends that each state have enough antiviral medicine on hand to treat 25 percent of its population.
(additional information from AM 580 News)
A recount of some precincts in the Champaign school district has found no change in the results of a tight school board race. County clerk's officials pored over ballots from 13 out of 52 precincts, and clerk Mark Shelden says in his blog that the results are no different than the Election Night count last month. That means Stig Lanesskog remains the winner by two votes over Lynn Stuckey. Stuckey has the ability to challenge the results in court - she's not immediately available for comment.
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