Illinois Public Media News
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.
This week's Champaign city council meeting brought out angry calls among adults for a police chief's resignation and for reviews of police policy. With emotions still strong, a subdued crowd of local youth last night looked for greater lines of communication following the police shooting death of Kiwane Carrington.
Aaron Ammons of Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice led about 100 people in a chant of "no more stolen lives" as they marched towards the rally at the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club. But more than 200 would eventually file into the gym, mostly African-American youth, where they would bring their remembrances of 15-year old Kiwane Carrington, who died two weeks ago today.
Youth Media Workshop co-director Will Paterson served as facilitator of the 90-minute forum. He says while young people are concerned, angry, and afraid about what happened... they aren't disrespectful.
"You need to respect the police officers and not back-talking to them -- and these were young people saying that, not adults," Paterson said. "They were saying that to each other. They called for better representation in terms of people hearing their concerns, but they were also talking about respecting authority."
16-year old Lavon Miller was a friend of Carrington's. He says lot of hurt remains, but wants to let the investigation of the October 9th shooting death play itself out. "Young black men going out here, starting trouble and revenge and starting even more problem -- that's a concern for me. Let the law take in in their hands," Miller said.
Aaron Ammons says the event was about young people being part of the solution and not the problem.
Sunday night, America will see the fantasy that Philo residents Nathan and Jenny Montgomery and their family have been living since last August. The ABC reality show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" destroyed the family's dilapidated home and built them a new one, filled with new furnishings. Nathan Montgomery's creation of the Salt and Light food bank helped get them selected.
"Extreme Makeover" belongs to a TV genre that's often pummeled by critics for hype, over-commercialization and lowest-common-denominator values. But University of Illinois media observer James Hay says reality TV has real roots. He tells AM 580's Tom Rogers the shows grew out of an ethic that took hold as the century changed and Americans chose a conservative government.
September provided a bit of a respite in east central Illinois' unemployment picture. With the exception of Douglas and Iroquois counties, the jobless rate went down slightly from August to September in the region - in the Champaign-Urbana area, it went down from 8.6 to 8.3 percent. But unemployment is still well above the situation a year ago at this time. It's especially high in the Danville and Decatur areas, where it's been at 12 percent-plus for a few months. At over ten percent, Illinois' jobless rate as a state exceeds the national average.
A homeless community in Champaign appears to have a place to stay through the winter after several moves the last few months.
This weekend, cleanup will begin on 17 vacant rooms at Restoration Urban Ministries, with hopes that the residents the Safe Haven group can move in there in about three weeks. An agreement is being finalized between those two groups and Empty Tomb, which is providing the volunteers, including many contractors. The Safe Haven community was forced to leave the backyard of the Catholic Worker House in June when the city ruled its tents violated a zoning ordinance. The group has moved twice more since then, now staying in the parsonage center of St. Mary Catholic Church.
Empty Tomb's Sylvia Ronsvalle says many hours of work will be needed to bring Restoration's rooms up to code. "Plumbing issues that need to be addressed, there are holes in the drywall, there are water heaters that will have to be replaced," says Ronsvalle. "We have a donation of carpeting as well, since that will have to be replaced, and things need to be painted. So there's definitely work to be done." It's not known if Safe Haven will need all 17 rooms - but Ronsvale says it only makes sense to renovate them, so all of them will be available next spring when that group moves out. Area churches are securing the funds to collect the materials for completing the work in those rooms. Ronsvale estimates it will cost about $1,000 per room, with about $7,000 in donations collected so far.
The University of Illinois Fighting Illini basketball team is nearing the start of a new season. But because of a new edict from the coach, you shouldn't expect to get any practice updates from players who use the social networking site Twitter. Rob McColley of the Champaign-Urbana website Smile Politely reports for AM 580.
A proposed combination of Carle Foundation Hospital and Carle Clinic Association may not settle ongoing tax issues surrounding health care facilities in Illinois - in fact, it may complicate them.
Carle Hospital - a not-for-profit company with tax exemptions - plans to purchase Carle Clinic Association, a separate, for-profit firm. The combination would be considered a not-for-profit company.
A University of Illinois law professor says the move makes good business sense. John Colombo says integrating the two organizations will help improve work flow, cost and the way patients get care. But he wonders what may happen if the combined Carle seeks tax exemptions for clinic buildings after paying taxes on them for years. Colombo says local governments will keep a very close eye on that.
"If I were the county assessor or on the county board of review, at this stage I'd demand a lot of evidence that there is serious charity care work going at these sites (Carle Clinic's facilities), and if couldn't get this evidence from Carle I'd recommend a denial of tax exemption and at this point let Carle litigate the issue, Colombo said.
Colombo says doctors who held an ownership stake in Carle Clinic would lose some autonomy under such a deal, but he says they may also get more job stability in return. Those doctors -- and state regulators -- still have to approve the deal. Carle is not granting interviews on the proposal.
Carle Hospital is challenging the loss of its tax-exempt status for property taxes. State and county officials ruled that Carle was not providing enough charity care to qualify.
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