Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 14, 2009

Savoy Gets Ready to Annex Land to Ensure Continued Work on Curtis Road Project

Annexation talks with a private landowner are going a little slow, so the village of Savoy is trying another approach to gain jurisdiction over a stretch of Curtis Road --- and to keep a road improvement project moving.

The village board voted Wednesday night to acquire county-owned land in Champaign Township along Curtis Road, east of Prospect. The 20 acres includes land for a water detention basin. But most of it is a narrow strip running along Curtis Road. The county obtained the land for the Curtis Road improvement project, and it was slated for eventual annexation by Savoy. But Savoy officials are acquiring it now, to ward off Champaign Township's effort to hold up the project.

Savoy Mayor Robert McCleary says he wants to avoid any delay in the Curtis Road project, which is intended to make the road ready for increased traffic from the new I-57 interchange. He says acquiring the land from the county ahead of schedule is a good solution. "And if it ever quits raining," he adds, "and they can finish up that first phase, we should be in a position to allow that second phase to keep right on marching, and not have to worry about our federal and state dollars."

Champaign Township has refused to approve work on the stretch of Curtis Road under its jurisdiction, until the city of Champaign grants it concessions in a long-running annexation dispute. In response, the city and Savoy have turned to annexing land along Curtis Road in Champaign Township to avoid delays on the road project. Champaign has reached an agreement to annex privately owned land at the corner of Curtis and Mattis.

The Champaign County Board will vote next week on selling the piece of land to Savoy. McCleary says negotiations with the Lo family for farmland along the same stretch of Curtis Road will continue.

Categories: Transportation

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 13, 2009

Chamapign Council Approves Budget Cuts in Principle

The Champaign City Council did some budget cutting during Tuesday night's study session. Council members approved a series of cuts to the budgets of police, fire, public works and administrative departments. Nearly 2.2 million dollars went on the chopping block. Many of the cuts eliminated positions that are currently vacant, or will become vacant in time, due to retirements.

District Four Councilwoman Marci Dodds voted against the cuts in police service --- the only "no" vote cast against the budget cuts last night. Dodds opposed the elimination of three vacant patrol officer positions. She says losing those positions will make it harder for the police department to staff its Community Assistance Teams --- teams she says have made a big difference in the Garden Hills neighborhood.

"And it could be happenstance, but the fire reductions and the public works reductions seemed less onerous than losing three police officers, particularly when we already have an understaffed district that's growing," Dodds said.

Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney says the Community Assistance Teams will continue, even without the three patrol officer positions. But he says any additional cuts could endanger the program. Finney says while the police budget cuts may affect some programs, it will have no impact on the department's ability to respond to emergency calls. And he says the department is apply for a grant to pay the lion's share of restoring the three patrol officer positions.

The Champaign City Council will continue to hold budget hearings in May. A final vote is expected in June.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 13, 2009

Gateway Studios Residents Approach Chamapign Council for More Help

Champaign city officials say they did what they could to help residents of Gateway Studios, who were forced to move out when Ameren turned off the gas and electricity yesterday (Tuesday). The owners had fallen behind in its utility bills, but residents paying for rooms by the week or the month didn't learn about the impending shutdown until late last week.

Neighborhood Service Director Kevin Jackson says the city worked with local service agencies to make sure everybody who lived at the Gateway had a place to stay last night, and help in finding more permanent living quarters. Now, Jackson says he now wants to look to the future. "I know, going forward, we want to learn from this to see if there is something we could do from a local policy standpoint to prevent something like this from happening again," Jackson said.

Prevention was also on the minds of several people who came to last night's city council study session, but were not allowed to speak. After the meeting, they met in small groups with Jackson and about five city council members. The group was organized by Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice. Many of them said the city of Champaign should have a policy in place to identify motels and apartment complexes in danger of closing, so residents have more advance warning. They also called for a special city fund help people who face motel or apartment closings through no fault of their own.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 12, 2009

Illinois Corrections Director To Be Let Go

Gov. Pat Quinn says he's going to appoint a new head of the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Quinn refused Tuesday to divulge who he would name, but he said an announcement was likely later this week.

The governor says a priority will be looking at operations at the Tamms Correctional Center. Some question the long hours inmates spend in solitary confinement at the Alexander County prison.

The corrections department has been run by former Macon County Sheriff Roger E. Walker Jr. since 2003. Department spokesman Derek Schnapp says Walker has no immediate comment.

Quinn didn't say why he was making the appointment.

Walker was an appointee of ousted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but Quinn has kept other Blagojevich hires in his administration.



AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 12, 2009

New Company Hopes to Hire Some Laid-off Paxton Workers

The Baltimore Aircoil plant in Paxton will close its gates by the end of June, and all 223 workers will be laid off. But the city says it can save at least some of the jobs.

Mayor William Ingold says another manufacturing company ... Colmac Industries... will locate in the city and is going to use parts of the Baltimore Aircoil building:

"They're going to retain one of the lines that was used by Baltimore Aircoil, and they'll retain 20 to 25 employees right away with more coming online later on and keeping the plant going to a certain extent," Ingold said.

Ingold says the city council has approved a $375,000 low-interest loan to create jobs at the Colmac Industries plant - he says former Baltimore Aircoil workers may qualify for those jobs. The company plans to start manufacturing as soon as possible.

Ingold says he still doesn't understand why Baltimore Aircoil feels the need to close.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 12, 2009

Champaign School Board OKs READY Program for Alternative Education Next Year

Five months after the closing of Columbia Center, the Champaign School Board has confirmed that a regional program will teach most of its students expelled from school for the foreseeable future.

Unit Four school board members voted unanimously Monday night to pay 43-thousand dollars over the next two years for an expanded READY program. The Regional Office of Education for Champaign and Ford Counties operates READY as an alternative program for middle and high school students with behavioral problems. School Board President Dave Tomlinson says READY will be the first choice in such cases. "(The READY program has) been doing a good job for several years," says Tomlinson. "We've transitioned in that (alternative education) category already to READY for this year, so we're going to continue to do that for the foreseeable future."

READY didn't have the capacity this semester to accept all the students that Unit Four wanted to send to it. A few receive home instruction instead --- a program actually designed for students forced to stay home due to medical conditions.

Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Services Michael McFarland says the expansion of READY should make it big enough to accept all Unit Four students needing alternative education. He says a few with special education needs will continue to be sent to the Circle Academy at the Cunningham Children's Home in Urbana, or the Pavilion Foundation School in Champaign

Categories: Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 12, 2009

Judge Rules Against Comprehensive Hearing in Unit Four Consent Decree Case

A federal judge has turned down a request from the plaintiffs in the Champaign Unit Four Consent Decree case for more hearings.

Attorneys for plaintiffs in the racial equity case had requested hearings on its motions to extend the Consent Decree past June 30th. They also wanted a comprehensive hearing on whether the Champaign school district had been acting in good faith in all its actions to meet the requirements of the decree. But Judge Joe Billy McDade ruled Monday that the decree does not require such hearings.

Unit Four School Board President Dave Tomlinson says he's pleased with the judge's decision. He says the move will limit hearings in the Consent Decree case to whether the district has met specific requirements in special and alternative education and building new classrooms on the north side of Champaign. He denied charges from the plaintiff's attorney that opposing a comprehensive hearing was an attempt to shut out public comment. "This is a court document and we have to fight this in court," Tomlinson said.

Plaintiffs' attorney Carol Ashley could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

Categories: Education, Race/Ethnicity

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 11, 2009

UI Grad on Monday’s Shuttle Mission to Hubble Telescope

An astronaut from Central Illinois will lead NASA's space shuttle mission this afternoon.

The commander leading a seven-member crew on the shuttle Atlantis to the Hubble Space Telescope is University of Illinois graduate Scott Altman. This mission has been long-delayed, originally scheduled for last October. On-board equipment that transmits data back to Earth broke down, and it's taken months for engineers to prepare replacement equipment that the Atlantis crew will take to the Hubble.

This is one of 8 or 9 final missions for the Space Shuttle program. It's expected to be phased out either next year or early 2011, depending on government funding. Altman, who was on three other shuttle missions, says he'd like to believe the U of I could play a role when the Orion space capsule resumes manned missions around 2015.

"When I came to NASA, I'd hoped I would be one of the first people to visit Mars and go beyond where we've been. Now I realize it's the next generation that's going to do that, and it's the people I talk to at Illinois who are going to make that happen and be a key part of that," Altman said. "I kind of envy them (for) that opportunity."

Altman says he's happy to pass the torch to potential astronauts, but he admits he's envious of them when making return visits to his alma mater. Altman received a master's degree in aeronautical engineering from the U of I in 1990. He's a native of Pekin.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 11, 2009

Champaign Wants a Bigger Buffer Zone for Outlying Wind Turbines

The Champaign County Board is expected to vote this month on a proposal to allow the development of wind turbine farms on agricultural land. Some Champaign city officials say that's fine with them --- if the county inserts a new rule to keeping the wind farms further away from the city.

Champaign and other communities already have a mile and a half around their borders where they can overrule the county on zoning. It's called 'extra-territorial jurisdiction" or ETJ. For wind farms, Champaign city planners and the city Plan Commission recommend asking the county for an additional mile of ETJ. Land Development Manager Lorrie Pearson says they want to make sure the city can grow without bumping up against a wind farm. "Whereas today if a wind farm is located immediately adjacent to the ETJ, in the future it may actually be within the ETJ or perhaps even within our growth area," Pearson said. "So we want to really look at how our city grows and have that be more consistent with our comprehensive plan rather it be regulated by wind farms that are existing within our county."

The Champaign City Council hasn't discussed the matter yet, but the County Board's Environment and Land Use Committee will look at the ETJ request at their meeting tonight, prior to a county board vote next week. Committee Chair Barb Wysocki isn't commenting on the idea. But she says the current proposals for Champaign County wind farms would be built well away from Champaign.


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