Illinois Public Media News
A neighborhood group's dream of a new playground has come closer to reality. The Champaign County Board voted Thursday night to lease the group some county-owned land in the neighborhood, where the playground can be built.
The Dobbins Down neighborhood in northwest Champaign is mostly in unincorporated territory. And its location north of I-74 puts its far away from any public park. But with the Champaign County Board's approval of a $50-a-year lease on a vacant lot it owns, the Dobbins Down Improvement Association looks forward to a small park where neighborhood kids can play. Association Chair Lesley Kimble says it's been the group's longtime goal.
"We want to see playground equipment that kids can have an option, a healthy option in their neighborhood to go do, other than play video games and hang out and not get in trouble."
The Dobbins Down group has applied for assistance from KaBOOM, a non-profit group that builds playgrounds using local volunteers and corporate funding. Kimble says getting the lease on the vacant lot was the last thing they needed to be recommended for funding. If all goes well, she says the park could be built in September. The Dobbins Down Improvement Association would assume liability for the park, and be responsible for its upkeep. Kimble says they hope to name the playground in memory of the late Mable Thomas, a longtime Champaign city employees who worked on neighborhood issues.
Four communities in East Central Illinois saw slight increases in the jobless rate between May and June.
The state's Department of Employment Security says Champaign-Urbana, Danville, Bloomington-Normal, and Decatur all saw that figure go up more than a percentage point. Danville and Decatur's unemployment rates were among the highest last month - at 12.3 and 12.2%. Champaign-Urbana's unemployment rate went from 7.8 to 9.5%, while Bloomington Normal's from 6.9 to 8.0%. Those rates in all four metropolitan areas are also higher than they were in June of 2009.
But the agency says overall, rates appear to be going down, citing a drop in rates in and around Chicago over last year. Director Maureen O'Donnell says a trend of smaller increases are encouraging, noting specific movement must occur before jobless rates drop consistently across the state. "Any economic rebound following the most profound recession in decades will include slight up-and-down movements in the unemployment rate as well as the number of jobs created,' said O'Donnell. "That is why long-term trends continue to offer the best guidance on our national and state economy."
Elsewhere in Central Illinois, Peoria's unemployment rate for June was 10.3%, holding steady from the previous month, and Springfield's was 8.2%, up from 7.3%
A preliminary hearing has been set for August 17th for Brian Maggio. At his arraignment Thursday in Urbana, the 42-year old appeared on closed circuit TV in court. Champaign County Judge Jeff Ford read the charges against him as he appeared in court via closed circuit television wearing a green gown, a protective garment worn by inmates correctional officers fear have suicidal tendencies. He was charged with 4 counts on first degree murder in the shooting death of his brother, 32-year old Mark Maggio. Each charge carries a sentence of 20 to 60 years, but because Maggio was using a handgun, he faces an additional 25 years to life if convicted.
Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Reitz says the defendant's and witnesses accounts differ - but that Mark Maggio did die at the scene of the parking lot of the Maggio's IGA supermarket. "The defendant took out the handgun and shot his brother," said Reitz. "Preliminary autopsy results indicate that the gunshot wound was to the side and back of the victim and that it was essentially one gunshot wound into him that ultimately caused his death."
Reitz says Brian Maggio made the initial 911 call and indicated that he had shot his brother. His bond has been set at $1-million.
Police say a quarrel between two brothers on Wednesday in Tolono has left one of them dead.
Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh says officers arrested 42-year-old Brian Maggio of Savoy for the shooting death of his 42-year-old brother, Mark. The shooting occurred outside the IGA supermarket. Employees told police that the alleged shooter owned the IGA store, while his brother owned another IGA in Arcola.
The incident shocked residents of the small town, including Monical's Pizza founder Ralph Monical. "They're both usually two mild-mannered kids," said Monical. Champaign County Sheriff's investigators and Tolono Police spent Wednesday at the scene of the shooting. Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup said the victim was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy is scheduled for Thursday. Police declined to discuss a possible motive for the shooting and did not know if the arrested man had an attorney.
The Republican pursuing an East Central Illinois Senate seat may only have $50 left in his campaign fund, but he says that hasn't slowed down what he calls a grassroots campaign.
Campaign disclosure reports filed Tuesday showed Tea Party organizer Al Reynolds spent about $8,000 dollars thus far, while Democratic incumbent Mike Frerichs spent more than $50,000. And the 52nd District Senator still has more than $200,000 available. Reynolds says he's just starting to approach businesses to seek out donations to help with campaign ads and mailings, but wants to focus on the issues. "(Congressman) Tim Johnson and his campaign last time... he raised under $300,000 for a US-Rep seat," said Reynolds. "And so I'm thinking for a state senator, we shouldn't have to raise that kind of money. The issues alone should speak for what we do here. And basically, it's my getting out in front of people, and telling them what it is."
Reynolds says amassing a huge campaign fund also goes against the tea party's stance of wasteful spending, and has gotten out his campaign message in rallies. Senator Frerichs says he's focused on doing a lot of fundraising on his own. "I think in any election, you can't take your opponent for granted, and especially this year when there seems to be a lot of voter frustration," said Frerichs. "It's frustration I share with the direction the state's going." Frerichs also says he'd like to rely on money he raised, and not the state Democratic party, to maintain independence in the race. Reynolds says state Republican campaign funds would be nice, but suspects it's too early for Illinois GOP leaders to decide whether they'll get involved in his campaign.
Rod Blagojevich's attorneys say the ousted Illinois governor will not testify at his corruption trial. They promptly rested the defense case this morning.
Blagojevich had long pledged to take the stand in his own defense, saying for months that he wanted to do so to set the record straight.
But his attorneys initially said Tuesday they could rest the case without calling a single witness. They confirmed that Wednesday. They say the prosecution did not prove its case.
Experts have said putting Blagojevich on the stand could be risky.
Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to scheming to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's old Senate seat and to scheming to launch a racketeering operation in the governor's office.
Champaign city officials are looking forward to having recycling for apartment buildings by the end of the year. The City Council voted Tuesday night to sign a contract with Allied Waste Transportation to provide recycling pickup for multi-family dwellings. Currently, recycling pickup in Champaign is only mandated for single family homes and apartments with four units or less.
Council Member Mike Ladue is a longtime recycling booster. He says the city had once been a leader in community recycling, before pulling back in the 1990s. But with the introduction of recycling pickup for apartment buildings, LaDue says the recycling will expand to a new scale and scope, "including the 55 percent of our residents who are renters, a great majority of whom live in multiplex dwellings. This will reach all those residents, many of whom have been interested in recycling for many, many years."
In contracting with Allied Waste Transportation, Champaign will join the city of Urbana in mandating recycling pickup for all residential buildings. City officials estimate the contract will cost about $ 1.5 million over five years, to be paid for with user fees.
The Champaign City Council took a step toward addressing area housing problems Tuesday night --- by voting to hire a consultant to conduct a regional study of the issue.
Plans for the study were first announced last November, after Champaign County was hit by a slew of housing crises --- the sudden closures of Rantoul's Autumn Glen and Champaign's Gateway Studios apartments, a narrowly averted financial crisis at Restoration Urban Ministries and the Safe Haven group of homeless people who defied zoning regulations by living as a tent community. Champaign City Council Member Deb Feinen says the study will give them a fresh look at the countywide housing situation.
"It seems to me before we can make any changes, or start trying to figure out what type of housing should be provided, we need to know what's going on and what currently exists", Feinen said during the council meeting. "So updating our information is a great start."
Champaign, Urbana, Champaign County, the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission and the Housing Authority of Champaign County will pay an Columbus, Ohio-based consulting firm Vogt Santer Insights Ltd. $45,000 to do the study. The city of Champaign's portion will be $21,411. Other groups, including the Champaign County Realtors Association and the United Wat of Champaign County, will also be asked to contribute.
Champaign Neighborhood Programs Manager Kerri Spear says their current analysis of the area housing situation is based on the 2000 census. She says the study will provide projections based on other, more recent data sources, until new census figures on housing are available in a couple of years. Results of the study are expected this coming November.
Both candidates running to replace Bill Black in the Illinois House say they can't be concerned with whether their state party will provide some campaign money.
Black, a Danville Republican, is retiring after nearly 25 years. With Tuesday's deadline to disclose campaign donations passed, Republican Chad Hays of Catlin holds a clear edge in fundraising. The city's former mayor says his grassroots campaign has included a lot of contributions of $100 or less, which is why disclosure reports show he's collected more than $12,000 in non-itemized donations. Hays says his campaign has seen a large response throughout the 104th House District. "We're going to continue to be very assertive in our fundraising efforts to match that with our plan to run a very effective campaign clear to November," said Hays. "So as it relates to any party money, it that remains to be seen in terms of need."
Hays' campaign fund still has more than $50,000... while that of Michael Puhr has about $3,000 left. The Danville Democrat and city alderman admits he hasn't held many fundraisers, saying running against Hays is somewhat like campaigning against an incumbent. But Puhr says a lot of things can change... calling himself an 'independent Democrat' who plans to spend a lot of time knocking on doors. "I believe the best way to win a race is to go out and meet the people," said Puhr. "And that's one thing I've been doing.. a minimum of 5 to 6 events in any particular weekend, and numerous other contacts and things, so money doesn't buy a race." And Puhr says he's not thrilled of the prospect of receiving state money, saying he doesn't want to serve as the Democratic Party's mouthpiece.
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing continued her promotion of a local gasoline tax, Monday night, by bringing in an official from another city that already has one.
City Manager Dennis Keif of Pekin told the Urbana City Council about the four-cent-a-gallon gas tax his Tazewell County city has had since 1996 to raise money for a major highway project, regular street maintenance and property tax relief. He says gas station owners warned that the tax would force them to charge more for gasoline than competitors in Peoria with its two-cent gas tax, and smaller nearby towns with no tax. But Keif says there's no sign that gas stations in Pekin have suffered.
"Almost without exception, the price is exactly the same in all of the communities", Kief told Urbana council members. "Typically, it actually runs a little bit higher in Peoria than the other communities. But Pekin is no higher than the other communities."
Kief's answer was in reply to questions from Alderman Dennis Roberts, who said afterward that he's "inclined to support" Mayor Prussing's proposal for a two-cent gasoline tax to help pay for street maintenance. He thinks a vote could come later this summer.
Also Monday night, the Urbana City Council approved a $250 administrative fee to be imposed on motorists whose vehicles are towed after being arrested for certain serious offenses like D-U-I, felony drug offenses, and fleeing and eluding a police officer. The fee would be charged in addition to the towing fee. Champaign began imposing a similar fee for cars towed for serious offenses last year.
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