Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign County Zoning Board of Appeals is in favor of hiring a consultant to help the county consider claims about noise made by applicants from wind farm operators.
The Zoning Board endorsed the proposal from County Zoning Administrator John Hall Thursday night. Hall expects Champaign County will receive its first application for a wind turbine farm next month, from Chicago-based Invenergy. And when such applications come in, he wants the expert opinion of an outside consultant to check claims about potential turbine noise and the impact on nearby residents.
"We would be in sort of a predicament", Hall told AM 580 News, "if the neighbors raised valid questions about what the wind farm developer says, because we would have no way to respond to either party". Hall says the county doesn't have expertise about wind turbine noise issues on its own staff.
ZBA Board member Paul Palmgren agreed during Thursday night's meeting, saying he wanted the county to be on firm ground, to avoid possible legal action from wind farm opponents.
"I don't want to be in a court of law some place, trying to defend what we maybe should have done", said Palmgren..
A memo from ZBA Chair Doug Bluhm "strongly supporting" Hall's request for a noise consultant will go to the Champaign County Board's Environmental and Land Use Committee. That committee will consider the request November 9th. Hall says some members of the committee have questioned the need for a consultant --- they note that most Illinois counties with wind farm ordinances haven't hired them. The cost of a consultant is low enough that Hall doesn't need county board approval to hire one --- but he says he prefers to have county board support.
we would be in sort of a predictament if the neighbors raised valid questions about what the wind farm developer says, because we would have no way to respond to either party. So having a consultant who could advise the ZBA on whether what the neighbors raise are valid concerns are not, I think that would be good to have.
In three weeks, a key vote takes place as a site that once contained much of the Army's chemical weapons supply reverts to civilian use.
An agency has put together a plan to reuse the Newport Chemical Depot as the Army lets go of the one-time nerve agent plant and storage site. It sits on 11 square miles in Vermillion County Indiana, just across the Illinois border.
Bill Laubrends is with the Newport Chemical Depot Reuse Authority. He says the plan is the end product of public meetings and input from a wide range of community leaders.
"We've had stakeholder interviews, which include local residents,property owners, business owners, elected officials, representatives of major employers, local and state economic development groups, representation of conservation groups, soil conservation districts, local civic organizations, school districts, et cetera," Laubrends said.
A five member board will vote on the plan November 19th. It recommends the Army set aside nearly 35-hundred acres for industrial or commercial redevelopment. Another 12-hundred acres would remain farmland, and 24-hundred acres would be left as natural areas and parkland.
The war in Iraq has claimed another US solder from east central Illinois. The Defense Department says 35 year old Army Major David Audo of Saint Joseph was killed Tuesday in Baghdad in a non-combat related incident. A press release only says that the incident remains under investigation. Audo was a 1992 graduate of Saint Joseph Ogden High School.
Meanwhile, a soldier from western Indiana is among more than a dozen Americans killed in action this week in Afghanistan, with President Barack Obama taking part in the arrival transfer of his body at Dover Air Force Base.
Army Sgt. Dale R. Griffin was a 1999 graduate of Terre Haute South High School. His mother says he joined the Army soon after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Griffin was a state runner-up in wrestling as a high school senior. Griffin was among 18 U.S. military personnel and drug agents whose bodies arrived early Thursday at the Air Force base in Delaware. The flag-draped remains of Griffin were carried off a plane by six soldiers as Obama and others in a line of honor saluted.
Champaign's city council and park board want to make collaboration the key factor in getting parks built in new residential developments. They reached that conclusion during a joint meeting Wednesday night at the Park District's Virginia Theatre.
Park officials say the newest areas of the city are underserved when it comes to parks --- and they'd like more cooperation from developers in setting aside land for new facilities.
But Shawn Luesse of the Devonshire Group says developers are wary of any ordinance that would require them to provide a certain amount of park land, because they add to the cost of development. But he says negotiations can lead to agreements for new parks --- he sites a small park that Devonshire agreed to make room for in the new Applewood Valley subdivision in southwest Champaign. Luesse says doesn't mind talking with park officials when new developments are being designed.
"The idea that we are required to go the park district to talk about land donation is an Okay concept", says Luesse. "But I don't believe it requires an ordinance. But I don't believe that it requires an ordinance. I don't think an ordinance would add anything to the process. And there would be what I believe to be substantial pushback from the development community, if there were an ordinance in place."
After hearing from Luesse, some council members were way of using the word "mandatory" at all. Assistant City Planning Director Rob Kowalski says they'll keep working on an approach that will satisfy the city, park district --- and developers, too.
"We're going to continue to try and find a collaborative way between the city, the park district and the development community", says Kowalski, "that we can come up with a proposal that works fro everybody. I think it's going to be very challenging to do that, but we're going to continue to head down that path."
Champaign Park Board President Jane Solon says new developments added to the city in the past decade don't have enough park land to serve their residents. Developers who came to the joint meeting said they're willing to talk about adding parks to new subdivisions --- but are wary of any mandatory commitment, because of the cost factor.
Assistant Planning Director Rob Kowalski says it will be challenging, but his staff will try to find an alternative to the "mandatory" approach, that will give the city, park district and developers a way to work together on placing parks in new residential areas.
Champaign City Council members told city staff Tuesday night to prepare to issue debt for pay for the next stage of flood control improvements along the Boneyard Creek. And they also told staff to look into a way to pay for fixing flood control problems in city neighborhoods ---- a stormwater drainage fee.
Champaign city officials say a special fee charged to property owners --- perhaps 50 dollars a month on a single-family home --- could be used to pay for storm-sewer repairs and upgrades. At last night's city council study session, several residents from flood-prone neighborhoods said they favor such a fee over the current cost-sharing program, where residents in the affected neighborhood would pay 75 percent of the bill. Jim Creighton, the spokesperson for the West Washington Street Watershed Steering Committee, says there's nothing wrong with having all city residents share the cost of neighborhood drainage repairs.
"Others do benefit from fixing our drainage problems", argued Creighton. "It first stabilizes, then improves our neighborhood's property value, thus allowing us to make home improvements, increasing our properties further, ultimately increasing the tax base which helps all of us."
But a resident in the John Street Watershed didn't want to reject the cost-sharing model out of hand. Kelly Bean, who serves on her neighborhood's Watershed Steering Committee, says she knows a lot of residents ready to share the bill for drainage repairs.
"I have a number of checks dropped by my house", said Bean, "from families of moderate income that are ready to see the big pipe go in the ground in the John Street Watershed Area. This needs to happen yesterday."
While they wanted to preserve the cost-sharing option, Champaign city council members directed city staff to study the stormwater drainage fee idea further, along with other funding options. Finance Director Richard Schnuer says more details on the proposed fee could be ready at a study session in Dember.
A week after announcing his resignation, former University of Illinois Urbana Chancellor Richard Herman is a finalist for a university president's job in New Mexico.
On Tuesday, a search committee at New Mexico State University listed Herman's name among five finalists. The chair of that committee, Del Archuleta, says Herman was among 18 people who interviewed for the job among 60 applicants. And Archuleta says a search firm helping in the process was well aware of the admissions scandal that prompted Herman to step down at the U of I.
"We think the search consultants really explored that,' says Archuleta. "And then the amount of interviews that we've had to date, reference checks, etc. made it such that at least at this point we've felt that he, with the great career that he's had, should be considered by our university as a possible president." The presidential search committee included former Illinois basketball coach Lou Henson. Archuleta says Herman is a finalist not only because of his record, but like the U of I, New Mexico State University is a land grant university, and believe he'd be able to garner the attention of state lawmakers, and lure in research funds.
Next week, finalists for the President's job will visit the campus in Las Cruces, New Mexico for 3 days of interviews with faculty, the community, and the University's Board of Regents. A decision is expected by November 19th. At the U of I, Herman is now serving in the role of special assistant to interim President Stanley Ikenberry. He's slated to start as a math professor next July, earning $244,000 a year as he takes a 1-year sabbatical before returning to the Urbana campus.
The next generation of the nation's electricity backbone will need stronger systems to protect it from attacks.
That's why the federal government is setting up an institute dedicated to computer security as it puts more than three billion dollars into improving the electric grid. The University of Illinois' Information Trust Institute will be a part of that effort, helping design software that keeps the improved power network safe from hackers.
Institute director Bill Sanders says the threat exists because the so-called "smart grid" will involve much more computerization than the current system.
"There's much more computerization, both on the distribution side -- and the distribution side is the kind of equipment you might have in your house that actually delivers the power to your house and the feedback and control there -- and on the transmission side, a wide-area data network that supports power generation and transports that power to somewhere near your house," Sanders said.
Three other universities are taking part in the five year, $18.8 million research program. The smart grid is expected to be more efficient and help consumers track and adjust their own power usage.
Spending cuts and a new working cash bond issue are the recommendation from the Champaign School District's finance director as a way to get the district through the new couple of years.
Gene Logas told school board members Monday night that he thinks the district should cut two million dollars from next year's budget, while issuing 2 million in working cash bonds. Another 2 million dollars would be cut from the budget the following year. Logas says the changes are needed to counter a decrease in state aid, a declining district fund balance and falling tax revenue due to tax caps and slow growth in the Consumer Price Index.
"I looked at the possibility of making no cuts at all", says Logas. "Making no cuts at all, though, sets us up with that five-million dollar deficit for next year, and puts us in a very precarious position. I just don't think we can do that."
Logas says even with a cut in spending, Unit four's fund balance will be lowered --- but will remain at an acceptable level.
But while the Unit Four school board considered possible budget cuts, it also considered new spending, thanks to the new school construction sales tax. Architects presented initial plans for the district's new magnet schools ---- a new Booker T. Washington school and an expanded Garden Hills school.
Preliminary designs for the new Booker T Washington School calls its classrooms "learning studios" with easy access to common areas, renamed "piazzas". Meanwhile, an expanded Garden Hills school building would include large spaces for art and music studies, and a stage that could be directed to both indoor and outdoor audiences.
School board members were impressed by the designs, although some wondered if all the ideas would be practical. Board member Susan Grey said that when they take a vote November 9th, board members will keep affordability in mind.
"The architects are going to throw all this cool stuff at us, and we're going to go, 'wow, that's great!' ", says Grey. "Then, when you actually start putting dollar figures to these things, there's things that may change along the way, because we have that stewardship, that responsibility, to our taxpayers, to use those dollars in the best possible way."
Champaign County's new school facility sales tax will pay for the new school buildings. A vote on the school designs is expected November 9th. Work on next year's budget will continue through the winter.
The city of Urbana wants to play catch-up with Champaign and the University of Illinois when it comes to parking fines. . A review of the fine structure concluded that Urbana doesn't charge enough to dissuade people from parking illegally. That's why parking administrator Delora Siebrecht is asking council members to increase fines for parking in restricted or prohibited areas by 20 to 25 dollars if it's paid on time.
Siebrecht says fines for letting your parking meter run out will be set up on a graduated scale.
"It's a low amount for one ticket, then the amount goes up for the second ticket, and it goes up further for the third ticket -- then you'll be at that third fine mount until August 1," said Siebrecht. "Then every year on August 1 the fine amounts will reset back to the lower fine."
Urbana currently has lower parking meter rates than Champaign or the U of I, but Siebrecht says they won't be raised just yet. She says the higher fines could raise about 100 thousand dollars extra for the city. Council members will consider the new fine structure at a study session Monday night and possibly vote on it at a later meeting.
The city of Champaign's chief financial officer is confident that there should be no more layoffs or serious budget cuts.
Richard Schnuer appears before the city council this week to unveil his five year budget outlook. He says revenue forecasts from sales and income taxes and fees may not recover very quickly from the recession - but the rate of decrease has already slowed.
"We're being conservative and expecting that to continue through this fiscal year, but then we are expecting them to stabilize," said Schnuer. "Some of the other revenues such as property tax we are not forecasting a decline but seeing very little growth."
Schnuer says the six million dollars in budget cuts and fee increase the city of Champaign enacted this year should be enough to tide the city through the sluggish revenue over the next five years.
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