Illinois Public Media News
Champaign City Finance Director Richard Schnuer says it's the toughest budget he's ever worked on. But Schnuer says the 109-million dollar budget plan to be presented to the City Council Tuesday night is balanced, thanks in part to 2-point-5 million dollars in cuts to recurrent spending items.
To make the cuts, the Champaign budget plan calls for doing away with 25 fulltime city jobs over the next few years. Schnuer says most of the positions are currently vacant or expected to become vacant due to staff turnover. "We selected those that would have the least impact on services," says Schnuer. "I want the public to be very assured that when they call 911, 911 will dispatch police and firefighters who will come as quickly as usual."
The budget plan also projects a million dollars in new revenue due to new or increased city fees. And it reallocates money between various city funds, to pay for increased pension funding and other items.
Schnuer says the budget proposal for the fiscal year starting July 1st is part of a multi-year strategy to deal with decreasing city tax revenue, due to the recession. The Champaign City Council will work on the budget during study sessions in May --- with a public hearing set for May 19th. Final council passage is set for June 2nd.
Local health departments are keeping an eye out for the potential of a flu outbreak, but they've been planning for such an occasion for years.
Champaign-Urbana Public Health District director Julie Pryde says even though there have been no reported cases of swine flu in Illinois, there are some common sense measures you should be following, whether or not there's an outbreak. One is to stay home from work or school if you're sick.
"If you have a fever, stay home, contact your doctor or your health care provider," Pryde said. "Don't go around other people when you are sick. That's good public health practice in general, but it's especially important during a time where there is a potential for a pandemic outbreak."
The health district has been promoting a "Stock Two for Flu" campaign for the past few years - it asks shoppers to buy one or two extra food items or other personal needs to keep in stock at home in case a flu pandemic keeps them at home. But she stresses that there's no need to fear or panic over the potential.
School officials are trying to spread the word that cleanliness is also important in keeping influenza at bay - principals in Champaign Unit 4 are being asked to make sure their students are regularly washing their hands.
Illinois public health officials say swine flu has yet to show up in the state, but it will eventually.
Doctor Damon Arnold, the state's public health director, says his agency is closely monitoring the situation....
"The department and its public health partners including local health departments, hospitals and emergency departments are on full alert to watch for possible cases," Arnold said. "We are prepared to act swiftly to assure early detection and warning and to respond in the event of a case or cases are identified to limit its spread within the state."
The swine flu has proven deadly in Mexico... but the cases in the U-S have so far been milder. Arnold says the state has been planning for a pandemic event over the past few years, and says a 2006 training exercise focused on what the state would do if a similar flu outbreak occurred. He says the public should go about normal routines, but those who are feeling ill should stay home.
A couple of central Illinois lawmakers staked out sides on the state budget debate, during an appearance in Champaign on Saturday.
Democrat Mike Frerichs and Republican Dale Righter agree that Illinois needs to rein in spending to address an 11-point-6 billion dollar deficit. But the two state senators disagree on the income tax hike proposed by Governor Pat Quinn. Frerichs, of Champaign, says that to balance the budget, some sort of tax increase is unavoidable. "Now there's been opposition to the extent the governor proposed raising the income tax and the increase in personal exemptions, and so I think there's going to be some sort of compromise there," said Frerichs. "But at the end of the day, I think we're going to have to find new revenue for the state of Illinois".
But Righter, of Mattoon, says the deficit doesn't have to be eliminated all at once. He says that in the 1990s, lawmakers and then-Governor Jim Edgar spread deficit reduction over several years, and the same approach could work now. "The Senate Deficit Reduction Committee put proposals out there that were annual savings of over three-billion dollars a year," Righter says. "Now you couple that with a multi-year program, and you have at least the basic blueprint for achieving (a balanced budget)."
Frerichs and Righter took part in a panel on the state budget at the Illinois News Broadcasters Association convention in Champaign.
The Champaign County Board has approved the last inter-fund loan it can afford, as it tries to keep county government running until new property tax revenue starts coming in this summer.
The County Board voted Thursday night to move up to 250-thousand dollars from the Probation Service Fee Fund to the General Corporate Fund.
County Administrator Deb Busey says they'll put the money back in the Probation Service fund in 45 to 60 days. She says that should hold the county over until property tax revenues begin arriving on June 1st. "And between June and September," she Busey explains, "we will receive about 7 million dollars in property taxes, which will carry us for a tax position until at least next October or November, when we will probably have to re-initiate and start over all the loans that we have taken this year to get us through next spring."
Busey says with this latest loan, Champaign County has borrowed three-and-a-quarter million dollars from various funds to keep the General Corporate Fund in the black.
Finance Committee Chairman Brendan McGinty passed along a warning from Champaign County Treasurer Daniel Welch that the county's reserves are now depleted, and that county expenses must be carefully controlled, while the search for spending cuts and new revenue continues.
An Urbana city official says the owner of the Historic Lincoln Hotel and the bank that foreclosed on the property are still in negotiations.
Economic Development Manager Tom Carrino says Marine Bank and Global Hotel Management are still talking, with hopes of transferring the bank's ownership back to the company.
Carrino says he spoke with both sides on Friday, a day after a company subsidiary that owned the hotel filed for Chapter Seven bankruptcy. The filing automatically canceled a sheriff's foreclosure sale that had been scheduled for Friday.
The Historic Lincoln Hotel closed last month, after Marine Bank foreclosed on the property. Despite that, Global Hotel Management announced plans to renovate the building and open it with a new operator next year. The hotel in downtown Urbana was designed by local architect Joseph Royer and first opened in the 1920s.
It's already official that Champaign County will switch from two county administrators to just one later this year, and that the next administrator will be a current county employee. But county officials have been reluctant to go on the record about who that current employee might be. County Board Chairman Pius Weibel says he doesn't know if they're even taking applications for the post. But following Thursday night's county board meeting, he did say it's "likely" that current Administrator for Finance and Human Resources Deb Busey would be hired as the county's sole administrator.
Weibel is on the team that will negotiate a contract with the next administrator, be it Deb Busey or someone else, which he says is one reason he's reluctant to give details. "We've actually just barely started," said Weibel about the negotiations. "The first thing was to get together a job description --- which we have --- and that could change, too."
The dual administrator system was to end November 30th. But County Administrator for Facilities and Procurement Denny Inman asked for and on Thursday night the county board approved contract modifications that allow him to leave September 30th. The amendments also allow him to do consulting work and actively seek a new position before he steps down. Inman calls the changes an "exit strategy" to help his search for a new position. He says he sought the changes "because I think not too many people make job moves in the middle of winter, and the best time to do it is while you still have a job."
Deb Busey and Denny Inman served 11 years together as dual administrators for Champaign County. They were deputy administrators before that, under their predecessor Jackie White.
Film Critic Roger Ebert's name will have a prominent place in the University of Illinois College of Media.
The Sun-Times columnist has announced a one million dollar grant to establish the Roger Ebert Program for Film Studies.
The dean of the U of I's College of Media says it'll be the foundation for a media and cinema studies department on the Urbana campus. Ron Yates says the department will give students a chance to learn skills in an evolving industry, like screenwriting and film criticism.
It could help pay for several things: workshops, symposia, seminars, research efforts that might be done in films," Yates said. "It will enhance the program as it begins to take off."
Yates hopes total donations for the program will reach five million dollars.
Ebert announced the grant during the first night of his Ebertfest film festival in Champaign - Yates says Ebertfest offices would be housed under the new College of Media program.
The family of a medical student from Texas shot and killed by sheriff's police near Oakwood early this month is accusing authorities of racial profiling.
Speaking in Urbana Wednesday, the parents and brothers of Oluwatofunmi Kaiyewu also say his death on the evening of April 6th was the result of a cover-up. The 23-year old man known as Toto was initially pulled over by a Villa Grove police officer, who said he was investigating a suspicious vehicle. The officer said he tried to strike him with the car... and a pursuit began on Interstate-74 that included sheriff's police from Champaign and Vermilion Counties, and the University of Illinois. After stopping the car, officers say they fired at Kaiyewu when he came at them with a machete and hunting knife. His mother Abbi says the vehicle was called 'suspicious' solely because a black man was behind the wheel. She calls her son a non-violent person only trying to study that night. "You don't take a machete to the library," says Mrs. Kaiyewu. "He was not expected to have this encounter. He was not expecting to die. He was just going to the library. He was not going to the war zone. So why would he take a machete and a hunting knife from his room to go to the library? It doesn't make sense."
Abbi Kaiyewu notes that police haven't been able to produce a video of what occurred after her son was stopped near Oakwood. Illinois State Police are still conducting an investigation, but in a press release issued by the agencies involved, Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh cites video evidence of Toto Kaiyewu physically assaulting the Villa Grove officer and holding the machete after the vehicle was stopped. And he dismisses any claim of racial profiling, saying there was no intial reason for an old Toyota to appear suspicious.
"I think the particluar facts, when they all come out, are actually going to be that the (Villa Grove) officer was behind the vehicle, and the gentlement stopped in the roadway and went back to the officer," says Walsh. "The gentlemen stopped before the officer turned on his lights or anything like that." Part of the joint statement released by the agencies involved in the shooting reads 'it is sad and horrible for Mr. Kaiyewu's family that things ended as they did, but Mr. Kaiyewu's actions controlled the outcome.'
The Kaiyewu's attorney, Jan Susler of Chicago, says Freedom of Information requests have been filed with all police departments for all evidence related to the incident, but adds a lawsuit could be filed at any time.
Al Klein of Urbana will serve as Champaign County Democratic Chairman for another year. Central Committee members voted Wednesday night to have the 65-year-old Klein serve out the term vacated by Tony Fabri. Klein, recently the First Vice-Chair, had been serving as Interim Chairman, following Fabri's resignation last month.
But while Klein called Wednesday night's vote one of acclamation, it was far from unanimous. Many committee members were upset that the vote was on a motion naming Klein alone, with no chance for nominating other candidates. Klein says the central committee was free to vote down the motion appointing him and entertain other nominations, but the majority chose not to.
"We have settled on a chair", says Klein. "We have a split here which has been difficult, but I think is not unreachable. we should make progress toward that, in view of what's coming up". Klein referred to the 2010 election, when Republicans will try to pick off Democrats on the Champaign County Board and in local legislative seats.
If there had been other candidates nominated for Champaign County Democratic chairman, one of them would have been Kevin Sandefur of Royal. He instead ran for 1st vice chairman, losing to Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing. Eric Thorsland of Newcomb Township came in third.
Like Klein, Sandefur spoke for party unity, despite the quarrel. "I think that we've got two choices now," Sandefur said after the meeting. "We can keep beating ourselves up, or we can pull together and try to work as a group to focus on the things we all agree on."
The Champaign County Democratic chairmanship became vacant last month, when Tony Fabri resigned, following questions about his work attendance as county auditor.
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