Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 19, 2010

Purse Snatcher Wields Syringe on U of I Quad

An Urbana man was arrested on the University Illinois Quad Friday afternoon, after allegedly snatching a woman's purse and threatening to use a syringe to stab passersby who pursued him.

Jeff Unger of the U of I News Bureau says U of I and Champaign Police have charged 20 year old Nathaniel Huff with robbery, aggravated battery and possession of a syringe. Authorities say Huff is not a student.

The incident occurred on the south end of the Quad, near Gregory and Lincoln Halls. Unger says Huff allegedly grabbed a woman's purse and ran off. But a number of people in the vicinity ran after and restrained him, despite Huff's threats to stab them with the syringe. No one was injured. Police aren't sure if anything was in the syringe.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 19, 2010

Forbes Study Places Fighting Illini Among Most Valuable Teams

In a season where the Fighting Illini's bid to make the NCAA tournament fell short, a study by Forbes magazine says it's still among the most financially viable college basketball programs.

The team ranked 5th in the magazine's study and tops among Big Ten Conference teams with a value of $20.8 million. Reporter Peter Schwartz analyzed 'dividends' that teams can generate, including money for academics and scholarships, their athletic conference, and their community at large. In Forbes' third annual ranking of the most valuable college basketball teams, Schwartz says the U of I's athletic department was also able to keep costs for basketball down while helping a lot of so-called 'non-revenue' sports like volleyball and tennis.

Schwartz also says being one of the primary attractions of the area doesn't hurt. "There's even more professional sports competition in and around the area as well, but at the same time, being in Urbana and not being in Chicago actually plays to the programs' benefit." says Schwartz. Schwartz says the Illini's most impressive figures include $7-million in gate receipts, and more than $4 million coming from season ticket holders. Schwartz says success on the court also plays a role into a team's financial success. The Fighting Illini are hosting at least one postseason game next week as part of the NIT Tournament. Schwartz says that will help a team, but it's not a deciding factor in its final ranking in the study.

Other Big Ten schools on Forbes' list of the 20 most valuable teams include Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Minnesota. Tops on the list was the North Carolina Tar Heels, with a value of $29 million.

Categories: Economics, Education, Sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 19, 2010

Champaign County Bd Votes to Set Up Redistricting Commission

In an attempt to take the politics out of drawing county board district boundaries ... the Champaign County Board voted Thursday night to form a special Redistricting Commission, in which the majority of members will be citizens from the community. County officials believe the commission may be a first for Illinois.

The new commission is an attempt to get past district maps drawn to favor whichever party holds the majority on the county board. For the map to be based on 2010 Census data, the Champaign County Board will vote on a map drawn up by a commission made up of four county members --- two from each party --- and seven at-large members representing different sectors of the community, such as business, labor, farmers, students --- and political independents. Democrat Steve Beckett says the goal is to come up with district boundaries that are drawn fairly and don't favor one party over another.

"I think it uses these principles, and it tests maps", says Beckett, "and it tries to look at one that doesn't bust up villages and doesn't bust up townships, and tries to make things compact and contiguous as our statute wants us to do, and have the right population and take into account and take into account federal requirements."

Most Republicans on the county board voted for the new commission, but only a third of the county board's Democratic majority did so. Among the opponents, Urbana Democrat Tom Betz says there's simply no way that politics can be taken out of the redistricting process.

"This is a nice attempt", said Betz. "It's very good public relations. I hope it turns out to be more than good public relations. But let's not kid ourselves that politics is out of this picture, because this is going to be very political.

Betz predicted the real politics would begin when the at-large members of the Redistricting Commission are chosen. The nominations will be made by Champaign County Board Chairman Pius Weibel, who actually voted against the measure. The county board will vote to ratify Weibel's choices.

The commission rules aim for openness, with proposed maps posted on the Internet, and subjected to public hearings. Past voting data would not be considered in drawing up district boundaries. But the Champaign County Board will still have the final say on district boundaries for the 2012 election.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 18, 2010

Supreme Court Rules Against Provena Covenant’s Tax Exempt Status

The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that Urbana's Provena Covenant Medical Center will have to pay property taxes to Champaign County dating back to 2002.

Justices determined Thursday that the hospital did not provide enough charity care to qualify for its tax exemption, upholding an appellate court ruling. That amount in taxes is expected to be around $8 million.

The Champaign County Board of Review initially recommended to the Illinois Department of Revenue that the hospital be denied the exemption. Chair Laura Standefur says after reviewing financial statements that her board found a few reasons for turning the hospital down, but it started with the amount of charity care. Sandefur says it's hard to define, but the board knows when it's not at the appropriate level.

"Charity, I think, is kind of that same way," Sandefur said. "Less than one percent, is that exclusive use? What defines exclusive or even majority use? None of us on the board could really look at those numbers and think that that was used exclusively for charitable purposes."

Champaign County treasurer Dan Welch says it's still not clear how the roughly $8 million in property taxes should be collected. He says the majority of the funds would be earmarked for Urbana's Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, district. But he says Urbana city leaders may be able to change how those funds are divided. Mayor Laurel Prussing has already suggested breaking down those funds among taxing bodies, including more than $4 million for schools, $1.2 million for the city, and $720,000 for Champaign County.

Provena officials released a written statement on the Supreme Court decision. Local Hospital Board Chairman Cody Sokolski says he's deeply disappointed in the ruling, noting that the hospital provided more than $38 million in free care and other community benefits in 2008. Provena Covenant CEO David Bertauski says he hopes the ruling prompts a dialogue among elected officials and hospitals over how charity care should be defined.

Six years ago Provena's tax exempt status for 2002 was revoked after the state department of revenue sided with Champaign County officials. A circuit court judge overturned the ruling, but an appeals court later reversed it again in the state and county's favor. In the meantime, Provena has been putting contested tax money - more than a million dollars a year -- into a fund that remained tied up pending the Supreme Court ruling.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 18, 2010

Churches Struggle to Keep Up with Demand in Assistance

As unemployment climbs and economic hard times worsen for many in Champaign County, area churches are finding it difficult to keep up with the need. Shelley Smithson reports as part of a joint project confronting poverty in the area.

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Categories: Community, Economics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 18, 2010

Bill for Elected U of I Trustees Defeated in Illinois House

University of Illinois trustees will continue to be appointed by the governor, rather than elected. The Illinois House voted down an effort to change how U of I board members are chosen.

The calls to return to an elected U of I board of trustees grew louder following a scandal last year over the role clout played in admissions at the Urbana Champaign campus. Seven members resigned under pressure and Governor Pat Quinn chose replacements.

The bill before the Illinois House on Wednesday would have seven U of I trustees elected by the voters --- three of the seats would be reserved for residents of Illinois' First Judicial District, which covers Cook County. In addition, six other trustee seats would be appointed by the U of I Alumni Association. And faculty trustees would be added to the student trustees who already serve on the board. The governor would continue to have a tie-breaking seat on the U of I Board, but would no longer appoint any of its members.

State Representative Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet)... a U of I alum... was among those who say electing trustees would guarantee accountability.

"If the body wants to condone what took place at the University of Illinois, by all means vote no", Rose told his fellow lawmakers.

The plan was defeated, with 44 yeas, 69 yays and one member voting present. House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) voted against the measure, while Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Plainfield) voted for it..

Skokie Representative Lou Lang (D-Skokie)...who also graduated from the U of I ... says he voted against it because it leaves out other universities. He adds it's too soon to tell how the current board is doing....

"Because it singles out one single university", says Lang, "a university where it has new trustees and we don't know how well they'll perform, I think the bill is ill advised."

Other lawmakers argued the public would wind up voting for trustees with little knowledge of the candidates.

The measure was sponsored by Olney Republican --- and U of I alum --- David Reis. Its co-sponsors were all Republicans from the east-central Illinois region where the university is based --- Rose, Bill Black, Shane Cultra and Bill Mitchell. Area Democrats Naomi Jakobsson and Robert Flider also voted for the bill.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 17, 2010

Champaign Council Reverses Course, Accepts Federal Law Enforcement Money

In a reversal of a previous "no" vote, the Champaign City Council has voted to 6-2 to accept its share of a federal grant aimed at curbing underage drinking in Champaign-Urbana.

Urbana and the University of Illinois are also involved in the grant, but the Champaign City Council last month rejected its portion, 11-thousand dollars a year for three years, to fund police efforts to curb underage drinking.

But after the director of the Mental Health Center of Champaign County made a personal plea, enough council members changed their minds Tuesday night to turn last month's "no" vote into a "yes" .

Marci Dodds was among those who switched, even though she thinks the city doesn't need the money, and believes it would be better to combat problem drinking at any age, rather than all drinking by minors.

"In understanding the ramifications of what this means to the Mental Health Center at large, I will vote for it," said Dodds, "because I greatly support what the Mental Health Center does. But I am not thrilled with the plan."

The $360,000 3-year grant will also fund education programs aimed at preventing underage drinking, under the sponsorship of the Mental Health Center. City Manager Steve Carter says the grant is aimed at both policing and prevention --- and if Champaign rejected its portion, it could endanger the entire program.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 17, 2010

139 Urbana School Employees Given RIF Notices, Their Futures Unclear

Every spring, school boards in Illinois announce tentative layoffs, known as RIFs or 'reduction in force' notices. The majority of those receiving RIF notices are usually hired back by the next school year. But that may not be the case with the Urbana school district.

The Urbana School Board voted last Tuesday night to give RIF notices to 139 employees - both teachers and other staff. That's almost 3 times as many RIF notices as were given last year. And they include some of the 20 positions that were eliminated by the Board as part of budget cuts approved Sunday evening.

More than half of those getting RIF notices are usually hired back, once grant funds are received and the state budget is finalized. But Urbana school officials say it's not clear how many of the teachers and staff receiving RIFs will be hired back. And School Board President John Dimit said these RIF notices do not take into account the budget cuts proposed by Governor Quinn in recent weeks.

"Quite honestly, the budget as presented by the Governor would have made those cuts deeper, way deeper," Dimit said.

Dimit says they've been warned to expect the state's budget problems to extend for several years. In fact, the Urbana School Board will start looking ahead to the 2011-2012 school budget after next week's spring break. Looking this far ahead isn't typical. But Dimit says there are certain decisions the Urbana Board will need to make that will require advance planning.

The staff affected by the RIFs will be notified today Wednesday.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 17, 2010

Big Broadband” Passes Champaign Council

Champaign-Urbana's Big Broadband proposal cleared a major hurdle last Tuesday night. The Champaign City Council voted 7-1 to accept a federal grant to help create a new high-speed fiber broadband system --- despite worries about possible future costs.

Champaign is saying yes to a $22 million federal grant plus $3.5 million in state funding to pay for the core infrastructure of the broadband system, plus fiber-to-the-home broadband installations in underserved neighborhoods. Councilman Tom Bruno says the system will give Champaign-Urbana a competitive edge with businesses for the next few years.

"We will have better connectivity than other similar communities," Bruno said. "When somebody trying to decide where to invest, or where to bring the jobs, will like Champaign-Urbana a little bit more than some other city, we will be a little bit ahead of the curve."

But accepting the broadband grant also commits Champaign to spending $688,000 of its own money. Along with Urbana and the U of I, Champaign will become a retail broadband provider, a risk that worries Mayor Jerry Schweighart, who cast the only vote against the project.

"I see a lot of pitfalls on this, and it's going to cost the cities a lot of money at a time when we don't have a lot of money," Schweighatr told council members. "I hope I'm wrong, hope it's highly successful. But I cannot, after reading everything, convince myself to support it."

The Urbana City Council takes its own vote on the Big Broadband project next week.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 16, 2010

Supreme Court Ruling May Give Resolution to Tax Question for Provena Hospital

The Illinois Supreme Court is expected to issue its ruling Thursday in a taxation case that could affect dozens of not-for-profit hospitals in Illinois.

The case involves Provena Covenant Medical Center in Urbana. In 2004 it lost its property tax exempt status because county officials determined the hospital did not provide enough charitable care. State revenue officials agreed, but an appeals court reversed the lower court's decision against Provena. At issue is whether Provena still owes local governments more than a million dollars in property taxes a year since the initial decision. The case is on the high court's list of decisions to be released Thursday - both sides argued before the justices last September.


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