News Local/State

Results: Unit 4, Other Champaign County Ballot Measures


Voters in Champaign county weighed in on several ballot measures Tuesday night, including proposals to fund school facilities and county building projects and proposals to reshape the leadership structure of county government.

The results were mixed. 

Unit 4 Facilities Plan Passes Decisively

The result was much different for Unit 4 officials on their third try to pass a bond referendum to fund major school building and renovations. Voters in the district passed the $183 million resolution 65 percent to 35 percent on Tuesday.

The funding will allow Unit 4 to renovate and expand the district's two high schools, South Side Elementary, Edison Middle School and International Prep Academy. It would also be used to build a new Dr. Howard Elementary and renovate several athletic fields.

Unit 4 Schools Board President Chris Kloeppel said Tuesday night that he felt gratified after all the hard work.

"I'm very proud of the work that's gotten us here," he said. "Not only these past several months – year and a half, really – but this entire process. The 10-15 years we've been talking about this."

Kloeppel said board leaders will meet soon to talk about next steps on how to lay out plans for construction.

Two more modest proposals failed in 2014 and 2015. One significant difference on this current, successful, measure is the decision to expand Champaign Central High School on the current site instead of building a new school on the north edge of Champaign. That change led the group Keep Central Central, which opposed the last referendum, to support this one.

Voters Reject County Facilities Sales Tax

The Champaign County Board proposed a 12-year, quarter-cent sales tax to fund county government facilities construction. Voters decisively rejected the measure by a ratio of 70 percent to 30 percent.

One major project is the closing of the downtown county jail and expansion and renovation of the satellite jail, which attracted most of the opposition. The group Build Programs Not Jails led that opposition and advocated for investing in alternatives to incarceration.

Kristina Khan with Build Programs Not Jails says the groups they reached out to like the Ministerial Alliance of Champaign-Urbana and Young Democrats may have opposed the sales tax measure for different reasons, which she called typical of tax referendums.

“We definitely jumped on that strategy and tried to outreach on campus, off campus, and a variety of different neighborhoods," she said. "We did a lot of yard signs, we did a lot of events, and had discussions with different leaders in different segments of the community.” 

Champaign County Board Chair Pattsi Petrie says the County Board will have to take a step back at look at its finances, citing the need for extensive repairs, including replacing roofs on both the county nursing home and downtown jail, and sealing the jail’s exterior.

“We don’t have any spare money in the budget, and just like your own home, if it isn’t maintained, then the cost of maintenance increases, and that’s what’s going to be happening.”

Petrie says the county will have to look at places to cut.

“As they get put off more and more, they will just be costing us more and more money, especially leaking roofs and the damage that comes from that.”

Dueling Proposals For County Board Leadership Both Pass

Two different proposals to overhaul county board leadership also passed on Tuesday night. The first will create a county executive position to lead the board, while the other would make the county board chair a separate office that's elected by voters.

The county Chamber of Commerce and Farm Bureau put the county executive question on the ballot. It would give Champaign County government an elected county executive similar to the structure in Will County. The county executive would have staff, shape county board agenda and have veto power over county board actions. The position would essentially replace the county administrator hired by the county board. The Chamber of Commerce and Farm Bureau believe this would make county government more decisive. Voters agreed by a slim margin, 50.3 percent to 49.7.

Voters supported the elected county board chair proposal by a wider margin, 68 percent to 32 percent. This measure was placed on the ballot in response to the county board executive referendum --- it would have some things in common with the executive, but be a less powerful office. Since both referendums passed, the County Executive would supersede the elected county board chair.