Illinois Public Media News
An 11-member board that will redraw districts for the Champaign County Board has received tentative approval from board members.
The county's Redistricting Commission was supported in last night's committee of the whole meeting on a 23 to 2 vote. The concept of the panel is to have an open and transparent process for re-drawing boundaries based on 2010 census numbers. County Board Chair Pius Weibel selected the 11 names after interviewing 39 applicants. Democrat Brendan McGinty said it is unlikely that any other county board member would have chosen all the same names, but that's not his concern.
"I would have preferred to keep it completely non-political, but I do think that it's important to have some people on there with some experience at doing this," McGinty said. "It's not only the job of the other members to take into question how best to do this, but it's also our job and the community's job to watchdog how this takes place."
Republican Alan Nudo called this a groundbreaking decision for the county, state, and nation.
"This is not just a 6-month project, this is a 10-year project," Nudo stated. "The voting cycles from now through the end of 2020 will be affected by this. So we have to make sure that those seven citizens and the four County Board members look at it from the standpoint of what's right for the citizenry of the county and not the party."
The two 'no' votes from Democrat Carol Ammons, who said the group lacks diversity, and Royal Republican Ron Bensyl, who rejected it despite being named to the committee. Bensyl said he rejected two names on the panel, but other board members said they likely would have chosen different candidates among the 39 that applied.
The commission will consist of two Democrats and two Republicans from the County Board. Besides Bensyl, Republican Jonathan Schroeder, and Democrats Alan Kurtz and Michael Richards have been recommended. The seven at-large members include former State Senator Rick Winkel, former Urbana City Council member Esther Patt, and Unity High School teacher Diana Herriott of Sidney.
Meanwhile, a draft resolution has been prepared based on an advisory referendum approved by 74-percent of Champaign County voters last week. It calls for reducing the county board from 27 to 22 members, and changing from 9 districts of three members each to 11 districts of two members each. If the County Board follows through with the changes, they will take effect with the 2012 election. Board Chair Weibel said the next county board will likely review the plan in December.
Meanwhile, Weibel said he has not decided whether he wants to continue as County Board chair, but will announce his plans soon.
A string of campus assaults and robberies in recent weeks has led the University of Illinois to activate its campus call center for the first time.
The latest incident involved a U of I freshman who was sexually abused Monday morning in a dormitory shower. University police Chief Barbara O'Connor said just in the last day, the university has been flooded with about a hundred e-mail and phone messages regarding that attack.
"You know, whenever we get parent calls and or e-mails, we attempt to take an individualized approach to responding to those, but at some point, the volume becomes so significant that you can't keep doing that any longer," O'Connor said. "We're at that point."
She said the call center will allow the university to give plenty of attention to each caller, and give university police more time to investigate criminal activity.
"We can get inundated so much so that the work of doing the investigation can get bogged down in responding to e-mails and phone calls," O'Connor explained.
University spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the 60 volunteers who have agreed to help out at the call center work in student affairs, and have extensive experience handling privacy issues. They were each required to go through a 90-minute training session before they could start working the phones.
The U of I community is encouraged to forward all messages regarding crime and safety on campus to 217-333-0050.
The Savoy 16 is offering monthly screenings with the volume in the theatre turned down, and the lights brought up. As Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports, it is part of an effort by the theatre's parent company to accommodate children with neurological disorders.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
University of Illinois President Michael Hogan said it is hard to say how much tuition will go up in the 2011-2012 school year, but he said students and parents 'won't stomach' another one of 9 to 10 percent.
Administrators plan to recommend the amount of that increase by January. The uncertainty over state funding the past couple of years has prompted the U of I to wait as late as June to approve the next fall's tuition.However, Hogan said administrators cannot continue to keep parents and students waiting.
"That doesn't work very well for us for planning purposes, and recruiting students," he said. "Because it doesn't allow us to tell students (about tuition), half of them get some form of financial assistance. So students that are applying here need to know sooner rather than later if they're getting in, and what their financial aid package will be. Or they go somewhere else."
Hogan made his comments following a presentation on tuition and affordability at the U of I Board of Trustees' Audit and Budget committee meeting. He said the drop of state support in the past decade has been 'staggering.'
Associate Vice President for Planning and Budget Randy Kangas said the U of I's appropriation is below what it was for the 1999 Fiscal Year, before adjusting for inflation. The university is currently owed about $320-million in state appropriations.
Hogan emphasized that last year's increase of 9.5 percent was one of the lowest tuition hikes in the country.
"So we've got to change the rhetoric of what we're looking at," Hogan said. "Rather than the one big bump (9.5%) to get a realistic understanding of what students are actually going to pay year in and year out as they go through a 4-year degree program.
A Champaign County housing task force is studying the number of available homes in the area to identify housing needs and economic gaps that can be filled within the community.
The Regional Housing Task Force is made up of officials in Champaign County, Champaign, Urbana, the Housing Authority of Champaign County and the village of Rantoul.
In a preliminary report, the task force identified the city of Champaign as not having enough rental housing units in low-income and minority areas, specifically in sections of the city that border Urbana. According to the study, a five-year need exists for 127 additional rental units that are affordable to households earning less than $20,000.
The city's Neighborhood Programs Manager Kerri Spear said she hopes the report helps shed light on what can be done to curb homelessness in the whole county. Spear, who is part of the task force, said more rental housing units should be spread out across Champaign County to prevent the further concentration of poverty.
"Homelessness does not just impact one city," she said. "There's a need to create more affordable rental units."
The study also suggested that adding market rate homes to high poverty areas could help boost the economy.
The report also indicated that there is a surplus of owner occupied homes in Champaign. Between January 2000 and September 2010, a total of 4,129 new homes were built in Champaign County. Just in Champaign, many developers overbuilt "high end" single-family homes that are valued between less than $140,000 and more than $400,000, which has left about a three to four-year supply of extra lots within the city.
"So, there may be a surplus of housing units in one community," Spear said. "But yet if the people that need those units are in another community, do they have the transportation options available, or are there jobs in that area?"
Households with incomes of less than $20,000 were found to have a five-year surplus of housing units in Urbana and Rantoul.
The Champaign City Council will hear details about the report at its regular meeting Tuesday at 7:30pm at the Illinois Terminal Building. The task force then plans to present its findings during a public open house on Tuesday, November 16 from 5-6:30 pm at the City Building at 102 N. Neil St., Champaign.
A panel created by state lawmakers is wrapping up work on recommendations on higher education funding. The proposals include changes to the MAP financial aid program, and tying state funding bonuses for colleges and universities to institutional performance --- such as a school's graduation rate.
University of Illinois President Michael Hogan said he thinks his school will do pretty well on the institutional performance front. But the commission's recommendations will also include increased funding for higher education. Hogan said lawmakers will have to decide whether increasing higher education funding is important to them, at a time when state government faces a financial crisis.
"I think this is all part of a larger discussion we have to have with the state," Hogan said. "Because the real conundrum here is that the state can't afford us, but it can't afford to do without us. So we have to find a way to sustain the quality of the educational and research product we have on all of our campuses --- at a time when the state has no money for it."
Illinois Board of Higher Education executive director Don Sevener said the recommendations include requirements that colleges and universities don't sacrifice academic rigor in the quest to get students to complete their studies.
"We do not want to incentivize colleges simply to pass students along to get more money for more course completions or more degrees granted, if those degrees are not high quality and useful in the marketplace," Sevener said.
The Illinois Higher Education Finance Study Commission holds its final meeting Wednesday, November 10, at Columbia College in Chicago. Lawmakers want the commission's final report is to be ready for review by December 1st. The Study Commission is made up of lawmakers and educators, including Illinois State University professor James Palmer, an expert in higher education funding.
University of Illinois police say a raid on the apartment of two Champaign women has led to the recovery of some 100 DVDs and video games stolen from the University of Illinois Undergraduate Library. The DVDs and games were reportedly worth about $2,700.
Authorities say 21-year-old U of I student Laura Cordova and Victoria Lopez, who is also 21, were arraigned Friday in Champaign County Circuit Court on felony charges of burglary and theft. Lopez was also charged with misuse of a credit card.
Campus police say security cameras showed two women stealing on Sept. 29
Pictures of the women were circulated on campus, leading to tips from the public.
Cordova and Lopez were released on $2,000 bond apiece and they are ordered to return to court Jan. 4 with their public defenders.
A health clinic for low-income families in Champaign will soon have a permanent site for dental care.
More than $600,000 in donations to start the clinic are the result of an initiative that started in 2008. The United Way of Champaign County spearheaded the fundraising for a new facility at Frances Nelson Health Center. Nancy Greenwalt is the director of Smile Healthy, a community-based initiative to provide dental care to the underserved. Currently, Smile Healthy conducts mobile dental clinics twice a month at Frances Nelson.
Greenwalt said they exposed the need for additional care, and prompted donations from groups like the United Way, Illinois Children's Healthcare Foundation and Carle Foundation. She said the waiting list of low-income and uninsured dental patients exceeds 1,000, and that does not include those who use emergency rooms.
"At Provena, over 1,000, and at Carle (Foundation Hospital in Urbana) over 2,000 patients report to the emergency room each year with dental issues," Greenwalt said. "But a medical provider can't do and extraction, or a root canal, or some of the treatments that you would need to solve the problem. All they can do is get you through the crisis."
Barbara Dunn is CEO of the Community Health Improvement Center, the parent organization of Frances Nelson. Dunn said the funds present new opportunities the clinic didn't have before.
"It's four operatories, so we can probably accomodate one half-time or full time dentist," Dunn said. "So we may expand that - who knows. And certainly always there's a demand for more medical. So I think we can put a lot of plans together the next few years."
The dental clinic at Frances Nelson will serve not only referrals, but appointments from the general public. It is expected to open by next fall.
Democratic incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn said he and Republican opponent Bill Brady plan to have lunch soon discuss ways to "work together for the common good" of Illinois.
Quinn held a news conference Friday, hours after Brady conceded the extremely close race. Quinn said he hopes to meet with Brady at Manny's deli, an eatery popular with Chicago politicians. He said he was inspired by Senator-elect Mark Kirk and Alexi Giannoulias having a beer the day after their bitter race for the U.S. Senate.
Quinn won by less than 20,000 votes and says his campaign was "often underestimated."
The victory gives Quinn his first full term in office after replacing ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich nearly two years ago.
Organizers of Champaign County's quarterly Residential Electronics Collection say they've kept over 220 tons of old computers, microwaves, cell phones, VCR and DVD players, printers, mp3 players, keyboards and other equipment from going to landfills this year. And they hope to collect several more tons at their final collection of the year, set for the morning of Saturday, November 6th.
Susan Monte of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission says a contractor specializing in the recycling of high-tech electronic gear makes sure everything they collect gets re-used.
"They select certain of the functioning items, such as newer model desktop or laptop computers", explains Monte. "They sort those out, and they select those to be refurbished and re-marketed. And the majority of stuff collected, the nonworking electronics waste is dismantled and separated into basic commodities for marketing."
Monte says each event typically attracts about a thousand vehicles, and is organized so that motorists can drive up and drop off their electronics gear, as safely and efficiently as possible.
Monte says the collection event is safe in another way. She says their recycling contractor destroys any data left on old computers --- whether the computers are slated to be refurbished, or just torn down to their basic materials.
"Data wiping software is used on items to be refurbished", says Monte. "And on other electronic waste, hard drives and data storage devices are shredded - physically shredded. That takes care of the data security."
Saturday's Residential Electronics Collection runs from 8 AM to Noon at the News-Gazette Distribution Center,3203 Apollo Drive in Champaign. There's no charge to drop off old electronics gear. Monte says to keep the traffic flowing, motorists should enter from Olympian Drive, east of North Market Street.
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