Illinois Public Media News
The author of the University of Illinois' Flash Economic Index says any noticeable recovery in unemployment may happen well after the statistics point to economic recovery.
In November the index measured 91, sell below the threshold for economic growth, but it's improved one whole percentage point in the last two months.
But U of I economist Fred Giertz says the state may not have seen its highest unemployment rate in the current recession just yet. Giertz says unemployment often lags behind economic improvement.
A Saturday memorial service has been planned for an Eastern Illinois University football coach killed in a traffic accident, while his wife and one of his children remain hospitalized.
University officials say the service for assistant coach Jeff Hoover will be held in the student union at 2:30 Saturday afternoon.
Hoover died Saturday night while he, another coach and their families drove back from a football game in Carbondale. Officials say the vehicle they were in swerved to avoid a deer and rolled over.
The university says Hoover's wife, Penny, and one of their two children are in fair condition at Urbana's Carle Foundation Hospital. The Hoovers' other child and three other people in the vehicle are all out of the hospital.
The Champaign Unit Four School Board will hold a special meeting next Monday night, to decide what to do about budget overruns for the expansion and renovation of Garden Hills Elementary School. At a study session this past Monday night, board members discussed the news that the project will cost 25 percent more than first estimated --- unless changes are made.
Mark Ritz of the architectural firm BLDD says the Garden Hills project is now estimated to cost 15-point-5 million dollars, in part because renovations requested for the present building are more extensive than expected. He says they could meet the original 12 million dollar estimate by cutting back on those renovations, and making the new wing a little smaller than planned. But Superintendent Arthur Culver says sticking to the original Garden Hills school plan at the higher price would be worth it.
"We can reduce costs", Culver told the school board, "we can reduce those classrooms down to a thousand square feet and so forth. But that's really not ideal. And I was just hoping that we could open our minds up to exploring, maybe going a little bit beyond what we originally expected."
Unit Four Finance Director Gene Logas says the district can afford the higher cost, because the bond issue for this and other construction projects will also be higher than originally planned. But school board members were torn on the question, and wanted more information.
Board member Kristine Chalifoux favored cutting back on the Garden Hills project to bring it in at the 12- million dollar level. But she says there were arguments on both sides.
"I'd love to have a big gym", says Chalifoux, "I'd love it for the community. But it will take away from what we can do --- educationally even --- at one of our other schools. Is that the trade off, we want to decide to make? Now, there's also the other side --- if you're going to do it, do it right, and we'll figure out the next one when we come to it".
Next Monday's special school board meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:30 PM, at the Unit Four Mellon Administrative Center.
A proposal to use tax money from Champaign County wind turbine farms to pay for renewable energy for county facilities was voted down by a Champaign County Board committee Monday night.
Members of the Environment and Land Use Committee voted 4 to 3 against Urbana Democrat Sam Smucker's proposal to place a portion of those tax revenues into a special Renewable Energy Fund.
The County Board recently approved regulations for placing wind farms in the area, and expects to receive applications from companies in the coming months. Smucker says when that happens... the county should use a share of the tax revenue to cut its energy costs --- perhaps in league with other local governments.
"One possibility is that we would simply try to move some of our buildings towards solar energy," says Smucker. "Another possibility is that we would try to go in with other governments --- the city governments or the school boards --- and build a wind turbine to power our facilities. All of that's up in the air. But it seems to me the first step is to make sure the resources are there."
Smucker says his proposal would make sure some of the money made by wind farms in Champaign County, is used to help the county. "When a company builds a wind turbine in Champaign County, that energy is going to get sold on the open electricity markets", says Smucker. "So that energy's going to go outside of Champaign County, most likely. But this is the way we can capture some of the growth in renewable energy, and bring it right back home. "
Under Smucker's proposal, the Renewable Energy Fund would collect about 100-dollars per year from each wind turbine built in Champaign County.
Smucker says he may bring his proposal back to the County Board next year. He says his big challenge will be to convince his fellow board members of the need for long-term energy planning.
A Savoy man was expected to make his first court appearance Wednesday afternoon in connection to a fatal crash that occurred Monday night on Interstate 74 in Champaign.
State Police arrested 27-year old David McClain Tuesday on charges of reckless homicide and leaving the scene of a fatal accident. The wreck claimed the life of 26-year old Yingbo Zhou, a University of Illinois student from China. Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup says a preliminary autopsy shows the woman died of a traumatic head injury. Four others were injured in the crash. State Police say McClain's SUV crashed into a car in which Zhou was a passenger, and then sped away. According to court records, he had been arrested last month for driving with a suspended license, and faced many other traffic violations in Champaign County the last several years.
Unemployment has crept upward in Illinois' metropolitan areas, including Champaign-Urbana, Danville and Decatur. The state department of employment services says the October jobless rate in Champaign-Urbana and vicinity hit 8.6 percent, three tenths of a point higher than September and more than two and a half percent higher than October of last year. The rate for the Danville area rose to 12.1 percent, with Decatur checking in at 12.7 percent, third highest behind Rockford and Kankakee. The state says Champaign-Urbana lost about 18 hundred jobs when compared to this time last year.
A 24-year-old Champaign man is facing criminal charges in the death of a man found unresponsive at a party in Normal nearly two months ago.
Javier F. Cordova is being held at the McLean County jail on preliminary charges of involuntary manslaughter in the death of his housemate, 26-year-old Mitchell Robinson, also of Champaign.
Robinson's death was ruled a homicide Tuesday by McLean County Coroner Beth Kimmerling. She said Autopsy results indicated Robinson was brain dead as a result of strangling.
Robinson, a student at Parkland Community College in Champaign, was found by friends in an apartment just after midnight Sept. 27. He was pronounced dead at BroMenn Regional Medical Center in Normal, about an hour later.
The Gateway Studios shutdown ... controversy over the Safe Haven tent community ... and the financial crisis at Restoration Urbana Ministries. All three involved problems with housing for the poor in Champaign. And they were on the minds of Champaign City Council members Tuesday night, as they endorsed a three-pronged approach to city housing problems.
Champaign Council members told city staff to work up detailed proposals on a plan for emergency tenant relocation, for cases like the Gateway Studios shutdown ... a safety net fund to help local agencies provide more emergency shelter services ... and a comprehensive housing study done in cooperation with other local governments.
District Two Councilman Mike LaDue called the proposals conservative, given the scope of the housing problem.
"We're suggesting a very tiny amount of caulk for some very large cracks in the planks that constitute our social platform, through which people fall all the time", said LaDue. "And they will be falling more, and further and with greater frequency as the economy worsens.
But District Five Councilman Dave Johnson said they still have to decide the city's exact role in preventing homelessness.
"Are we a facilitator?" asked Johnson. "Are we the big brother to help these agencies, developers and the federal government to get involved and fund these projects and work together? Are we like (Priceline TV pitchman) William Shatner --- are we supposed to be the "Negotiator" and get this done? Or are we supposed to really be a builder and developer and get into the housing business. I mean, that's kind of the thousand-pound gorilla in the room here. Are we supposed to do that? Is this a fundamental issue that the city should get involved in? And of course, that begs the next question --- where's the money coming from? Who's the funding source? Is the city the funding source? Are our constituents, through taxing, the funding source?"
For now, the city has identified 60-thousand dollars in existing funds to play for two years of emergency tenant relocation, and 30-thousand to help fund the housing study.
Champaign Neighborhood Services Director Kevin Jackson says they'll be back before the council with specifics on the three proposals in December and January.
Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden says part of a new state election law threatens the principle of a secret ballot.
He's filed a lawsuit that would block local elections officials from utilizing the Undervote Notification Law in February's primary. That provision would indicate that someone failed to cast a single vote for a statewide office, like Governor or Comptroller, or even one that's uncontested, like Secretary of State. Shelden says after a tabulating machine indicates an error message, an election judge would give that person the option of keeping their ballot as is, filling out a new one, or completing their ballot. Shelden says people shouldn't be forced to vote for an office if they're not familiar with the candidates, or simply don't care.
"I believe that part of what's going to happen here is the intent is to try to intimidate people into casting all the votes for all the races," says Shelden. "Maybe they haven't made up their mind on a race, and for whatever reason, they want to leave that race blank, and we think it's their right to leave it blank and not be harrassed at this final step in the voting process." The Undervote law was part of the 2007 omnibus election bill. Shelden's lawsuit filed Friday in Champaign County Court would seek an injunction to block the use of the provision in February, but he hopes to have it declared unconstitutional. No other lawsuits have been filed in the state, but Shelden says other county clerks are considering such action, with hopes that state lawmakers will change the omnibus bill. He estimates around 8,000 Champaign County voters will receive the error message if the provision remains in place for the upcoming primary.
New York is only other state to have passed the undervote provision, but an emergency rule was passed there to block the use of it before the state's last election.
Graduate workers at the University of Illinois' Urbana campus are a step closer to finalizing a new 3-year contract.
Members of the Graduate Employees Organization ratified the agreement between Thursday and Sunday, forwarding it to U of I administrators. The GEO unanimously voted to suspend a 2-day strike at a membership meeting last Tuesday night, after coming to agreement on protection for tuition waivers. The two sides had already agreed on items like salary, health care, and child care.
Spokesman Peter Campbell says the GEO's 26-hundred members had ample opportunity to cast a ballot from Thursday morning through Sunday, and he's not alarmed that about 350 members turned out for it. "Given all of the work and labor and energy that GEO members have invested, it doesn't really surprise me that this sort of final step would not have quite as high of a participation as the strike authorization vote," says Campbell. Campbell says a small portion of the votes, or just over 30, were against the agreement during the ratification vote. GEO members have been at work since last Tuesday evening.
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler says the ratification will not require a vote from university trustees, as previously thought. She says the ratification vote could come yet this week, and involves five individuals, including the comptroller, interim Provost and Chancellor Robert Easter, and a chief negotiator. But Kaler says those campus leaders had yet to receive the contract from the GEO as of Monday afternoon.
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