Illinois Public Media News
Champaign-Urbana is ready to say "yes" to a federal grant for a fiber-optic broadband network. The Urbana City Council voted 5 to nothing Monday night to accept the grant --- joining Champaign and the University of Illinois in endorsing the "UC2B" Broadband project.
Champaign, Urbana and the U of I are accepting a $22.5 million federal recovery grant to pay the lion's share of the cost of building the fiber-optic rings linking schools, hospitals, city buildings and libraries --- plus fiber-optic connections to send low-cost service to 4600 homes in underserved areas. U of I Associate Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement Pradeep Khanna told council members of the value of the new high-speed telecom network in attracting business.
"From first-hand experience, I can say, the lack of redundant broadband access already has been cited by many firms, as the key reason for not being interested in locating in Champaign-Urbana", said Khanna, who also heads Corporate Relations for the university's Public Engagement office.
Once the broadband network is built, local officials will have to figure out how to manage and market it ... and how to find the money to complete home service connections for the rest of Champaign-Urbana.
Alderman Brandon Bowersox, who will now serve on the Broadband Project's Policy Committee, says the economic questions pose the biggest risks. He says UC2B must offer service that makes enough money to pay for its operations and maintenance.
Meanwhile, project organizer Michael Smeltzer says they've already applied to Google, which is planning to install high-speed broadband service in select cities. Although he concedes it's a long shot, Smeltzer says they hope Google will consider funding the installation of broadband connections in the rest of Champaign-Urbana.
Monday night's vote commits Urbana to $345,000 in matching funds for the UC2B project. Champaign, the U of I and the state are also providing funding.
Smaller towns in Champaign County are taking the lead in returning 2010 Census forms.
Overall, the county is just over 50 % percent in the rate of response. A planner with Champaign County's Regional Planning Commission says it's not surprising that rural communities like Ivesdale and Ogden each have a rate of return around 70% since they have smaller populations - and those populations don't change much. Andrew Levy says the lack of response from University of Illinois students are a big reason Champaign and Urbana's response rates are just under 50%. The US Census Bureau is requesting that the forms be returned by mid-April. For those that haven't, census workers will be going door to door to ask the same questions on the form. Levy is asking U of I students to accommodate those enumerators the best they can. "As local governments, we're asking that everybody help and particpate, especially around apartment buildings, to make sure census workers have access to the buildings," says Levy. "They'll have badgets, and it's really important that everybody identify that it is a census worker."
Levy says he hopes his office and others handling the census can end the misconception that the census forms can be filled out on line. He says neighboring counties like Vermilion and Piatt have higher response rates than Champaign County... since they're made up of more small rural towns. An accurate count in the 2010 census ensures that counties receive the right amount of tax dollars and proper representation in Congress.
University of Illinois Trustees could begin interviewing its 10 finalists for university president by the end of this week. The presidential search committee is not naming the finalists, but committee chair and trustee Pam Strobel says 8 of the 10 come from the public universities, and some have ties to the U of I. Five of them are current university presidents.
On Monday, she says the committee updated the rest of the Trustees on those finalists. Strobel says the board is on track to name a new president by sometime next month. And she says the finalists aren't concerned about the economic climate affecting the U of I, along with many other campuses. "And it seems to be almost an epidemic that is going on, affecting especially public universities in so very many states," says Strobel. "And so we are not alone even though we are in a very serious financial crisis... and the caliber of people who we are looking at seem to be very able to rise to the challenge." Strobel says the trustees aren't releasing when or where candidate interviews will be conducted. U of I board members met in closed session Monday in Chicago... and may interview some of those finalists when meeting again Friday. Stanley Ikenberry, the U of I's president from 1979 to 1995, has served as interim president since Joseph White stepped down last year amid an admissions scandal.
The Champaign County Coroner's office has released the identity of a woman whose death is being investigated as a murder by the Coroner and Champaign police. But Coroner Duane Northrup is not saying how 58-year old Jean Butler died. She was found dead at her home in the 400 block of East Columbia Avenue yesterday afternoon after suffering what officers describe as 'severe injuries.'
Police were called there around 3:30 yesterday after a report of a fight between two men outside the home - a fight believed to have broken out after Butler's death. 54-year old Maury Butler was arrested, and charged with first degree murder. An autopsy on Jean Butler is scheduled for Saturday. An inquest may be held at a later date.
The newly-combined Carle Foundation Hospital and former Carle Clinic may have a deal with local governments over property taxes.
Up to now, Carle Clinic Association had been an independent for-profit firm. But now that it's been bought out by the Carle Foundation, it's got not-for-profit status under the name Carle Physician Group. That means it's no longer liable for property taxes at its clinic buildings - and that could cost government entities in Champaign County at least $2.4 million a year.
When the merger was announced last November, Carle CEO Dr. James Leonard was quoted as saying Carle would make payments to those government in lieu of taxes. Thursday, he said they're getting close to an agreement.
"We're not done with the discussions yet," Leonard said. "In terms of of their needs, they're very concerned -- particularly with the recession we've been in -- about the resources going forward. It's been an active, positive discussion."
Leonard wouldn't say when a final agreement on tax payments would come out. Meanwhile, he says the Carle Foundation would continue to challenge the state's decision to strip it of its tax-exempt status for some hospital properties. The hospital has put money into an escrow account as the case is still being challenged in court.
Gubernatorial candidate Rich Whitney says the other candidates for governor may have parts of the solution to Illinois' fiscal problems --- but only he has the full package. The Green Party candidate commented during a campaign stop in Champaign-Urbana Thursday.
Whitney told a gathering of University of Illinois students that Governor Quinn is right to support a state income tax increase --- but he says such an increase should be modeled after past proposals for education funding reform.
"It's not just an income tax increase", says Whitney. "You have to provide protections for lower and middle income class earners, so that they're not actually paying the higher tax, in order to make our system more progressive. You also have to provide property tax relief to the people as part of the package. And you have to give voters some assurance that this extra revenue you're raising is going to be going to our schools."
Whitney says Quinn's promises to protect lower and middle income earners under an income tax hike are too vague. And while he supports cuts in spending, Whitney says Republican Bill Brady's call for across-the-board cuts is too crude.
Whitney also supports a tax on financial transactions ... and creation of a state bank like North Dakota's, to finance state spending projects. Whitney first outlined his budget plan in March, but says the news media focused mainly on one proposal --- to legalize and tax marijuana.
US Senator Dick Durbin says an overhaul of federal student loans will end years of students having to pay back a costly bank subsidy.
In a visit to Parkland College Thursday, Illinois' senior senator met with recipients of Pell Grants, a program that will add more than 20-thousand recipients in Illinois as the result of the overhaul. Durbin says the loans haven't kept pace with the cost of tuition, but they'll be increasing in value under this measure.
The overhaul also cuts out commercial banks and other lenders from the loan process. Durbin says the 45-year old loan program carried no risk to banks -- and they'd be paid in full -- even if a student defaulted on a loan:
"So banks were being given this opportunity to add to the interest rate on student loans in a risk-free environment. That is known in most circles as corporate welfare," Durbin said. "It cost us as a nation $8 billion a year that we were giving to banks and they were adding to the cost of student loans all around America. Students now struggling to pay back their student loans are now struggling to pay back this bank subsidy."
Federal student loan dollars will now be shifted to the direct loan program. For current 10-year loans, a person making $30,000 annually would have to pay $460 a month.
When the overhaul takes affects in 2014, Durbin says that amount will be reduced to just over $100 a month - and no more than 10% of someone's annual income when the program is fully implemented.
The regulators have been satisfied, and today's the day that Carle Foundation Hospital and Carle Clinic Association become one entity.
The two firms had been related but not unified until now - but starting Thursday, the former Carle Clinic has turned from a for-profit company to a wing of the not-for-profit Carle Foundation. It'll now be known as Carle Physician Group.
Carle Foundation president Dr. James Leonard says the combination will make for more efficiency, streamlining a patient's care. "When a patient is moved from one venue to another, they're moving throughout a continuum of care that recognizes their needs, their care, their financing so that we're all thinking about this as a single episode," said Leonard.
Dr. Bruce Wellman headed Carle Clinic and is now the CEO of Carle Physician Group. He says some last-minute approvals meant that merging the two groups' paperwork was delayed until now. "Planning was okay (before the merger), (but) not doing any actual work in changing things, such as the computers, until we had all of the approvals because it would not be legal or appropriate to do that," Wellman said. "So we have timing issues of literally thousands and thousands of things that have to happen, and bills are an excellent example."
Carle says billing will be merged over the next few months. They're asking people who encounter any billing issues to be patient, and patients may be asked to verify their insurance.
A 61-year-old Clinton man was killed in an apparent truck accident outside the Plastipak Packaging plant on West Clark Street in Champaign Wednesday.
The Champaign County Coroner's office says independent truck driver Jimmy E. Hovis was taken to Carle Foundation Hospital, where he was pronounced dead around 10:30 Wednesday morning. An autopsy will be held Thursday.
Champaign Police say Hovis was found lying injured on the ground. Preliminary reports suggest he may have been hit by his own semi truck, which was found running, with the gears hifted in reverse. Police are still investigating the matter.
An internal City of Champaign investigation into a fatal police shooting last fall is winding down.
City attorney Fred Stavins says the two outside experts the city asked to conduct the study have completed much of their work looking into last October's shooting death of 15 year old Kiwane Carrington. Police say they confronted Carrington and another teenager as the two were trying to get into an acquaintance's home on Vine Street - an officer's firearm went off and hit Carrington during a scuffle.
Stavins says retired Urbana police chief Eddie Adair and retired McLean County Judge John Freese continue to meet, but their fact-finding portion of the review is generally complete - and he says that's only one segment of the overall investigation.
"There's been an internal investigation that involves police personnel", says Stavins. "And subsequent to that, there'll be another review by another group in the police department --- the Firearm Discharge Board."
Stavins says any ultimate changes to police policy or other outcomes of the report will be up to City Manager Steve Carter. He says the goal is to determine whether the Carrington incident should lead to changes in policy. But Stavins says it will not second-guess a state police investigation that cleared Chief RT Finney and Officer Daniel Norbits of criminal wrongdoing. Carrington's aunt has filed a wrongful -death lawsuit against the officers and the city.
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