Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 25, 2009

Strategic Capital Bank of Champaign Reopens Under New Owners After Govt Takeover

Champaign's Strategic Capital Bank re-opens Tuesday today under new ownership. State banking regulators closed the ten-year-old bank on Friday, and handed it over to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Today (Tuesday), the bank reopens as a branch of Effingham-based Midland States Bank. All deposits and loans are being transferred to Midland States Banks, and officials say customers should see no disruptions in service.

FDIC spokesman David Barr says Strategic Capital apparently ran into financial trouble due to its buying so-called private label mortage-backed securities and making commercial real estate loans. He says that left the bank vulnerable when the housing market and economy suffered a downturn, with home loans and commercial real estate loans taking the biggest hit."And with this bank having a lot of its assets concentrated in those two areas, it had a really adverse impact on their financial condition", says Barr.

Barr says the FDIC will keep a toll-free phone number open this week for former Strategic Capital customers with questions about the bank takeover. Calls will be taken from 8 AM to 8 PM, at 1-866-954-9527. That's 1-866-954-9527.

Besides Strategic Capital bank, state banking regulators shut down Citizens National Bank of Macomb last Friday. That makes a total of five bank failures in Illinois so far this year.

Categories: Business, Economics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 22, 2009

Global Campus Undergoes Major Changes

Trustees at The University of Illinois are making some big changes to its struggling online degree program.

Trustees first approved Global Campus in 2006. It was designed to be a branch of the University of Illinois solely online, just like the Urbana-Champaign or Springfield campuses. Only 400 or so students are currently enrolled. Administrators were expecting thousands.

The new Global Campus plan will make the three U of I campuses control the online format. But Trustee Larry Eppley says he's concerned the new version will run into the same problems the program encountered when it was first created.

"We got caught up tripping over ourselves when we couldn't even convince everyone to allow their online programs to be listed on Global Campus," Eppley said. He said the new format will put more pressure on the three campuses and faculty.

The three campuses are expected to present their online programs in July.

Categories: Education, Technology

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 22, 2009

Wind Farm Zoning Ordinance Breezes Through Champaign County Board

The Champaign County Board gave a big thumbs up to wind turbine farms Thursday night. County Board members voted 24 to 2 with one abstention to approve zoning rules which will allow the construction of large wind farms on agricultural land, if a special use permit is granted.

Champaign Democrat Alan Kurtz championed the wind farm ordinance in the Environment and Land Use Committee. He estimates that 200 wind turbines operating over the next 20 years in the county could bring in 250 million dollars in revenue to landowners and local governments. And Kurtz saw more benefits, noting that "there are hundreds of good-paying jobs that will be produced by green energy ... education in the form of revenue for schools and Parkland College .... clean air, displacements of tons of pollution in the air ... renewable energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."

But not everyone in Champaign County is crazy about wind farms. The boards of Mahomet Township and neighboring Newcomb Township filed formal protests. Herb Schildt of the Newcomb Township Plan Commission said the ordinance was weakened when the map amendment component was removed, meaning neighbors of proposed wind farm sites cannot file formal protests. "If it is good and proper to require a map amendment for something as small as a beauty shop," said Schildt, "then it must also be good and proper to require a map amendment for something as large as a wind farm."

But representatives of two wind farm developers say the ordinance as originally presented would have been too restrictive to allow them to build in Champaign County. John Doster of Invenergy and Jeff Polz of Midwest Wind Energy said they were pleased with the ordinance in its final form. They say their companies hope to submit applications for wind farms in Champaign County sometime in late summer or fall.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 22, 2009

Champaign County Board Votes to Give Land to Savoy for Curtis Road Project

It looks like improvements along Curtis Road west of Route 45 will continue without the threat of interruption from Champaign Township. The Champaign County Board voted Thursday night to convey county right-of-way property along Curtis Road to the village of Savoy --- so the village can annex the land and let the road project proceed.

The land in question is in unincorporated Champaign Township, which had threatened to hold up completion of the road project, unless it won concessions from the city of Champaign in their ongoing annexation dispute. But annexation by Savoy will take away Champaign Township's jurisdictional powers --- although the land will remain within the township.

County Engineer Jeff Blue says the property was scheduled to be handed over to Savoy eventually. "The county never wanted to have any interest in Curtis Road in the long term, says Blue. "It's just a matter of timing, when we were going to convey that property to the village of Savoy. And we chose to do it earlier than later."

The Savoy Village Board voted to accept the land for annexation last week.

Another piece of property needed for the Curtis Road improvement project will be annexed by the city of Champaign. The Champaign City Council approved an annexation agreement with owners of land at the Curtis and Mattis Avenue intersection earlier this week. Curtis Road west of Route 45 is being widened to take in traffic from the new I-57 interchange.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 21, 2009

Champaign-Urbana Cyclists Ride to Remember Others Killed or Injured on the Road

There were lots of people out on bicycles Wednesday evening in Champaign-Urbana. But for some of those people, the ride carried extra meaning. 20 cyclists rode together in a Ride Of Silence to remember those injured or killed while cycling on public roadways. The group wore black armbands as they cycled together on an 8-mile route from the U of I Assembly Hall to downtown Urbana and back.

The cyclists included Urbana schoolteacher Frank Modica, who says both cyclists and motorists need to be alert for each other when on the road. He says that when driving, the most important thing is to drive undistracted. Modica says that means "don't drive around with an iPod in your ear. Because one of the major people we remember locally was killed because of a distracted driver, who was on a cellphone downloading ringtones." Modica referred to Matt Wilhelm, who was struck and killed by a distracted driver while cycling in Urbana in 2006. Modica says such accidents show the importance of NOT using cellphones while driving.

Susan Jones of the group Champaign County Bikes says this is the third year they've sponsored the Ride of Silence locally. It's one of nearly 300 such rides that were scheduled for around the country and the world on Wednesday, May 20th. Other Illinois cities scheduled to host the Ride Of Silence included Charleston, Peoria, Joliet and Chicago.The annual Ride of Silence began in 2003, in reaction to the death of a cyclist in Dallas.

Categories: Recreation
Tags: recreation

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 21, 2009

Champaign-Urbana, U of I Look at ‘Big Broadband’ Proposal

A proposal to bring a fiber-optic broadband network to Champaign-Urbana targets the use of federal stimulus money for much of the project.

The concept would form a partnership between both cities and the University of Illinois. The entities want to apply for federal grant money, which could fund up to 80% of a new broadband system. U of I Director of Networking Mike Smeltzer says it could offer service that's up to 10 times faster than anything currently offered, which might be necessary one day. "So let's say you're the typical American family and you've got 2.4 people living there.' says Smeltzer. "That might mean you have 3 television sets, and if you want to watch 3 HD television programs at the same time, that's about 60 megs of bandwith. You're not going do to that over a 6 meg connection and you're not going to even watch one HD channel over a 7 meg connection." Smeltzer also says UC2B, or Urbana Champaign Big Broadband, should be less expensive than any cablemodem or DSL service.

The federal stimulus funds are earmarked for areas underserved by broadband access. Smeltzer expects local governments, businesses, and the U of I would have to contribute about $6 million combined to match a federal grant. The fiber-optic network would require a few rounds of funding, and about two years to build.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 20, 2009

Illinois Lawmakers Push Ahead with Budget Necessities and Capital Funding

Illinois lawmakers adopted about $16.3 billion in spending Wednesday to cover essential state expenses, such as covering state employee paychecks.

The vote in the Illinois House sends the Illinois Senate five pieces of legislation that cover payroll, basic education funding and money to pay hospitals for serving low-income patients.

But as the May 31 deadline for adjournment creeps up, the General Assembly and Gov. Pat Quinn still have to address billions of dollars in requests for state assistance and contributions to public pension systems.

Quinn has proposed budget cuts and an increased state income tax to cover those, neither of which today's action addressed.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Senate voted 47 to 12 on a funding bill for statewide construction that that would raise liquor taxes, driver fees and enact a major gambling expansion. In eastern Illinois, Democrat Mike Frerichs voted for the bill, while Republicans Dale Righter and Dan Rutherford voted against it. The measure now moves to the House.

The aim of the bill is to pay for a $26 billion public works programs and create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The legislation would legalize gambling on video poker machines already in many bars. Supporters hope that would bring in $375 million a year.

It also would raise liquor taxes, generating about $113 million.The cost of a six-pack would increase by less than three cents.

Driver's license and license plates would go up, too.

The public works program is a combination of federal and state money. To come up with its $12 billion share, Illinois would sell bonds. To repay that debt, it has to come up with new sources of money --- the gambling, taxes and fees.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 20, 2009

Report: Governor’s Pension Plan Could Cost More Than Current Setup

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to reform the public pension system to save money would actually cost $95 billion extra over the next three decades.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press show Quinn would cut in half the amount of money the state would put into retirement systems for state employees in the next five years. But those short-term savings would be accompanied by much larger long-term costs.

The total cost would be $532 billion through 2045, up from $437 billion under the current pension plan.

Representatives of employees' unions and a legislative finance commission criticized the idea.

Quinn is trying to close an $11.6 billion deficit by raising income taxes and cutting spending. He has proposed lowering pension benefits for new employees to save money.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 20, 2009

High School Alternative in Champaign Graduates its First Class

25 high school seniors from Champaign are among the first to take their courses in an accelerated setting.

They were honored Tuesday night as the first year of Unit 4's Academic Academy comes to a close. Principal Rhonda Howard says the graduates were formerly students at Central or Centennial High Schools but were falling behind on class credits and needed more advice on how to pursue a career. 67 students in all are enrolled at the school.

The Academy is based on five sessions of classes rather than two semesters, and the classes are smaller, providing for more one-on-one time with teachers. Howard says not every teen fits the mold of the traditional high school schedule.

"Many of our students have full time or part time jobs, and some of them have children. They have obligations outside the school setting that at times attendance has been difficult for them. So we have been able to offer that accelerated pace and help them catch up," Howard said, adding that students who have to miss school can take computer-based courses on line.

Each applicant to the academy must complete one year of school in a traditional setting, but past attendance, behavior records and current credit totals are also considered. In the academy's next year, Howard says she hopes to build on the school's list of guest speakers from the community and get more students involved in job shadowing programs and college visits.

The 25 seniors at Champaign's Academic Academy will also graduate with their home schools late this month.

Categories: Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 20, 2009

Neighborhood Flooding Has Some Champaign Residents Seeking Help

Flooding from last Friday's heavy rainstorm was too much for a group of neighbors living south of the Kraft plant in Champaign. They want the city to do something about the poor drainage in their neighborhood.

James Creighton says his neighborhood has it worse than anyone, and he doesn't just mean last Friday's downpour.

"I believe it was Council member (Karen) Foster who asked three of four weeks ago if John Street was the worst neighborhood. And the answer was no, it was Copper Slough -- my neighborhood, south of Kraft, that's the worst neighborhood," Creighton told the council

He was among about a dozen people from the Copper Slough or Washington Street neighborhood located between Prospect and Mattis who came to Tuesday night's Champaign City Council meeting for some flood relief. They brought photos and eyewitness accounts of flooded basements and streets from last Friday and from previous rainstorms. Mary Ann Keith says last Friday's floodwaters came at her from both sides.

"When the water comes from Prospect, it comes from Mattis," Keith said. "It drains both directions. We actually stand outside and watch it come down the street."

Mayor Jerry Schweighart says the problem is a big one, and fixing it won't be easy. An upgrade of the neighborhood's storm sewer system would cost the city millions of dollars it doesn't have. In the meantime, Champaign's Neighborhood Services Department will hold a meeting in the neighborhood next week to listen to people's concerns. And City Engineer Roland White says new eco-friendly techniques like water permeable pavements and raingardens to hold in groundwater could help limit the degree of flooding during future rains.


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