Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign City Council has changed its mind, and will continue to award grants to social service agencies for another two years. But there will be new strings attached.
The grants, using federal funds, were scheduled to end July 1st. The city of Champaign was taking a different approach to social service funding --- working with the school and park districts to create its own initiatives targeting troubled neighborhoods, such as Garden Hills.
But city council members decided at last night's study session to continue granting money to local social service agencies through 2012, using 300-thousand dollars in city funds tagged for urban renewal. City Manager Steve Carter says these grants will only go to agencies ready to follow the pattern of the city's neighborhood initiatives. "It will be very much targeted," said Carter, "both in terms of geographic location in the community and the types of programs we're looking for."
Champaign officials changed their minds, because they saw local social service agencies losing funding due to the slumping economy, while the need for their services increased. At the same time, officials with the agencies argue the city funding can be crucial in obtaining matching grants, making city funds go further. "Essentially, ten thousand becaomes near enough 200-thousand dollars," said Tom Sullivan of the Center for Women in Transition.
Ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges.
Today's plea makes official Blagojevich's denial of political malfeasance that authorities say included a scheme to sell President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat.
Blagojevich looked relaxed as he stood in court today alongside his brother, who also pleaded not guilty in the scheme.
The former governor didn't make a statement before the plea, but he told a throng of reporters as he entered the courthouse earlier that he's "innocent of every single accusation.''
Blagojevich also is charged with planning to squeeze money from companies seeking state business. And prosecutors contend heplotted to use the financial muscle of the governor's office to pressure the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers who had called for his impeachment.
The Champaign School Board is taking applications until the end of the month for people to serve on a new oversight committee to make sure they keep their promises.
During Monday night's Unit Four School Board meeting, Board President Dave Tomlinson said the "Promises Made, Promises Kept" Committee will oversee how the district uses money from the school facilities sales tax approved by Champaign County voters last week. "The oversight committee's going to keep us accountable," he explained.
Topping Unit Four's list for spending the sales tax revenue is construction of new classrooms for Champaign's north side. They're required by the Consent Decree. The new classrooms will be added on to Garden Hills School, and be part of a completely new Booker T. Washington school building. The district plans to follow that with construction of a new grade school in Savoy.
In addition, Unit Four plans to use sales tax revenue to pay off the district's existing bond debt --- allowing property taxes to be cut. Tomlinson says the tax savings will amount to about 32-dollars a year on a 150-thousand dollar home.
The new school facilities sales tax takes effect in 2010.
Zoning rules for wind turbine farms in Champaign County won the approval of a county board committee Monday night on a 7 to 2 vote.
The Environmental and Land Use Committee endorsed rules regulating large arrays of wind turbines up to 500 feet tall on agricultural land. Currently, Champaign County rules only cover small individual wind turbines or windmills.
Committee members decided to cut the size of the buffer required between wind farms and the nearest dwelling. The proposal called for at least a 1500-foot buffer. But committee Chair Barb Wysocki says a 1200-foot buffer is more common, and preferred by developers. "The developers who were at the meeting admitted that 1500 feet would not necessarily be a deal-breaker," says Wysocki. "But it would encourage them to rethink the configuration of the wind turbines and their placement in Champaign County.
County Planning and Zoning Director John Hall says he's hoping for quick county board approval next month of the wind turbine rules, so that developers already looking to set up wind farms in Champaign County can take quick action.
In the meantime, the wind farm zoning proposal remains with the Environmental and Land Use Committee for public comment. If a local government in the county decides to protest the rules, that would force a super-majority vote on the county board for the proposal to pass --- 21 votes instead of 14.
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.
Gov. Pat Quinn has pardoned 11 people and ordered that their criminal records be expunged.
He says it's part of an effort to clear what he calls a "shameful'' backlog of almost 2,500 clemency requests that built up under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Crimes committed by those who were pardoned include drug possession, aggravated battery and burglary.
Quinn says this is just the first in a series of clemency petitions he will act on with the goal of drastically reducing the backlog by the end of the year.
He says each person he pardoned underwent a criminal background check.
It was a long shot, but veterinarians at the University of Illinois were not able to save a rare whooping crane that had broken a leg. A spokeswoman for the College of Veterinary Medicine says the endangered bird died Wednesday night of complications not directly related to the injury. The college's wildlife clinic had scheduled surgery on the injured leg for Thursday. The crane was found in McLean County, where its flock had stopped on its migration from Florida.
Mahomet Aquifer Study Short of Funds
A major study on the Mahomet Aquifer has been left unfinished because its state funding was cut off. Now the consortium that oversees the project is trying to raise the money to complete it.
One of the leading researchers of a plan for securing the nation's power grid says any long-range strategy will have to include a number of protections.
William Sanders heads the Information Trust Institute at the University of Illinois. It's part of the Trustworthy Cyber Infrastructure for the Power Grid, or TCIP, which includes work at three other universities. Sanders says recent news reports of attempted cyber attacks on the grid show it has real vulnerabilities, and need to be taken seriously. He says the consortium is responsible for rebuilding the grid's entire Information Technology infrastructure. And Sanders believes it's not a simple matter of blocking out one hacker's virus:
"Too much today, the problem is that people take band aid approaches," says Sanders. "Patch a vunerability here, patch a vulnerabllity there. And obviously we should do that. But the real solution is looking forward to a new architecture that ends this sort of cat and mouse game that we have going right now." The White House isn't providing any details on the recent 'intrusions' to the power grid. Sanders says any serious attempt will likely involve a number of things in sequence that include not only cyber attacks, but physical damage. He says a 'cascading' failure could also occur, which may involve human error as much as the other factors.
TCIP is a $7.5 million dollar project funded by the National Science Foundation... with support from the US Departments of Energy and Homeland Security.
The voters of Champaign County approved a one percent sales tax for school facilities on Tuesday. But the tax proposal faces one more vote before it takes effect. That's a vote by the Champaign County Board. The Board cannot reject the sales tax --- but it could lower it to a half-cent or quarter-cent on the dollar.
But County Board Chairman Pius Weibel says he will vote for the tax rate that the voters approved. "The voters voted on it," he says. "I think it would be a disservice not to do that (vote for the full one percent rate), or if we do it, we'd have to have a very good reason."
And Weibel says if the new sales tax rate was reduced, he thinks it would take away the ability of school districts to offer the property tax relief that they promised.
Weibel says the school facilities sales tax will go before the county board's Policy Committee. Its chairman, Tom Betz, opposed the sales tax personally, and says it won't provide meaningful savings for the average homeowner. But Betz says the voters passed a one-percent tax, so that's what he'll vote for, too.
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