Illinois Public Media News
The debate over extending Olympian Drive moved to the Champaign City Council chamber last (Tuesday) night. Council members gave their preliminary endorsement for an intergovernmental agreement with Urbana and Champaign County to complete the 27-millon dollar extension.
Council members also heard comments from landowners in the area of the extension who oppose the project. They say that the road --- and the development it would attract --- would destroy hundreds of acres of high-quality farmland. They found an ally in Councilwoman Marcy Dodds, who cast the lone "no" vote Tuesday night.
"Farmland is an amenity, not an obstacle," Dodds said before the vote. "It's sustainable economically, and it speaks to our quality of life. We need to stop looking at concrete like it's the last word in economics."
But John Dimit of the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation told the council that the impact of development on farmers would not be as bad as they feared.
"We all know 1600 acres --- that's been the touted amount that this land --- would open up for urban development. That's not going to happen overnight," Dimit said. "It's not going to happen at all if the road's not developed. But it'll happen gradually if the road is out there. So, many of the farms out there, I think will be able to continue in agricultural interests.
Backers of the Olympian Drive extension say it would provide a needed route between I-57 on the west side of Champaign-Urbana, and US 45 to the east. The project depends on a mix of state, local and federal funding. The Champaign City Council will take a final vote on the intergovernmental agreement on March 16. Urbana and the Champaign County Board will also vote on the proposal this spring.
After mold and ventilation problems delayed the completion of the new Champaign County nursing home, the county board went after the nursing home's builders to collect damages. Now the last of those efforts is completed.
Arbitrators have ruled that Otto Baum Company, one of the prime contractors on the project, must pay Champaign County $405,000 for problems caused by mold found on wood during nursing home construction. After outstanding bills owed to Otto Baum are paid, the county will be ahead by nearly $150,000. Rantoul Township Republican Stan James serves on the county board's facilities committee. He says the settlement of the mold issue frees the county board up to focus on other concerns.
"That's one less thing on our plate, and now we can move on. We've got bigger budget issues to tackle and a host of issues due the economy that we need to be focusing on," James said.
While Champaign County is receiving some money in the binding decision, the arbitrators say the county also shares in the responsibility. The arbitrators' report say that the county, Otto Baum Company and construction manager PKD all should have known that unvented heaters were not adequate to keep mold away from wood used in nursing home construction.
Damages from Otto Baum, plus previous awards from other firms involved in nursing home construction are providing Champaign County with about $1.3 million in payments to help make up for extra costs and delays in nursing home construction. Facilities Committee Chairman Steve Beckett estimates that the payments fall $300,000 to $500,000 short of the county's expenses.
Danville State Representative Bill Black wants to know how quickly state leaders plan to help institutions like the University of Illinois with their overdue payments.
He says the arrival of more than $1 billion in federal stimulus funds earmarked for Kindergarten-thru-12th grade education should free up general state aid dollars initially designed for grade and high schools. Black is one of 10 GOP lawmakers who have signed a letter to Governor Pat Quinn and Comptroller Dan Hynes, urging them to use some of those dollars for higher education. Black says he wants them to develop a priority list. "Do you simply direct all of it to unpaid bills?," says Black. "There's nothing particularly wrong with that. But, what bills? Are you just going to take them in the order that they're late, or should we get together and say look, universities are in trouble, community colleges are in trouble, some of that money needs to be set aside to pay bills in our higher education system." The letter was also signed by Representatives Chapin Rose of Mahomet and Dan Brady of Bloomington. It requests a meeting with Quinn and Hynes.
Rose says this letter in intended to compliment the efforts of University presidents, who recently wrote their own letter to the Governor seeking a timeline for payments. A minimum of $4 billion is expected to come into the state's coffers through next month. The funds not only include stimulus dollars, but the $840 million proceeds of a pension bond sale, $1.5 billion from March and April tax collections, and $400 million from Illinois' Family Care settlement lawsuit. Rose says this letter in intended to compliment the efforts of University presidents, who recently wrote their own letter to the Governor seeking a timeline for payments. He expects the meeting to take place.
"I've found Mr. Quinn to be very accessible and open, as I have Mr. Hynes," says Rose. "So I expect we'll have an audience and be able to talk about this. But again, my point is there's not much to talk about because there's $4-5 billion coming in the door here. So just tell us when they're going to get paid. It's as simply as that." Black suggests that could free up about $ 250 million for the U of I, more than half of what the state owes the university. He notes the MAP grants, or Monetary Awards Program scholarships, are still owed that much as well.
Urbana city officials ran into heavy criticism last fall when they proposed fining landlords who allow criminal behavior to continue unabated on their property. Now, the city is proposing a new version of the ordinance.
Mayor Laurel Prussing says the re-drafted ordinance is virtually identical to the one already on the books in neighboring Champaign. Landlords who fail or refuse to do anything to control criminal activities on their properities like drug trafficking or gang violence could face fines. But, at the Urbana City Council's Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday night, Prussing said landlords would have a clear process whereby they can work with the city to deal with the problems first.
"If (the process) doesn't work, and the landlord has tried", said Prussing. "they will not be punished. I mean, we're trying to work with people."
Most Urbana city council members voiced support for the new ordinance last night. But Republican Heather Stevenson said the new version of the ordinance was no better than the old one. And Democrat David Gehrig said that while the new ordinance was an improvement, but he still had doubts.
"There's still something sitting in my gut saying that this is an ordinance about A being punished for what B does", said Gehrig. "And I just haven't been able to get it to sit right yet."
Attorney Kip Pope told the city council that ordinance would penalize landlords unfairly for tenant behavior they can't control, especially since Urbana city code prevents them from turning down tenants with felony convictions.
The Urbana City Council is keeping the ordinance in committee for revisions, and to get public feedback.
A series of ad hoc committees have started the arduous task of identifying areas on the University of Illinois' Urbana campus that might find ways to make cuts or even raise some revenue.
'Stewarding Excellence at Illinois' is expected to last several months. One of the committees has already identified four areas for evaluation due to the higher education funding crisis. Graduate College Dean Deba Dutta chairs the Campus Steering Committee. He says his group is meeting twice a week, and expects to identify more areas over the next several months. "And we'll keep on doing this until we, as a campus, feel that we have looked everything that needs to be looked at," says Dutta. "I mean that's the general feeling. I can't say that there's going to be 15 projects, or 35 projects. But we have in this process, we have a lot of involvement of faculty, students, and staff."
The first four areas under review are the Institute of Aviation, Information Technology, The Office of Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement, and Allocation of undergraduate scholarships. Dutta says these areas are more administrative in nature, but he stresses that no cuts or other changes will be decided for some time. Faculty teams assigned to each of these projects will look at charge letters from U of I administrators. "We're not to limit them to think, ok, do this or do that," says Dutta. "Just trying to give an idea to consult with stakeholders, look at the value, how it aligns with the institution, and several other criteria that are spelled out on the web site.
Environmental experts are looking for a little creativity this week when it comes to diverting tons of old TVs, computers or cell phones from the landfill - or worse.
Electronic waste can create pollutants as well as lots of solid plastic or metal waste, and much of it will come from machines that are still in working order. A two-day symposium on the University of Illinois campus begins Tuesday to address the large-scale problem.
Tim Lindsey is with the U of I's Sustainable Technology Center. He says everyone involved in the process - from manufacturers to retailers to recyclers - are getting together to talk about reducing the waste stream, and new reuse methods can play a huge role.
"You can take a ten-year old Pentium 3 computer, you could refurbish it, load it with Windows 7, and for most applications it will perform as well as a brand new computerwith respect to word processing, surfing the internet, spreadsheets and so forth. It would do just as well," Lindsey said.
Lindsey says one future answer may be to rethink how we buy electronics. He says consumers might warm up to the concept of buying a shell computer or cell phone and occasionally improving its performance with the newest technology.
A section of Bunge North America's massive downtown Danville facility will close in two months.
About 100 employees will face layoffs when the plant's soybean processing operation comes to an end. Bunge spokeswoman Deb Seidell says the Danville site doesn't have the soy-oil refining facility that newer plants have.
"When you crush the soybeans and you get the protein meal and you get the oil, generally that oil needs to be further processed before it can go into the food stream," Seidell said. "From Danville it has to be trucked or sent by rail somewhere else to be refined because there's not a refinery attached to Danville."
But Seidell says there are no plans to build that refinery because the capacity for processing soybeans is outstripping demand. She says management and staff employees will receive outplacement assistance and severance while Bunge will negotiate with unions over the impact on other employees.
Bunge plans to keep its soy and corn elevators and dry corn mill open - they employ about 185 workers.
While one area county has gotten out of nursing home operations, the Champaign County Nursing Home appears to have turned a corner after a number of financial problems.
A week from today, Livingston Manor in Pontiac will have a new operator. Livingston County Board Chairman Bill Fairfield says while the level of care there is good, he says the facilities are nearly 50 years old, with one bathroom per wing. As a result, Fairfield says it's hard to find new patients. Livingston Manor has about 35 residents now, with 122 beds.
County officials have spent the last couple of years working with the non-profit Good Samaritan Home of Flanagan to assume operations at the Pontiac home. And by September 2011, Fairfield says Good Samaritan will have a new facility built, with the help of an economic development grant from the county.
"They have a couple of ideas on property, which would be somewhere in the vicinity of St. James Hospital in Pontiac, to build a new facility," said Fairfield. "And I believe that once they have a facility that is modern, with a private bath and all, that you will see the census rise."
Census has not been a problem of late at Champaign County's nursing home. Mike Scavatto is president of Management Performance Associates, the St. Louis based group that's helping with management of home. He's aiming for an average census of about 195 patients, and they're close to it now. But there's also been an increase in private pay residents, a lower percentage of them on Medicaid, and less contract nursing. But Scavatto says there are other goals in mind.
"We're very interested in expanding our services in dementia and doing more with rehabilitation. And I think those are the two key services that will help us out," said Scavotto.
The Champaign County Nursing Home closed out 2008 with a one-point-8 million dollar loss. Scavatto expects losses from 2009 to show a figure closer to 150-thousand dollars.
The first of four sculptures is on display in downtown Urbana as part of an initiative to generate more local interest in public art. 'Fanfare' was installed Friday in the courtyard of the Iron Post at Race and Elm streets. One of 98 images considered for placement in the city by two juries, it's a granite art piece conceived by Shawn Morin, the head of the sculpting program at Ohio's Bowling Green University. Urbana Public Arts Coordinator Anna Hochhalter says the sculpture meshes well in its location, a live music venue.
"It has kind of a flair granite at the top and different kinds and colors of granite, and lots of different textures and stone," says Hochhalter. "So the jury thought that it would work really well against the brick background and also really compliment the native plantings that are in the courtyard."
The sculptures are being provided on two-year loans. The other three will be installed in May; one on Green Street by the Urbana Free Library, with two others to be placed along Philo Road. The city has option of obtaining additional art for a temporary exhibit, and even purchasing some later.
The Illinois Supreme Court says former Governor George Ryan must forfeit all of his state pension for crimes he committed as secretary of state and governor.
Ryan is currently serving a 6 1/2-year racketeering and fraud sentence. He had been hoping to salvage a $60,000-a-year pension, based on his years as a state lawmaker and lieutenant governor.
Ryan wasn't convicted of committing any crimes when he held those offices. But the high court ruled 6-1 on Friday that he's ineligible for any state pension. Before his conviction, Ryan had been due to draw a pension of more than $197,000.
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