Illinois Public Media News
The U.S. Postal Service announced Thursday that it will reduce its workforce with layoffs and offers of buyouts and will close seven district offices from New England to New Mexico to help address record losses.
The reorganization, designed to eliminate 7,500 administrative, executive and postmaster jobs this year, came as a commission that is evaluating the Postal Service's plan to eliminate Saturday delivery concluded that one in four letters would be delayed by not just one but by two days.
The independent Postal Regulatory Commission also said that postal officials underestimated the losses the agency would suffer from handling less mail- and overestimated the cost savings.
Five-day service and a smaller workforce are among the Postal Service's strategies to become solvent after losses of $8.5 billion in fiscal 2010, the result of declining mail volumes. Projected losses for 2011 are $6.4 billion.
Once buyout decisions aimed at administrative staff are final in April, the agency plans to eliminate the jobs of thousands of postmasters and supervisors, many through layoffs, officials said.
"Nobody did anything wrong, but we're a victim of the economy and past legislation," said Anthony Vegliante, the Postal Service's chief human resources officer and executive vice president. The cuts are expected to save $750 million a year.
District offices that handle managerial work will close in Columbus, Ohio; Albuquerque, N.M.; Billings, Mont.; Macon, Ga.; Providence, R.I.; Troy, Mich., and Carol Stream, Ill., the Postal Service said.
The closures will pave the way for the agency to close up to 2,000 local post offices throughout the next two years, a plan announced in January.
Vegliante said he expects about 3,000 administrators to take the buyouts, which will offer $20,000 to employees over age 50 with at least 20 years of service, or any age with at least 25 years of service. Layoffs will then be used to help reach the 7,500 goal, he said, though he would not commit to a number.
The Postal Service has eliminated 105,000 full-time positions in the last two years, among them clerks, plant workers and mail handlers. Those cuts were made mostly through attrition and early retirements.
The Postal Service announced plans for five-day service in 2009, although Congress, which must approve the change, has showed little interest in pursuing it.
Among the findings of the 211-page opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission:
- Five-day service would delay by two days delivery of 25 percent of first-class and priority mail.
- The Postal Service did not adequately evaluate the effect of five-day service on rural areas.
- While the Postal Service estimated net savings from the reduced service at $3.1 billion, the commission's estimate is closer to $1.7 billion.
- Lost revenue from mail volume declines from the service cuts would be $600 million a year, not the $200 million the Postal Services estimates.
Margaret Cigno, the regulatory commission's chief analyst, said many letters normally delivered on Saturday would not arrive until Tuesday because Saturday mail would no longer be transported and processed over the weekend. "Saturday would not just end delivery, but mail would not go out," she said.
Postal officials said they would continue supporting the plan.
"I'm comfortable that people did their due diligence," Vegliante said, calling five-day service "an inevitable question."
"Whether it's tomorrow or 10 years from now, sooner or later it's got to be dealt with."
(Photo courtesy of Coolcaesar/Wikimedia Commons)
After criticism over his last choice to head the Illinois State Police, Governor Pat Quinn has selected a law enforcement veteran to run the agency.
Quinn has tabbed Hiram Grau for the position. Grau spent 27 years with the Chicago Police Department. His resume includes his rise from beat cop to deputy Superintendent for the Bureau of Investigative Services for the Cook County State's Attorney. Grau's name had surfaced as a temporary fill in for Chicago's Police Superintendent Jody Weis when he stepped down this month.
Grau's appointment for the state job must still be confirmed by the Illinois Senate. Quinn's previous choice to be State Police Director never got a hearing. Jonathon Monken's lack of police experience sunk his nomination and it was later pulled. Monken has since been confirmed as head of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.
Quinn also announced the appointment of Joe Costigan to be Labor Department Director. He currently holds a position with the Service Employees International union.
People who are fighting hunger in east-central Illinois now have some more specific numbers to make their case.
The Eastern Illinois Foodbank has long known that 15.5% of people in the 14-county region are "food insecure" - in other words, they're at risk of not finding enough healthy food. But the new "Map the Meal Gap" study breaks that number down into individual counties. Vermilion, Coles and Champaign counties have slightly higher food-insecurity rates than the average.
Cheryl Precious is a foodbank spokeswoman. She says the report points out a need for education, even if chronically-needy people usually know how to get assistance. "But a family that has had stable employment and has never really struggled, or maybe was right on the edge and had a job loss in the family and was pushed over the edge into food insecurity -- they may not be adequately equipped to make use of those resources," said Precious. "So part of it is education and awareness of the resources that are out there."
But Precious says the survey also demonstrates a need for more assistance, particularly for people who are ineligible for food stamps because they make just above the poverty requirement. She says it's a call to relax those requirements as well as to bolster food pantries and other emergency programs.
Reducing the size of the Chicago City Council has come up in conversations with voters and aldermen, but a spokesman for Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel said he hasn't proposed it.
Emanuel transition spokesman Ben LaBolt responded Friday to a Chicago Sun-Times story that said Emanuel had broached the subject of cutting the 50-member City Council in half to save money.
The former White House chief of staff is working feverishly to put together an administration so he's ready to take office next month. Emanuel is replacing retiring Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.
Emanuel is under pressure to deal with the city's budget crisis.
The Sun-Times said it costs Chicago taxpayers spend $19.5 million a year for the 50 aldermen and another $4.7 million for their 19 standing committees.
Some of the walls of a burned out building in Campustown will begin to come down on Friday, according to the Champaign Fire Department.
Wednesday's fire damaged a building housing Mia Za's Cafe, Zorba's restaurant, Petaya clothing boutique, and an unoccupied apartment.
The Fire Department says the city has accepted a bid from Dig It of Champaign, Inc. to tear down parts of the parapet and walls. It hopes to reopen the 600 block of Green Street by Monday, once the building and street are considered safe.
The front wall of the building on Green St. will be removed down to the limestone ribbon. On the back side of the building, the masonry down to the second floor ceiling will be taken down.
"It's in the best interest of our community, the University, and Campustown businesses to move forward," Craig Rost, Champaign Assistant City Manager, said in a statement.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
Archaeologists have hard evidence that humans lived in North America much earlier than previously thought, and an Illinois researcher played a key role in nailing down the dates.
The earliest North Americans were long thought to be the Clovis people. Now archaeologists have dug up stone tools and debris from underneath a Clovis site in central Texas. The findings were discovered by researchers led by Michael R. Waters of Texas A&M University.
It was "like finding the Holy Grail," Waters said in a telephone interview. To find what appears to be a large open-air campsite "is really gratifying. Lucky and gratifying."
The trove of 15,528 artifacts included chipping debris from working stones and 56 tools such as blades, scrapers and choppers. The archaeologists sent samples to Steven Forman's lab at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he determined when the sediment around the objects was last exposed to sunlight.
The artifacts turn out to be about 15,000 years old - from millennia before the Clovis people. It's not the first evidence of cultures older than Clovis, but Forman says it may be the strongest.
"It appears to be that this might be kind of watershed piece of science in which people say, yes, there is really compelling evidence for pre-Clovis occupation in North America," Forman said. "It's no longer a red herring."
The small tools were "a mobile tool kit," Waters said, and of the type that could have led to the later development of the fluted points that trademark Clovis technology.
While there are other pre-Clovis sites across the country, Waters said the new find included significantly more artifacts than the others.
Anthropologist Tom D. Dillehay of Vanderbilt University, who was not part of the research team, said he is concerned that the separation of layers at the site "appears not to be as clear as the authors would have us believe."
University of Oregon archaeologist Dennis L. Jenkins said he was also initially skeptical of the find, commenting "it would have been a hard sell" from many other researchers.
Jenkins, who three years ago reported discovery of 14,000-year-old evidence of human DNA in a cave in Oregon, said he was concerned that settling or rodents had mixed up the specimens in Texas.
But, he said, Waters' team had done "incredible, meticulous scientific work." "I believe he's made the case," he said.
Jenkins said he would have preferred carbon-dating of the specimens, but that couldn't be done because there was no organic material to be tested in the newly found layer.
Steven L. Forman, of the University of Illinois, Chicago, a co-author of the paper, said the team used luminescence dating which can determine when the material was last exposed to light. They took samples by hammering black, sealed copper pipe into the layers. In a separate paper in the journal, researchers report evidence of early humans in south India more than a million years ago.
Researchers discovered more than 3,500 quartzite tools of the distinct Acheulian design used by the earliest humans in Africa starting more than 1.5 million years ago. They dated the tools to at least 1.07 million years old and some possibly 1.51 million years old.
The discovery at a site called Attirampakkam in the Kortallayar river basin helps anthropologists understand the spread of ancient people from Africa into Asia. Leading the research team was Shanti Pappu of the Sharma Centre for Heritage Education in Tamil Nadu, India.
The find is unprecedented for archaeological studies in India, said archaeologist Michael Petraglia of the University of Oxford, England, who was not part of the research team.
He said it could mean that early humans migrated out of Africa earlier than the oft-cited 1.4 million years ago, carrying the tools to southern Asia.
"The suggestion that this occurred at around 1.5 million years ago is simply staggering," he said.
The new find will likely overturn the history of ancient humans in North America. The results are out in the journal Science.
(Photo courtesy of Michael R. Waters/The Associated Press)
Illinois tax collectors have a message for residents who skirt sales taxes online and out of state: Start paying up.
The cash-strapped state will step up enforcement this year of the decades-old "use tax," which applies to many items bought online or in another state. Officials have added reminders on this year's paper and online tax forms about the tax.
The state has made a recent push to collect sales taxes from retailers like Amazon.com Inc. and Overstock.com Inc., approving a law this month that led both companies to drop affiliates in the state.
But Susan Hofer, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Revenue, says auditors will target "big ticket" purchases, like boats sold in Florida, over smaller purchases online.
"If you go online and buy a book on Amazon, it's your conscience that you have to live with," Hofer said.
The tax applies to any purchases made with a sales tax rate lower than Illinois' 6.25 percent, to protect in-state retailers that charge the tax.
For shoppers who didn't keep their receipts, the state has published a list of suggested "use tax" amounts based on income: $15 for people who made $20,000 last year, $27 for people making $50,000, and $52 for people making $100,000.
That's not including taxes on major purchases like boats or cars.
Residents can also pay back taxes on purchases as far back as 2004, thanks to state law passed last year.
The revenue department estimates that Internet shopping could have generated $153 million last year if online retailers were taxed at the state rate. Illinois lawmakers have tried to collect from Amazon and others, which say they shouldn't pay taxes in the state because they don't have offices there.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill this month that charges sales taxes on online purchases made through Illinois affiliates of online companies. That led to Amazon announcing it would end its relationships with state affiliates.
Hofer acknowledged the difficulty revenue auditors face with online shopping.
"How would I or one of our enforcers know if you went home every night and spent five hours shopping on Amazon?" she said.
The state won't have statistics on how many residents will pay until the end of tax season, Hofer said. But interviews with accountants suggest most people either haven't made untaxed purchases or aren't reporting them.
"I've had one client out of 300 volunteer to pay it," said Julie Herwitt, a Chicago accountant. She said she believes most of her clients don't know the tax exists.
At the Bird Armour LLC accounting firm in Springfield, fewer than 5 percent of the 350 returns finished so far have made "use tax" payments, managing member Michael K. Armour said.
"I must admit that I am surprised at the number of people that have come forward," he said.
Last year, the state collected an estimated $4 million to $6 million from the tax. The department hopes that will double this year, Hofer said.
"We expect that people will pay what they owe, recognizing this is part of their responsibility as a citizen," she said.
(Photo courtesy of Rob Lee/Flickr)
University of Illinois trustees have put off action on an Urbana campus wind turbine for at least three months, but speakers on both sides of the issue told trustees at their meeting in Springfield Wednesday they would prefer a quick decision.
For civil engineering student Amy Allen, the decision should be "yes". Allen, who is also president of Students for Environmental Concerns on the Urbana campus, told trustees that any further delay would just run up the cost for the wind turbine --- and perhaps kill the project entirely. She wants trustees to approve the wind turbine for its original site at South Farms.
"Re-siting the turbine and seeking an extension would kill the project," Allen said. "We ask that you approve the wind turbine at the next meeting of the board of trustees in June, or abandon it entirely, instead of consigning it to death by a thousand cuts."
But abandonment would be just fine for U of I faculty member Steven Platt. He told trustees that even if a site is found that won't disturb nearby homeowners, wind turbines are no longer on the cutting edge of energy technology.
"There are hundreds of large turbines in Illinois, thousands across the country," Platt said. "The time, if ever there was one, to erect what will amount to be a five-million-dollar symbol is long in the past."
A U of I board of trustees committee has decided to give the wind turbine project further study --- it could come up at the board's next meeting on June 9th in Chicago.
A University of Illinois alert Thursday morning indicating that there was a shooter on campus was sent out in error, according to University officials.
The alert sent out at about 10:40 AM told the university community to "Escape area if safe to do so or shield/secure your location." Within about 15 minutes, Illini-Alert sent out a follow-up email saying that message was sent out in error. The U of I says a worker updating an emergency-message template inadvertently sent the message rather than saving it.
In a statement, the University's Chief of Police Barbara O'Connor said: "PLEASE DISREGARD THE ILLINI-ALERT MESSAGE SENT REGARDING THE ACTIVE SHOOTER ON CAMPUS! The Illini-Alert message was sent accidentally. We sincerely apologize for this accident."
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler says employees at the campus' information technology service were working on ways to upgrade the alert system in light of Wednesday's fire in Campustown.
"Workers were simply updating some of the emergency templates that we have on hand for such incidents," she said. "And in the process of typing, someone accidentally hit 'send' instead of 'save."
Kaler said she realizes the original message was a frightening thing, but she said she would rather receive an alert of something not happening, than for an incident to go unreported.
MESSAGE ABOUT THE MISTAKEN ALERT
To the campus community:
This morning at 10:40, an Illini-Alert message was sent to 87,000 email addresses and cellphones indicating there was an active shooter or threat of an active shooter on the Urbana campus. The message was sent accidentally while pre-scripted templates used in the Illini-Alert system were being updated. The updates were being made in response to user feedback in order to enhance information provided in the alerts.
The alert sent today was caused by a person making a mistake. Rather than pushing the SAVE button to update the pre-scripted message, the person pushed the SUBMIT button. We are working with the provider of the Illini-Alert service to implement additional security features in the program to prevent this type of error.
The alert system is designed to send all messages as quickly as possible. The messages generally leave the sending server within two minutes. This design is essential for emergency communications. However, this prevented the cancellation of the erroneous alert once it was sent.
Additionally, once we send an emergency message, we are dependent on the cellular telephone providers to deliver the text message to the owner of the cellphone. This is a recognized issue with all text-messaging systems. This is one reason we use multiple communication mechanisms, including email and our Emergency Web alert system, which is automatically activated when we send an Illini-Alert message. We cannot rely solely on text messages to inform our community of an emergency.
The Chief of Police has charged the campus emergency planning office with reviewing and documenting todays incident. We are reviewing comments we are receiving as a result of the incident and will implement all reasonable and appropriate ideas or suggestions.
We recognize the campus community relies on us to provide accurate and timely emergency information. We are working diligently to improve our processes so that this type of incident does not happen again. Finally, we apologize for the confusion and emotional distress caused by the initial alert.
Barbara R. O'Connor, J.D. Executive Director of Public Safety Chief of Police University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign http://www.publicsafety.illinois.edu
Mike Corn Chief Privacy and Security Officer Office of the Chief Information Officer This mailing approved by:The Office of the Chief of Police
The five candidates running for four seats on the Champaign School Board took part in a forum sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). They are board school members Susan Grey, Greg Novak and Kristine Chalifoux, and newcomers Jamar Brown and Lynn Stuckey. The candidates evaluate the current curriculum and efforts to improve graduation rates, and they suggest changes to the No Child Left Behind law.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
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