Illinois Public Media News
A Champaign County Board committee is recommending that voters be allowed to decide if the county auditor should remain an elected office.
The underlying issue at Wednesday's Policy Committee meeting was not the auditor's office but the auditor himself. Tony Fabri has been under a cloud since the News-Gazette analyzed phone records to conclude that the Democrat was often away from his desk. Democrat Carol Ammons argued that the performance of one office-holder was not reason enough to switch to an appointed auditor.
But Republican Alan Nudo said it was the people who should decide the future of the auditor's office. And he said the mid-term appointments of both Fabri and his predecessor Mike Frerichs to the county auditor position in past years amounted to political cronyism meant to bypass the voters.
"We've had two hand offs in-between elections in the auditors positon', says Nudo, "to high-powered officials within the (Democratic) party. Is that thwarting the will of the public? Is that this magical things that people bring up of how the elected is much better than appointed.
The Champaign County Board will consider the proposal August 20th. If they approve, the ballot question would come to voters in November of 2010. And if voters approve, the auditor's post would be appointed by the county board or perhaps the county administrator, starting in 2012.
Policy Committee rejected proposals to ask voters if they want to make the county coroner and recorder of deeds appointed as well.
Three people have died after their vehicle was struck by Amtrak's westbound California Zephyr, with 277 passengers and crew aboard.
LaSalle County Sheriff Tom Templeton said Monday that five people were in the vehicle when it was struck by the Amtrak train just before 3:07 p.m. Two other occupants were injured.
Two of the deceased were identified as 82-year-old Benjamin Rasmusen and 81-year-old Marilyn Rasmusen of Leland. The third victim was not immediately identified.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari confirmed a vehicle was obstructing the tracks and says there were no injuries to passengers or staff aboard the train. The train was delayed for seven hours, and 100 passengers bound for Omaha and points east were transferred to charter buses. The wreck also delayed four other Amtrak trains, Magliari said.
The initial groundwork has already been laid for a high-speed rail line between Chicago and St. Louis, with trains traveling 110 miles an hour.
Now the authors of a new study of even faster trains want to include Champaign on such a route. The Midwest High Speed Rail Association is advocating for 220 mile an hour trains that would connect Champaign to Chicago in 45 minutes.
Association Executive Director Rick Harnish says competitors in Asia and Europe have gained an edge on their ability to compete in a global economy. He says China's trains will cover the distance of Chicago to New York down to four hours by the year 2013:
"If you could get on a train here and be in Chicago and transfer to another train and be in New York in 5 hours, you can't do that by plane today. It does have an impact," Harnish said. "We're spending more on our infrastructure than our competitors are, we're spending more per-trip, per-person than our competitors are, and we're making fewer trips than our competitors are because it's so much more expensive to travel here than over there."
Illinois is in the running to receive 8-billion dollars in federal stimulus money to begin building initial high-speed rail lines. Meanwhile, Governor Pat Quinn is asking lawmakers to add 400-million dollars for high-speed rail in a capital construction program. Harnish estimates the state would need to find another 10-million for a market study of the faster trains.
Illinois Senate Transportation Committee Chair Martin Sandoval says Illinois is no longer looking at theories and believes the state will make the investment.
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.
It looks like improvements along Curtis Road west of Route 45 will continue without the threat of interruption from Champaign Township. The Champaign County Board voted Thursday night to convey county right-of-way property along Curtis Road to the village of Savoy --- so the village can annex the land and let the road project proceed.
The land in question is in unincorporated Champaign Township, which had threatened to hold up completion of the road project, unless it won concessions from the city of Champaign in their ongoing annexation dispute. But annexation by Savoy will take away Champaign Township's jurisdictional powers --- although the land will remain within the township.
County Engineer Jeff Blue says the property was scheduled to be handed over to Savoy eventually. "The county never wanted to have any interest in Curtis Road in the long term, says Blue. "It's just a matter of timing, when we were going to convey that property to the village of Savoy. And we chose to do it earlier than later."
The Savoy Village Board voted to accept the land for annexation last week.
Another piece of property needed for the Curtis Road improvement project will be annexed by the city of Champaign. The Champaign City Council approved an annexation agreement with owners of land at the Curtis and Mattis Avenue intersection earlier this week. Curtis Road west of Route 45 is being widened to take in traffic from the new I-57 interchange.
Chrysler is closing one out of every four of its dealerships, and the effect will be felt in central Illinois.
O'Brien Auto Group's Chrysler dealership in Urbana is on a list of nearly 800 closures, as are the Chrysler and Jeep franchises at Danville's Carmack Car Capitol and all Chrysler brands at Tuscola's Four Seasons Auto Plaza. Decatur-based Bob Ridings is losing Chrysler brands at its main dealership as well as those in Taylorville and Jacksonville. The owner of the Carmack firm in Danville, Gary Knight, said he was not expecting to see the notice from Chrysler but had no further comment - neither did a spokesman for Four Seasons.
Chrysler has about 3,200 dealers, but the bankrupt automaker says that's too many. It wants to have stronger, more profitable dealers with better facilities.
Annexation talks with a private landowner are going a little slow, so the village of Savoy is trying another approach to gain jurisdiction over a stretch of Curtis Road --- and to keep a road improvement project moving.
The village board voted Wednesday night to acquire county-owned land in Champaign Township along Curtis Road, east of Prospect. The 20 acres includes land for a water detention basin. But most of it is a narrow strip running along Curtis Road. The county obtained the land for the Curtis Road improvement project, and it was slated for eventual annexation by Savoy. But Savoy officials are acquiring it now, to ward off Champaign Township's effort to hold up the project.
Savoy Mayor Robert McCleary says he wants to avoid any delay in the Curtis Road project, which is intended to make the road ready for increased traffic from the new I-57 interchange. He says acquiring the land from the county ahead of schedule is a good solution. "And if it ever quits raining," he adds, "and they can finish up that first phase, we should be in a position to allow that second phase to keep right on marching, and not have to worry about our federal and state dollars."
Champaign Township has refused to approve work on the stretch of Curtis Road under its jurisdiction, until the city of Champaign grants it concessions in a long-running annexation dispute. In response, the city and Savoy have turned to annexing land along Curtis Road in Champaign Township to avoid delays on the road project. Champaign has reached an agreement to annex privately owned land at the corner of Curtis and Mattis.
The Champaign County Board will vote next week on selling the piece of land to Savoy. McCleary says negotiations with the Lo family for farmland along the same stretch of Curtis Road will continue.
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.
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.
Police in Champaign and Urbana are preparing for more than nine thousand runners, many of whom will take a 26 mile tour around the two cities Saturday morning.
The first-ever Illinois Marathon will require patience from drivers as runners hit the city streets. Champaign police sergeant Scott Friedlein says on many parts of the course runners and vehicles will share the roads, so motorists will have to take extra precautions or find alternate routes.
"When you mix runners and traffic, you run a risk of situations occurring," Friedlein said. "The better we do at marking and making it very clear where people are supposed to be -- and we're working on that diligently on that as we speak -- then the safer the route becomes."
Friedlein says some streets will also be totally closed at times, and no-parking signs are going up along the marathon routes in both Champaign and Urbana. He calls it the largest event he's ever had to prepare for in his 15 years on the force because of the long route and hundreds of volunteers.
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