Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 17, 2010

Urbana Motor Fuel Tax Passes, Will Take Effect Oct. 1

It will cost an extra 2-cents a gallon to buy gas in Urbana, beginning October 1st.

The local motor fuel tax proposed by Mayor Laurel Prussing last spring was approved by the city council Monday night on a 4-to-3 vote. The tax going towards street maintenance and safety will generate $340,000 annually. An escalator of 0.4 cents will kick in each July for three years, bringing that total to about $544,000 dollars by 2013, but the gas tax will be up for review each of those years. The vote among council members mirrored that of a study session a week earlier.

Alderwoman Heather Stevenson has always opposed the plan, saying this may actually mean she buys her gas and does her shopping elsewhere.

"If I'm in Champaign, I'm going to purchase items over there that I possibly could purchase in Urbana." said Stevenson. "So I think it's not about traveling a mile to save money on gas, it's about saving money... and spending money - tax dollars - in another area."

Stevenson says the council needed to explore alternatives to the tax to pay for road improvements. Urbana resident Bob Bosshart opposed it, saying it will hurt the middle income during the recession.

Alderman Dennis Roberts supported what he calls a 'gentle tax' but admits passing any off on residents during a recession is tough.

"It'll be reviewed, and it is important to be self-sustaining and take care of your own streets as a municipality." said Roberts. "But I also realize that all taxes are a burden to people who are using them, so this is not the easiest vote."

Mayor Laurel Prussing says other towns enacting the tax hadn't seen an increase in gas prices when compared to neighboring communities. She proposed the tax last spring because she says state motor fuel tax dollars haven't increased in 20 years, while the cost of road repairs have more than doubled.

The gas tax also earned the approval of AFSCME Council 31's Michael Wilmore, who says union members from Urbana's Public Works Department work hard to make the city a safe place to live and travel.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 16, 2010

UC2B Seeking Anchor Institutions

As the organizers of Champaign-Urbana's Big Broadband project prepare for the start next year of construction of the high-speed fiber-optic network ... they're asking local institutions to be early participants.

The Urbana Champaign Big Broadband Consortium, or UC2B, has sent out applications to some 300 hospitals, public safety agencies, schools, social service institutions and others, asking them to become "anchor institutions" in the new broadband network.

UC2B Project Manager John Kersh says getting local institutions on board with the new network will enrich the service for residential and other customers who join them later --- because all would be receiving the same high-speed service.

"One primary example would be increased accessibility between medical facilities or rescue and fire, and residents", says Kersh. "And there could be some things that could be done with the technology and accessibility between those two entities."

Kersh says the cost of connecting to the new fiber-optic network would be free for the anchor institutions --- paid for by the federal grant UC2B was awarded earlier this year. The anchors would only pay the monthly service charge, which Kersh says will be lower than what the typical private Internet provider charges.

Potential anchor institutions have until September 1st to submit their applications.

Kersh says if UC2B keeps to its construction schedule, some of the anchor institutions could be using the new high-speed network some time next year.

UC2B is a joint project of the cities of Champaign and Urbana and the University of Illinois. A federal grant is funding construction of UC2B's core network, and hookups to underserved neighborhoods and the anchor institutions. The network will also be available to other Internet service providers.

Categories: Technology, Urban Planning

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 16, 2010

LeRoy Mother’s Suit Over Her Sons’ Deaths Moved to Federal Court

A mother's lawsuit alleging that police delays led to her sons' deaths has been moved to federal court.

Amy Leichtenberg filed the wrongful death lawsuit in March in McLean County. It now goes to federal court in Peoria.

The lawsuit claims police in LeRoy waited too long to issue an Amber Alert after she reported that her sons were overdue from a custodial visit.

Nine-year-old Duncan Leichtenberg and 7-year-old Jack of LeRoy were killed by their father, Michael Connolly, in March 2009. Connolly then killed himself.

The suit names the city of LeRoy and several police officers. Their attorneys asked that the suit be moved because some claims of wrongdoing involve federal issues rather than state issues. The suit seeks $10 million in damages.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 16, 2010

Mahomet-Seymour Teacher Talks Break Down, Strike Vote is Scheduled

Teachers in the Mahomet-Seymour School District could vote to go on strike on Wednesday, the day before classes are to begin.

The two sides are at an impasse after meeting twice over the weekend with a federal mediator, in meetings that latest about 12 hours total. The teacher's union currently has a strike vote scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

The President of the Mahomet-Seymour Education Association, Joan Jordan, said while the two sides have seen agreement in more areas, teachers' primary concern is insurance. She said the school board's proposed increase is 90-percent less than what was paid in previous contracts, meaning higher premiums for its members. Jordan said that means union members making as little as $16,500 would see a loss in pay.

"They've got money. They don't want to spend it." said Jordan. "But there are real people with lives attached to this though. I just hope that they'll come back and offer us what they should have started with."

The teacher's union has rejected the district's offer for a 2-year contract with salary increases of more than 2-percent for the first year... and just over 3-percent for the second. School Board President Terry Greene called the offer 'extremely generous' considering the economic times. The union proposed a 5-percent raise in the current year and 6-percent the next. Greene said combining that with the insurance teachers are seeking, that means Mahomet Seymour would be cutting programs, laying off employees, and class sizes would 'explode' a year from now.

"The days of 5 and 6-percent salary increases, at least for the short term, are over." said Greene. "And Cadillac insurance plans for families, while it would be nice to provide that, we don't have enough money in our school district to solve that problem."

Jordan said the union hopes to meet again with the board prior to Thursday.

Categories: Economics, Education, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 14, 2010

Quinn Acknowledges Early Prison Release Report but Won’t Fire DOC Head

Gov. Pat Quinn says he isn't going to fire the director of the Department of Corrections despite criticism of its early release of prisoners in an effort to save money.

The report released Friday, written by a former Appellate Judge David Erickson and two Quinn aides, says the department neglected the most important consideration, the potential impact on public safety.

While Quinn has placed most of the blame on Michael Randle, he says he also takes responsibility for the mistakes. He added it is his job to find remedies for those mistakes.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady blasted Quinn for skipping the presentation of the report in Springfield. He called it "a dangerous abdication of responsibility'' for Quinn not to deliver the results of the report himself.

Quinn said he was busy at the Illinois State Fair and then at an event with veterans. He later held a press conference at a Chicago beach to answer questions from reporters.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 13, 2010

Former University High School Coach Expected Back in US to Begin Prison Sentence

Authorities say a former coach at Urbana's University Laboratory High School intends to turn himself in to authorities three years after being convicted of a sex crime.

It's believed that Yuri Ermakov, 28, has been in Russia since a Champaign County jury found him guilty of criminal sexual assault. He left the courthouse in August of 2007, and a month later Judge Jeff Ford sentenced Ermakov to 12 years in prison. The charge against him stems from incidents involving female students at Uni High, where Ermakov was a track coach. University of Illinois Police Lieutenant Roy Acree says the FBI has been tracking the Ermakov the last three years - and that federal authorities told him recently the two sides had been negotiating.

"Once they determined exactly where he was, the conversations started." said Acree. "I'm not sure if the conservations were with the suspect himself or his mother, but a couple weeks ago I was contacted by the FBI, and learned that they had negotiated for him to return to the country." Ermakov lived in Urbana with his parents before allegedly fleeing the US. He's scheduled to appear before Judge Ford at a hearing Thursday morning, and is then expected to start serving his 12-year sentence. But Chicago Attorney Steve Richards has indicated he'll file a post-conviction petition on Ermakov's behalf with hopes of getting him a new trial.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 13, 2010

Despite Heat, Cyclists Ready to Ride Saturday in “C-U Across the Prairie

Highs in the mid 90s are forecast for Saturday (August 14) but that's not expected to stop hundreds of central Illinois bicyclists from taking part in this year's "C-U Across the Prairie" Bicycle Ride.

The Prairie Cycle Club holds the event each year, on a prescribed route along rural roads in Champaign County. It's known as a "metric century" event, because its 65 mile length is equal to slightly over 100 kilometers. Shorter routes are also provided, at 15 and 35 miles.

Prairie Cycle Club spokesperson Lorrie Pearson says the hot weather might slow riders down, but she says keeping hydrated and using the rest stops set up along each route should help.

"As the heat increases, you're going to want to increase the amount of fluids that you take in, so definitely bring some water" advises Pearson. "We'll have water at the rest stops, but definitely bring water with you, and fill up at each of those rest stops."

Plus there's always "Sag Support" - the nickname for the club member driving a car along the route, ready to pick up weary cyclists who phone for help.

Pearson says "C-U Across the Prairie" is a ride, not a race, and cyclists of all skill levels are welcome.

Last minute registrations will be taken at the Hideway Grill near Lake of Woods Park in Mahomet, Saturday morning between 7 and 10. Pearson suggests cyclists planning to ride the full 65-mile route should arrive by 7:30. A $30 registration fee pays for breakfast at the start of the event, and a 2 PM lunch afterward.

NOTE: This story has been corrected, to identify Lorrie Pearson as a spokesperson for, not the president of the Prairie Cycle Club.

Categories: Health, Recreation

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 13, 2010

Other Illinois Communities Taking a Second Look at FutureGen 2.0

Add Decatur and Springfield to the list of Illinois towns thinking about bidding for a role in the reworked FutureGen clean-coal project.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin's office says a number of towns have inquired since Mattoon declined to become an underground storage site for carbon dioxide from a retrofitted coal plant in western Illinois. Durbin's office won't say which towns.

Mayor Mike McElroy says Decatur is looking into how many jobs the project might bring.

Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin says the capital city will take a hard look, too.

The Department of Energy last week announced radical changes in FutureGen. Plans to build a new power plant in Mattoon were scrapped in favor of retrofitting an old plant in Meredosia.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 13, 2010

Blagojevich Jury Taking an Extended Weekend

Jurors struggling to reach agreement at the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich are taking three days off.

They are leaving the former governor, attorneys and other court watchers with an agonizing wait to find out whether they can break their apparent deadlock. There is no indication how long it might take for them to make a decision. And it's a wait that will be all the more difficult because jurors offered only the slightest of hints Thursday about what they've been doing in 12 days of deliberations.

The judge responded by telling them to deliberate further.

Since they began their deliberations two weeks ago, jurors have met Monday through Friday with weekends off.

A one-sentence statement from the court official didn't explain why they decided to take this Friday off.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 13, 2010

Mahomet-Seymour Teachers, Administrators Add Mediator to Talks

A federal mediator will sit down with administrators and teachers in the Mahomet Seymour district in hopes of bringing progress to contract talks.

Thursday night, Mahomet Seymour Education Association members rallied before a negotiation session - union president Joan Jordan and Unit 3 superintendent Keith Oates says those talks made some headway. The next step is a 6:00 session tonight with a mediator who was called in on short notice - if there's no deal tonight another session is set for Sunday afternoon.

Jordan says salary, insurance and contract language issues are still unresolved. She says teachers don't want to start the new school year next Thursday without a contract agreement - last week they filed an intent to strike notice.

Categories: Education, Politics

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