A neighborhood in east Champaign is about see the long-awaited cleanup of a former manufactured gas plant get underway. Residents in the area contend that that work will not only stop short of what's necessary... but say part of the problem is the city's fault. AM 580's Jeff Bossert reports:
Illinois Public Media News
Supporters of relocation aid for tenants who are forced to leave condemned buildings took their case to the Urbana City Council last Monday night. The idea was sparked by the sudden closures recently of apartments in Rantoul and Champaign, after their owners failed to pay utility bills.
Danielle Chynoweth of Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice says that in such cases, the city should provide emergency funding to help displaced tenants find new housing. The former Urbana alderwoman says the city could recoup the money through fines on landlords whose negligence led to the shutdown. Chynoweth says there's little danger of the landlords being unable to pay.
"The first question the Council should ask its staff is how many condemnations have happened against landlords that were bankrupt," Chynoweth told the Council. "I think you will find not very many in Urbana. So in most cases, you'll have recouped the costs."
But Urbana Neighborhood Services Director Libby Tyler says the proposed level of relocation assistance --- at least 2-thousand dollars for each displaced tenant ---- is too expensive for the city. "You can imagine situations where a municipality would not be able to afford to condemn an unsafe building, would not be able to afford the relocation costs," Tyler said.
She also worries that money might sometimes go to tenants who don't need the help. Tyler says Urbana will work with Champaign and other agencies to create a coordinated plan for helping displaced tenants. That plan could be ready in the fall. Meanwhile, Tyler says Urbana already has a small fund for tenant relocation assistance, and the city may look for ways to boost it.
Public hearings in Champaign County this week will consider whether the elected county offices of auditor, coroner and recorder of deeds should be appointed instead.
Any member of the public can speak at these hearings --- including the three office holders, who will argue for election by voters over appointment by the county board. Champaign County Auditor Tony Fabri says making his office an appointed one would make him beholden to the same county officials whose spending he's supposed to review. "When you take that position and make it subordinate to the folks who are actually making the expenditures," says Fabri, "it weakens the independence of the office, and it weakens the financial safeguards that the county has to protect taxpayer money."
County Board members Brendan McGinty and Greg Knott first proposed appointing rather than electing the three county offices a couple of years ago. McGinty says initial research reveals that counties as big or bigger than Champaign County elect rather than appoint their coroner, auditor and recorder. --- and he says there may be good reasons for that. "I wouldn't be disappointed if we ended up making no changes or making changes that make sense," says McGinty. "All I want to do is have the conversation on it, do the research on it."
McGinty and Knott serve on the Champaign County Board Policy Committee, which is holding the hearings. Committee chairman Tom Betz says the hearings will help the county board decide whether to put a referendum on the fall 2010 ballot asking voters if they want to make any or all of the offices appointed instead of elected.
All hearings will be held at the Champaign County Brookens Center in Urbana. The recorder of deeds hearings starts at 6 PM Tuesday followed by the coroner's hearing at 7. The auditor's hearing is Wednesday night at 6.
U of I Police say they'll be increasing patrols on the east side of the Urbana campus, where an armed robbery took place late Saturday night.
The robbery took place Saturday at approximately 11:30 PM on Pennsylvania Avenue near the corner of Dorner. The suspect, who appeared to have a gun in his hand, demanded cash from his victim. After getting the money, the suspect fled on foot. The victim was not hurt.
Police are looking for a white male in his early 20s, 6-foot to 6-foot-4 in height, athletically built and clean-shaven. He was wearing a dark grey athletic sweat suit with the hood pulled over his head. Anyone with information about the case should contact U of I or Urbana Police, or Champaign County Crimestoppers.
In a news release, University Police Chief Barbara O'Connor outlined tips for preventing crimes, including keeping doors and windows locked ... using well-lit and busy sidewalks where possible ... and carrying a cell phone, whistle or personal alarm to alert people if you need help.
UPDATE: This story has been corrected --- it erroneously stated that the robbery took place during the day, instead of at night.
After a hiatus from politics, the Democrat who challenged 15th district Congressman Tim Johnson in 2004 and 2006 is back in the race.
Dr. David Gill says he'll run in 2010 against a Republican he feels is vulnerable because of his votes on economic policy and the Iraq war. Gill - who's an emergency-room physician -- has remarried and changed jobs since the death of his wife two years ago. He received little help from Democratic Congressional fundraisers in his previous two campaigns but may ask for assistance next year.
"I've been told there's a threshold you have to reach:, says Bill, "and that number is 42 percent and we beat that in 2006. And so they might have some interest. But I wouldn't run if I didn't think I could win, with or without their assistance."
Gill staked his previous campaigns on health care, advocating a single-payer system for the country. He says that will not change in 2010.
No other Democrats have announced campaigns in the 15th district, nor has Johnson confirmed a re-election run.
A Piatt County resident is recovering from swine or H1N1 flu. David Remmert of the DeWitt-Piatt Bi-County Health Department says federal privacy laws restrict how much information he can give out. But he says the Piatt County resident was hospitalized with swine flu at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, and is now back home. He says health department officials continue to check on the person's condition nearly every day.
So far, 1357 swine flu cases have been reported in Illinois, including 5 fatalities. Most of the cases have occurred in Chicago and suburbs. Remmert says everyone should exercise basic precautions against spreading the flu virus ---- wash your hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes with your sleeve, and stay home if you're sick.
Ameren is seeking an increase in its electricity and natural gas delivery charges. The energy company filed the request Friday with the Illinois Commerce Commission.
The increases would affect the price of delivering energy to the customer, not the actual price of electricity and gas. If approved, Ameren says that the typical AmerenIP customer would pay $152s more per year. Ameren CILCO customers would pay $102 more. And Ameren CIPS customers would pay $119 more --- higher in the Metro East area. In this case, the typical customer uses 10-thousand kilowatt hours of electricity and 785 therms of natural gas a year.
Ameren has compiled details about its rate hike request on a special website, IllinoisRateFacts.com.
The ICC granted Ameren its last rate increase in September of last year.
Restrictions on the sale of baked goods at Urbana's Market at the Square have prompted an area lawmaker to find ways of relaxing or modifying a state law.
Danville Republican Bill Black wants to start up a task force to find out what prompted a 10-year old measure that requires those cookies and pies to be prepared in commercial kitchens. It was recently enforced in Urbana for the first time, driving away some vendors. But Black contends the enforcement of the measure is 'spotty' at best:
"The opening day of the farmer's market in Danville there were home-baked goods," says Black. "I asked somebody if this was done in a commercial kitchen. And he said 'yeah, my kitchen.' So just thirty miles apart there was some confusion."
But Kolby Riggle, Director of Environmental Health with Vermilion County's Health Department, contends the law has always been enforced there. Champaign-Urbana Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde says she doesn't have an opinion as to whether the measure is necessary, but says it will continue to be enforced locally. Black suggests that changes to the law could be as simple as placing a label on a baked good - advising that it was homemade. His task force would consist of legislators, local public health professionals, officials with the Department of Agriculture, and members of the public who sell at farmer's markets. Black hopes to begin meetings by fall, with hopes of completing a report by the end of the year.
Gov. Pat Quinn declined comment Wednesday on a parliamentary maeuver that kept the bare-bones budget passed by the Illinois General Assembly over the weekend from coming to his desk,
The budget would have kept state agencies running during a financial crisis, but little else. But State Senate President John Cullerton quietly blocked the budget after lawmakers voted on it, holding it in the Senate instead of sending it to Quinn, who said he wouldn't sign it.
Quinn spokeswoman Katie Ridgway said the governor will keep working to pass revenue to support a fair and balanced budget Cullerton, Quinn and House Speaker Michael Madigan -- all Chicago-area Democrats -- support raising taxes to avoid the worst of the cuts that would be required to close an $11.6 billion budget deficit. The Senate approved a tax increase, but it failed in the House.
The one-cent school sales tax that Champaign County voters approved in April still needs the county board's approval. That's why several area school officials turned out for Wednesday night's county board Policy Committee meeting. Several of them told the committee about how the sales tax would provide money for building new schools and renovating old ones. And like Mahomet Seymour school board member Becky Ryherd, they mentioned how the sales tax would also allow school districts to lower their property tax rates. "Tax abatement was the one thing that's always caught the public's ear", Ryherd said. "They want to see a different way to fund schools.
Ryherd's own school board has promised to commit one third of its sales tax revenue towards property tax relief. But some Policy Committee members, like Republican Alan Nudo, worry that some school boards are modifying their tax relief promises, now that the sales tax has won voter approval. "If there is a difference between what was promised before the April election, and what now a board resolution shows, we need to know why", says Nudo.
The Policy Committee voted unanimously to send the school facilities sales tax to the full Champaign County Board for a final vote on June 18th. County Board Chairman Pius Weibel says he'll ask school districts to explain in writing, any changes they've made since the election in how they plan to use the sales tax money. But Nudo worries that once enacted, the county board has little say over the school sales tax, It has no sunset provision. State law says it can't be repealed by a county board, as long as a school district is using to pay off bonds.