Illinois Public Media News
The city of Urbana could be looking at a mix of increased fees and cuts next year to meet a deficit of at least $1 million. The current deficit stands at $1.3 million. City Comptroller Ron Eldridge says the city is beginning to see the impact of decreased revenues that cities like Champaign and Decatur faced earlier this year. He says those revenues are down more than 800-thousand dollars, despite getting a sales tax boost from the new Meijer store and state dollars from conducting a special census.
And Eldridge notes next year's estimated million-dollar deficit comes at a time when contracts are expiring with city employees. "All three of the union contracts are up for renegotiation," says Eldridge. "So I know the mayor probably suggests that there should be no salary increases on any of those contracts, and I think that's a good suggestion. As to whether the unions will go along with that or not, I don't know." Eldridge says the city could be forced to cut some non-essential services. While he's not suggesting it, he says the city's free leaf collection may have to be eliminated and passed on to waste haulers.
In a presentation at Monday night's city council study session, Eldridge was expected to run through possible fee hikes, including those for vehicle impoundment, towing, and natural gas, as well as an increase in parking meter rates. Budget discussions are expected to go on for a several months.
Family members say they want to know why a police run-in led to the death of 15 year old Kiwane Carrington - and they say Champaign police have told them very little.
Police say an officer's firearm discharged during a scuffle with Carrington and another teen after a neighbor reported what appeared to be a break-in at a Vine Street home. Carrington's adult sister Kinesha Williams was his legal guardian - she says police have never contacted the family or offered a liaison until well after he was killed. Williams also wants to know why a gun was involved against unarmed boys, and what can be done in the future.
"I want to know what we are going to do as a community to make sure that this does not happen to anybody else's family," Williams asked tearfully.
Family members say Carrington was troubled by the death of his mother from cancer last year, and he had truancy problems, but they say that didn't warrant the police response. The home's owner also says Carrington had lived there over the summer and was welcome in the home.
Police have called a meeting of their Community and Police Partnership for this afternoon to discuss the incident. But some -- including Pastor Evelyn Underwood of the Ministerial Alliance of Champaign-Urbana -- say the incident makes them think twice about working with police.
"I don't believe in groupthink, and a mind is a terrible thing to waste," Underwood told those assembled at a Monday press conference. "I've got a mind of my own. However, I will check with people I represent, the Ministerial Alliance, before I make decisions. (But) I will not be in secret meetings where I cannot go back top my group and say this is what's going on."
Champaign Police deputy chief Troy Daniels has not yet returned a call for comment - chief R.T. Finney suffered a slight injury in the scuffle. State police have been called in to investigate, but activist Terry Townsend says federal authorities should also look into the incident.
State Police are heading the investigation of Friday's scuffle involving Champaign Police that led to the shooting death of a 15-year old.
Officers were called to the 900 block of West Vine Street, when a resident reported multiple subjects were trying to break into a home there. They say Kiwane Carrington and another 15-year old male then disobeyed orders to get on the ground, and a struggle ensued. Carrington was killed when an officer's gun was discharged. That unnamed officer is on paid leave. The other officer at the scene, Police Chief R. T. Finney, suffered a sprained shoulder and knee.
Champaign Deputy Chief Troy Daniels says many community leaders were contacted following the incident, to show the proper process is being followed to investigate the incident.
"At this time, we believe that most reasonable people will let the invesigation take its course, and we'll wait to hear what the result of that investigation is," said Daniels. The other teen involved in the incident was taken the Youth Detention Center on a residential burglary charge. An autopsy is planned Saturday for Carrington.
Graduate student workers at the University of Illinois Urbana campus are not about to strike. But a vote that members of their union took Thursday night lays the groundwork for a walkout. Peter Campbell of the Graduate Employees Organization says the vote was unanimous to approve an intent to strike notice. He says the notice "gives our union the legal ability to prepare for a work action, if our membership decides that a work action would be necessary at some point in the future."
The GEO and the administration have been meeting since April over a new contract for about 25-hundred teaching and graduate assistants on the Urbana campus. The old contract ran out about seven weeks ago. And Campbell says the university has failed to respond to financial changes made in the union's latest proposal. He says the responding offer from the administration at a bargaining session Thursday failed to address the union proposals, and only offered "semantic" changes that were "virtually identical" to their previous positions.
The next bargaining session is set for October 23rd, and Campbell says he hopes a federal mediator will be able to attend. In the meantime, he says the GEO will try to increase pressure on the administration through rallies and demonstrations. Union members will hold office hours at the Illini Union on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week --- the "work-in" and "grade'in" is meant to draw attention to the amount of work graduate employees do for the university.
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler says they won't comment on ongoing labor negotiations with the GEO. But she says they always negotiate within the university's financial constraints.
The Champaign County Board will consider a county budget plan for 2010 that is 7 percent smaller than the one they passed for 2009.
The 31-point-5 million dollar budget proposal was submitted to the County Board's Finance Committee Thursday night. County Administrator Deb Busey says the 7 percent in cuts reflects sharp declines this year in sales and income tax revenue. When the declines became evident at the end of the 1st quarter, Champaign County government instituted temporary spending cuts. But the cuts in this budget plan would be permanent. Busey says she expects the decline in tax revenue to level off in 2010 --- but if she's wrong, more mid-year spending cuts would be needed.
"I don't have a crystal ball, but I am hopeful", says Busey. "But if I am wrong about the revenues stabilizing, then we would have to look at that (additional mid-year spending cuts) in February at the end of the first quarter, like we did this year."
Roughly half of the spending cuts in the new budget plan come from county personnel. 29 full-time and 2 part-time jobs are being eliminated, through a combination of attrition and layoffs.
The Champaign County Board takes its first look at the new budget plan October 20th, with a final vote set for November. The county's fiscal year begins December 1st.
A former defense secretary says President Obama is right to carefully think over a decision on military commitment in Afghanistan - but he shouldn't think about it for too long.
Former Senator William Cohen of Maine served as secretary of defense for much of the Clinton Administration. Cohen told Focus 580's David Inge Thursday that in the Presidential campaign Obama encouraged greater concentration of troops in Afghanistan over Iraq, citing it as the home of al-Qaeda. Cohen says any decision to pull back there could further destabilize the region, and he needs to convey that to the American people and the nation's allies.
"Polls will change depending on what they (the voters) see and how he articulates the rationale for why we are there," said Cohen. "Can he persuade the American people that it is in our interest to prevent al-Qaeda from coming back in or the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan? Because if they do that, it may mean the destabilization of Pakistyan, which has many nuclear weapons."
Cohen believes the US military is not equipped enough to fight a long-term counter-insurgency in Afghanistan because it's not winning hearts and minds there.
The Champaign County Board will hold hearings in February to consider a possible reduction in the number of its members.
The County Board has 27 members. But Policy Committee Chairman Tom Betz says it would run more efficiently with maybe only half or two-thirds that number. The Urbana Democrat says the two political parties have trouble finding a full slate of candidates who are fully engaged in county government. The result, he says, is certain amount of not-too-active back-benchers.
"They're very intelligent, very capable people", says Betz. "But they are not necessarily as engaged and as active as other members. I think we should make sure everyone on the county board is fully and completely engaged."
Betz says his mind has changed over the past year on county board size. He once held views more like those of Alan Kurtz. The Champaign Democrat says cutting the number of members could result in a loss of diversity --- even if, for instance, African-Americans and Hispanics keep the same percentage of seats.
"Percentage-wise, we may still be representing the same amount of people", says Kurtz. "But we're not representing the same opinions. We're losing three black, or three 'of-color' opinions, that my differ from the other two."
Only the county board can set the size of the county board, although they could ask voters to weigh in through an advisory referendum. Betz says the February hearings will give county board members the information they need to decide if they want to reduce their membership with the 2012 election.
Those hearings will be hosted by the County Board's Policy Committee --- but by the time they're held in February, that duty may have moved over to a new Committee of the Whole. The Policy Committee endorsed an overhaul of its committee structure Wednesday night that would have all county board members voting on all committee items at two monthly Committee-of-the-Whole sessions. Those sessions would replace meetings of the current six standing committees --- but the chairs of those committees would still set the agendas. The full Champaign County Board will vote on the proposal at its October 20th meeting.
Governor Pat Quinn says he's committed to keeping lawmakers in Springfield this month until a grant program for low-income college students is extended through next spring. Quinn and some of the students who rely on the Monetary Awards Program, or MAP Grants, urged the legislature restore that funding at the University of Illinois' Urbana campus Wednesday. But the Governor says he's hoping to avoid any special session days beyond the six on the legislature's fall schedule.
"We've got to go back and make sure this program is safe," says Quinn. "I had to do this with Human Services over the summer - we went 45 days of overtime but we got that improved. But we are in a tough economic time. So it calls for sacrifices by the General Assembly to do hard things." Proposals to fund the grants include a tax amnesty program and 1-dollar tax on cigarettes. But Quinn says he also wants to look at loopholes in the Illinois Tax Code, including a tax break the state provides to oil companies for offshore drilling. About 200 students and faculty were at the rally on the campus quad, where freshman Edward Washington said he stands to lose 25-hundred dollars before next semester.
"If we do not take action and reinstate the MAP grant, the General Assembly will send a message to prospective college students all across the state," says Washington. "That is - that college is for rich folk. Prospective students shouldn't even bother to apply because they just can't afford it. Does this sound right to you? I urge the members of the General Assembly not to make this a political issue." U of I Director of Financial Aid Dan Mann says if there's no new revenue for the program by November, his office will work with every student relying on the MAP Grant to see what options they might have for the spring semester - but Mann admits those choices will be limited. About 5700 students on the Urbana campus use the MAP Grants.
The city of Champaign is getting ready to launch a recycling program for apartment buildings. At a study session Tuesday night, the city council told city staff to go ahead and develop a city recycling collection program that would be ready for launch next fall.
Waste-haulers in Champaign already must provide recycling pickup for single family homes and apartment buildings with less than 5 units. But under the plan endorsed last night, larger apartment buildings would also have recycling pickup. The city, using Urbana as an example, would contract for the service, and finance it with a mandatory fee charged to the landlords.
City Council member Mike Ladue says he's glad council sentiment has shifted since the early 1990s, when the city council voted to withdraw from a countywide solid waste consortium, and leave recycling to the private sector.
"This has been a question of a rising tide of public will making itself felt at the ballot box in election choices, and constituting a council more amendable to this type of development", says Ladue.
The council vote at last night's study session was met with applause from members of Students for Environmental Concerns at the U of I. Member Justin Ellis says Champaign officials should study recycling programs in other cities --- not just Urbana --- before moving forward.
"Champaign's coming late to the scene here with recycling", says Ellis. "And there's a lot of communities that have already learned a lot of the lessons related to this. And I hope that they look to those communities too in other parts of the country, and adapt the best of all these programs for us here in Champaign."
The program still awaits a final council vote, and is not expected to be up and running until next fall.
A new approach to helping emotionally-disturbed young people is getting nine million dollars in federal money.
Champaign County's Mental Health Board is implementing a new effort called the Access Initiative with the help of the state Division of Mental Health. It's meant to bring families more into the process of assisting troubled youngsters, and it's especially aimed at African-American cultural sensitivities.
Peter Tracy is the director of the county mental health board. He says previous methods of treating those children have not succeeded over time.
"Office-based therapy has not often been really successful with that population," Tracy said. "The departure is that this is a kind of outreach program where services are brought to the client and family as opposed of having them go to the office."
Under the grant, those services would be funded on a per-child basis instead of as a lump sum. They hope to serve about 200 children and teens, with families helping determine what form that assistance takes.
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