Illinois Public Media News
As the Urbana City Council looked over the mayor's $48 million budget plan during Monday night's Committee of the While meeting, some members wondered if they should be making plans in case they need to make some mid-year spending cuts a few months from now.
Mayor Laurel Prussing's budget plan for 2010-2011 would freeze salaries and wages, and leave several positions unfilled. But some Urbana council members worry more cuts might be needed if tax revenues don't meet projections. When city Comptroller Ron Eldridge mentioned provisional plans for mid-year staff cuts if needed, Alderwoman Diane Marlin said she needed to know more.
"I'm concerned that these optimistic projections on revenue may not come to pass", said Marlin. "And I think it's my job as a council member to kind of think of more of a worse-case scenario, and at least about being prepared for it."
But Mayor Prussing was reluctant to release details --- in part because the staff cut scenarios name specific people. Later, the mayor said if they needed to cut more, they wouldn't just consider one plan.
"There isn't just one way of doing it", said Prussing. "We'd come up with many different things, and the council would have to decide what our top priorities are."
Prussing says her administration will monitor city tax revenues carefully, to see if mid-year spending cuts are needed --- and also watch for new revenue sources. One potential source is a local motor fuels tax. The mayor says Urbana council members will discuss that idea next month.
A Champaign Police officer involved in the fatal shooting of a teenager in the city last October has seen the appeal of his 30-day suspension denied.
Champaign city manager Steve Carter says the decision on Daniel Norbits was handed down on Friday. Norbits was given the month's suspension without pay last month. Carter said while Norbits didn't intend to fire his weapon, he failed to maintain control of it on October 9th when Kiwane Carrington was shot and killed following a report of a break-in. The Fraternal Order of Police then filed an appeal on behalf of Norbits, who said the suspension was unjustified. If the officer chooses to continue in the appeals process... Carter says the next step would be for Norbits to appear before an arbitrator.
Some Urbana residents any attempt to close a local elementary school would hamper education.
The group calling itself Keep Urbana Neighborhood Schools suggests funds from the countywide 1-percent sales tax approved last year go towards a new early childhood facility, or upgrading an existing one. The group has launched a petition drive asking the District 116 school board to use the funds as they were intended. Parent Lynda Minor is one of its members. "They did not campaign to close an elementary school," said Minor. "We feel that early childhood is a priority and they do need that new facility and we want them to use that money that way - not go backwards in all the progress we've made in our elementary schools by closing an elementary school and re-purposeing that."
Minor says shutting down an existing school would cause overcrowding in the remaining buildings. She favors District 116's option of combining early childhood with adult education to form a family education center. Minor says that would have been a great benefit for her and other parents if such a program were offered when her kids were in the early childhood program. The citizen's group plans to turn in its petitions at Tuesday night's special Urbana School Board meeting, set for 7 p.m. at the district's administrative center.
A group monitoring animal research at the University of Illinois' Division of Animal Resources says some of them have become very ill, and one has died as a result of negligence.
The executive director of "Stop Animal Exploitation Now," Michael Budkie, says such a problem isn't unique to the U of I, noting that animals have died at 30 other research facilities around the country in the last few years. Citing reports obtained from the USDA, Budkie claims the U of I uses a large number of animals in painful projects without the benefit of anesthesia. In another instance, he says the university failed to report severe illnesses to federal authorities for a year, and that the principal investigator lost the records in that time.
"If a researcher can have severe illnesses come up with the animals and no one knows about it, and he or she does not bother to report it for a year, that indicates very clearly that the supervisory mechanisms for handling animals research at the University of Illinois-Urbana aren't functioning properly," Budkie contended.
While the reports don't cite specific animals, Budkie says similar work elsewhere involved chinchillas.
U of I Spokeswoman Robin Kaler says these are all isolated incidents that have been reported to the USDA, and that the process to identify problems keeps them from happening again. She says one of the animals died when it was mistakenly administered a glucose tolerance test in diabetes research. Kaler says it was euthanized when attempts to revive the animal were unsuccessful. She cites another case involving a formula to ensure the health growth of piglets, which were moved shortly after researchers realize they had outgrown their cages.
An attempt to expand the state's early voting program to college campuses in time for November's general election is stalled.
Senator Michael Frerichs, a Champaign Democrat, wants to make it easier for students to vote before Election Day by letting them cast ballots without leaving campus. "You can go on campus and see long lines waiting to vote, and students stand there for a little while realizing, 'Eh, I don't have the time. I'm going to go off to my class'," Frerichs said. "And if we spread this out over a longer period before the election, I think that won't be as big of a problem."
He's sponsoring a measure that would begin a trial program at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Southern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, and Lewis and Clark Community College. The legislation requires county clerks to set up early voting stations at those schools. While the proposal made it through the Senate, it hasn't moved in the Illinois House. Critics, including Representative Chapin Rose of Mahomet, estimate it could cost counties about one hundred thousand dollars to set up the voting stations. Rose says communities shouldn't be left to pick up that tab when college students can already head to the polls on their campuses on Election Day.
The General Assembly is back in Springfield this week, with the House back Monday and the Senate in on Wednesday.
Legislators' main mission is to pass a new budget. The Illinois House will convene after an approximately two week long break to work on a budget with the same framework as the spending plan that has already passed the Senate. That plan relies on some cuts and granting Governor Pat Quinn extraordinary authority to make more financial decisions. It's expected the House could tweak it to protect certain programs and rein in some of Quinn's powers. An outstanding question is if the House will borrow money to make a $4 billion public pension payment, or skip the payment altogether. Democratic Representative Ken Dunkin of Chicago says either are better than taking money from social services and education.
"Some of us simply are not looking at reality," Dunkin said. "The reality is if you're in a jam, at this level, and this is a rare occasion for us to be in such significant deficit, borrowing or suspending payment to one year is not a bad option."
Also unclear if is there will be support to pass a cigarette tax hike to help fund schools. Democrats -- who control the legislature -- are aiming to finish before the end of the month. Thereafter, passing a budget will be tougher because some Republicans will need to get on board.
Furlough days for 127 employees are part of a mid-year budget cutback approved Thursday night by the Champaign County Board.
County Administrator Deb Busey says she consulted with county department heads and elected officials to find nearly a million dollars in cuts for the 2nd half of the fiscal year.
But Busey is projecting a total shortfall of $1.6 million for Champaign County --- due to continued delays in state funding and a drop in county fee revenue. She says she'll wait a couple of months before cutting any further.
"The remaining $600,000 is with the hope that those revenues will improve more than what the current projections show", says Busey. "And cutting a million dollars out of half a year's budget seemed fairly aggressive, and it's what we did at this point. "
The majority of those cuts are coming from Personnel and most of that through unpaid furlough days for county employees. For 70 employees, the furlough days are subject to negotiations with their unions --- a process Busey says is still ongoing.
The University of Illinois' Board of Trustees has approved a $620,000 salary for the school's new president, and a 9.5% increase in tuition. The board approved the measures on a voice vote Thursday afternoon. Earlier, protesters marched outside the board's meeting, demanding that new President Michael Hogan be paid only $450,000 annually. Hogan's salary is $170,000 more than that received by his predecessor, B. Joseph White.
On the tuition increase, Interim President Stanley Ikenberry says budget cuts and employee furloughs weren't enough to balance the budget. "But students also are going to need to share a portion of the load," said Ikenberry. "Asking them to share at basically an inflationary rate is, I think, a good balance policy that's fair to students and other groups within the university." For incoming students, tuition will go up $902 dollars per year to $10,386 at the Urbana campus, $792 a year to $9,134 at the Chicago campus, and $706 per year to $8,108 at the Springfield campus.
Ikenberry also said at the meeting that Hogan deserves the higher salary. Ikenberry says Hogan's salary puts him in the middle of the pay scale for Big Ten presidents. He says Hogan has "superb academic credentials.
The Carle Foundation is bringing more defendants into a lawsuit over the hospital's property tax status.
Carle has had to pay property taxes for several hospital buildings since 2002, when Champaign County and Cunningham Township officials ruled that Carle didn't provide enough charity care to be considered tax-exempt. The hospital appealed - that case is awaiting a ruling from state revenue officials. In the meantime, Carle sued the state, the county and the township claiming they improperly revoked Carle's tax exemption.
Now Carle's senior vice president for legal affairs, L.J. Fallon, says they've added the city of Urbana, the Urbana school district and the Urbana park district to the suit. He claims they should pay back their share of nearly $800,000 Carle agreed to put up in lieu of paying property taxes if Carle won its suit.
Fallon acknowledges this will put a crimp in talks over the tax exemption of several former Carle Clinic buildings - property that could also be taken off the tax rolls now that they're part of Carle Hospital under this year's merger.
"I can't imagine that the filing of this lawsuit -- although we tried to give them advance notice and prepare them -- I can't gauge whether or not they'll still want to have discussions about payment in lieu of taxes," said Fallon. "They, like us, probably want to see how this is going to resolve so that we can have some really meaningful discussions."
Earlier this year the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that another Urbana hospital, Provena Covenant Medical Center, was liable for property taxes. A Champaign County judge is set to hear Carle's latest motion Tuesday.
In a statement released late Thursday afternoon, Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said she was disappointed by Carle's decision to add defendants. Prussing contends that Carle never mentioned the concerns it outlined in the suit.
The University of Illinois' educational outreach to the state is planning for big cuts over the next year.
U of I Extension plans to realign its offices in every county, combining several of those county offices into multi-county regions with shared administration. For example, one region would be made out of Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties.
"We will have a hub office which will contain most of our people," said Bob Hoeft, the interim extension director. "In the counties that don't have the hub, they will have a satellite office. That office isn't going to be what we've had in the past -- it will probably be smaller. It will probably not be open every day of the week."
But Hoeft says the satellite offices would be able to provide clients with publications and other information without the need to make a long drive to another county. He says the target of the consolidation is to save $7 million over the next budget year, about the same amount of money U of I Extension had to cut from the current year's budget.
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