Voters in Champaign County will have the future of education funding in their hands when they hit the polls next Tuesday. At issue is a referendum to raise the county sales tax by a penny per dollar. The money would fund school building projects, pare down debt and potentially lower property taxes. As AM 580's Tom Rogers reports, after one failed attempt, the referendum's supporters are taking nothing for granted.
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The Champaign City Council is backing just the first year of what had been a five-year-plan for increasing liquor license fees in the city.
City staff had proposed the multi-year plan to phase in increases on a yearly basis, instead of imposing them all at once. But council members say they want to see a cost-of-service study before approving the entire plan, to see how much it actually costs the city to regulate liquor establishments. That information is especially important, as Champaign looks for new revenue sources due to recession-related drops in tax revenue.
Mayor and city liquor commissioner Jerry Schweighart says Champaign's liquor license fees could stand to be raised anyway, because they're some of the lowest in the region. For instance, he says a bar currently pays $1900 for a Class A liquor license in Champaign, compared to $4000 in Urbana.
The first year increase endorsed Tuesday night will raise fees for all liquor licenses in Champaign by 200 dollars on June 1st --- that would raise the fee for a Class A, or bar license, to 21-hundred dollars. Fines for violations will also go up, and the city will create a new 25-dollar keg fee.
A mother was accidentally shot by her two-year-old child. That's the preliminary report from Champaign Police about an incident that occurred Tuesday evening in the 400 block of East Beardsley Avenue.
Police say it appears the toddler accidentally discharged a firearm and shot the mother, but that the injuries were NOT life threatening. The mother was taken to an area hospital.
The two-year-old was one of three children in the home at the time. The others are aged ten and eleven. None of them were injured.
Champaign Police are continuing their investigation.
Parking rates in downtown Champaign will stay pretty much as they are, thanks to action by the Champaign City Council last night. Council members endorsed the latest phase of the downtown parking plan, but voted against any change in parking rates and hours.
The city council voted last year to raise downtown parking rates and extend enforcement hours to pay off bonds on the new Hill Street parking deck. Parking rates now go as high as 75 cents an hour in the core of downtown, and those rates are enforced until 9 PM. Some downtown business owners told the council the move was bad news for them. Salon owner Paul Kane told the council, "I think the inception of this parking rate has really hurt the smaller businesses, that depend on people that are going to come down here for an hour or two and spend a short period of time to spend some money".
But Councilman Tom Bruno says the most expensive parking areas in downtown Champaign are usually crowded, because they're where people want to be. "When it's 75 cents hour here by the Equire," said Bruno, referring to a bar across the street from the City Building, "and 50 cents over by West Side Park, they want to spend 75 cents and park right outside the Esquire, because that's where the action's at."
Plus, says Bruno, the city needs parking revenue to pay off the parking deck bonds. But Councilman Mike LaDue says he fears that downtown Champaign will gain a reputation --- deserved or not --- as being difficult to park in.
While there will be no change in basic parking rates, city staff say they'll look at way to clarify parking rules that many find confusing, as well as ways to promote the new downtown parking deck.
The Champaign School Board approved layoff notices for 80 teachers and other certified employees and 22 support staff Monday night. It's an annual practice that school officials say they dislike intensely, but are required to do.
Unit Four officials say most of the employees receiving Reduction-In-Force --- or RIF notices --- will be rehired for next year. But until they find out, they're in professional limbo. The high number of RIF notices results from the requirement to inform school employees of layoffs 60 days in advance ---- before their job status for next year has been finalized.
Champaign School Board President Dave Tomlinson cast the lone vote against the RIF notices.
"I voted no, because I hate RIF's, frankly, and this is part of the job I don't want to do", Tomlinson said.
But Tomlinson says he doesn't see a realistic alternative to the RIF notices. RIFed employees likely to be rehired are those who work parttime, are paid with grant money, were hired at the last minute, or have to comply with new certification rules.
The number of RIF notices sent out by Unit Four is roughly the same as last year, with just a handful of them representing jobs that have been definitely eliminated. Assistant Superintendent Beth Shepperd says that number could go up for next year, when school officials may have to cut additional jobs to deal with a projected decline in property tax revenue.
In Urbana, the District 116 school board sent out RIF notices to 52 teachers last week, and will vote on about five more next week.
CORRECTION: WILL broadcast reports on this story had incorrectly described the 80 certified employees receiving RIF notices as being all teachers, and put the number of support staff getting RIF notices at 23.
Authorities say bodies matching the descriptions of two small boys missing from a central Illinois town and their father have been found.
An Amber Alert was canceled for 9-year-old Duncan Connolly and his 7-year-old brother Jack, who both lived in LeRoy in McLean County. Authorities have said they went missing March 8 after their father allegedly failed to return them to their mother after a custody visit.
Authorities say the children's' bodies were found Sunday inside a car in remote Putnam County.
The car was registered to Michael Connolly, who authorities described as a fugitive in a child abduction case. The body of a man matching his description was found about 60 feet from the car on Sunday.
Police didn't release further details pending an afternoon news conference. Autopsies have been scheduled.
The Illinois House and Senate have approved bills raising the speed limit for trucks on rural interstate highways to 65 miles per hour.
Neither bill affects the speed limit for trucks in Cook County. The House version also exempts the five counties that surround Chicago. Once the two chambers apporve identical bills, the measure will be sent to Gov. Pat Quinn for his signature.
The speed limit for cars on interstate highways is 65, but for semis the speed limit is 55. Traffic safety experts believe having two different limits increases the chances of accidents on the roads.
However, Democratic Sen. Don Harmon of Oak Park isn't convinced. When Missouri went to a uniform speed, Harmon said, fatalities jumped by more than 70.
Gov. Pat Quinn is defending his pick to lead the Illinois State Police, saying Jonathon Monken is the right man to lead the agency in the wake of a scathing audit about the agency's performance.
Monken has taken over the agency, but has yet to be confirmed by the state Senate. Some key lawmakers say he lacks the necessary experience.
The 29-year-old Monken is a decorated military veteran and Quinn says that experience makes him qualified for the post.
Quinn is defending Monken's nomination for the post amid Thursday's release of an audit that found there was a huge backlog in testing crime evidence.
Quinn called Monken a strong leader and he dismisses suggestions that Monken isn't qualified for the post.
Urbana's city clerk has reversed course and will hold a lottery this coming Wednesday to determine which party is first on the ballot in next month's municipal election.
Republican mayoral candidate Rex Bradfield and Green candidate Durl Kruse filed suit Thursday to demand the ballot lottery, which they say is required by state law. Clark had used the order in which candidates filed petitions to set the ballot, which put her own party, the Democrats, first in line.
In a statement issued late yesterday (Friday), Clark said had been reluctant to hold a ballot lottery so soon before the election, out of concern "for those people who have already voted during the early voting process because I did not want those voters disenfranchised". But Clark said Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden has now stated in writing that a new ballot would not endanger early votes already cast. She's scheduled the ballot lottery for Wednesday morning at 10, at the Urbana City Council chamber.
Green Party mayoral candidate Durl Kruse says he's glad that Clark has decided to hold a ballot lottery, but says he's baffled by the delay. He says Shelden had given assurances early on that early voting ballots would still be counted if a ballot lottery required new ballots.
Republican mayoral candidate Rex Bradfield says he's "thrilled" that Clark is holding the ballot lottery in accordance with state law. But he called it "sad" that the decision was not made until after he and Kruse filed their lawsuit.
Bradfield and Kruse says the ballot lottery is important, because the order in which candidates are listed can have an impact on vote totals.
The re-opening of Prairie Center Health System's detox unit in Champaign is paying immediate dividends for those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.
Most of the facility's 10 beds have remained filled since it reopened last week. State funds were restored to the unit last month; the facility had been closed since August. But spokeswoman Betty Seidel says the uncertainty over getting that money for another year has prompted a series of community forums on the Detox unit's long-term viability. Seidel says health care professionals and law enforcement from Champaign, Vermilion and Ford Counties are seeking out additional resources, and they don't necessarily include money.
"Nursing, medicine, training, or something of that sort," says Seidel. "We haven't really exausted all the possibilties of help that we feel would keep the doors open and we feel strong that we can go a year. But beyond the year, we know that need to have some more resources," Seidel says the first in the series of forums last week served largely as a tutorial on what services are provided at the Detox facility. Attendees included county sheriff's departments, those from hospital emergency rooms, and mental health professionals that are often responsible for bringing patients into the detox unit. Prairie Center does have one fundraiser scheduled. All the funds from its annual golf outing this June will go towards that facility.