Wednesday, January 16, 2019

States Attorney on Criminal Justice Transition Committee

Champaign County States Attorney Julia Rietz talked about the transition committee she was appointed to by Illinois' new governor, JB Pritzker. It's unclear what role the committee will have after the inauguration yet, but in the interview she described her input during the transition process. from WILL:
Champaign County State’s Attorney: Pritzker Should Take Downstate Concerns To Heart
In a recent interview, Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz said any conversation about criminal justice reform in Illinois must include the concerns of those living outside of the Chicago area.

Rietz was appointed in November to newly inaugurated Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Restorative Justice and Safe Communities Committee. The group is one of eight established after Pritzker won the governor’s seat on Nov. 6...

Rietz said she brought two priorities to the table in discussions with committee members. First, she said, it was important to her that the new administration take into consideration the needs and concerns of downstate residents when it comes to law enforcement and prosecutorial policies.

“We have some different issues (than Chicago). We have some similarities. But we can't just let what's going on in Chicago with the Chicago Police Department, the issues that they face necessarily are not the same and shouldn't entirely run the conversation,” Rietz said.

She added that she also made an effort to represent victims’ needs in discussions about restorative justice...

In a press release announcing the formation of the committee, Pritzker describes the state and the nation’s criminal justice system as “broken.”

Rietz said she wouldn’t describe the system as “broken,” but as one that needs improvement.

"When it comes to dealing with individuals with mental health issues and with substance abuse issues, we find ourselves in the criminal justice system as a primary provider of care when that's really not our role,” she said. “And we're also really evolving as far as whether our role is punishment or whether it's rehabilitation, or whether it's some some combination of the two.”
More at the full article here.

Court Appointed Special Advocates Training

Champaign County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) is looking for volunteers. From yesterday's News-Gazette:
Champaign County CASA to begin training new advocates next week
The Champaign County Court-Appointed Special Advocates begin training classes for new advocates next week.

Volunteer advocates are the "eyes and ears of the court" for more than 380 abused and neglected children whose parents are the subject of court action in Champaign County.

Their job is to work with the child and social-service agencies to ensure that the best interests of the child are met throughout the court process..

No experience is necessary, and CASA will train interested advocates who are at least 21 years old, willing to make the time commitment and can pass a background check.

The 30-hour training program for new advocates begins Jan. 22. Training is held three times per week through Feb. 13. The deadline to apply is Jan. 20.
Full blurb here. A brief overview from the CASA website here:
Having a CASA volunteer means having a trained and committed adult, by your side, who has been appointed by a judge to watch over you and advocate for your best interests. That volunteer will make sure you don't get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system or languish in an inappropriate group or foster home. They will be there for you until your case is closed. It can make the difference between homelessness and a safe home, between dropping out and completing school, between unemployment and success, between jail and becoming a productive member of society.

Champaign County CASA currently serves approximately 350 children, thanks to our 100 volunteer advocates. The children we serve range in age from newborn to 18 years of age. Last year over 35% were under age 6.

If you are interested in learning more, please contact our office at 217-384-9065 or by email at

Friday, January 11, 2019

Solar Farm Updates

The proposed solar farm near Sidney would be the largest private solar farm in the area if approved later this month by the full County Board. The News-Gazette had updates on the ongoing approval process in the county government required to build in the area:
Second Champaign County panel OKs proposed large solar farm near Sidney
On Thursday, the Champaign County Environment and Land Use Committee voted 6-0 to recommend that the county board approve a 150-megawatt solar farm proposed by Irvine, Calif.-based Bay-Wa r.e. Development LLC...

If the development, to be called Prairie Solar, gets final approval from the board on Jan. 24, Bay-Wa r.e. plans to build it on 1,609 acres of land east and south of Sidney...

"Bay-Wa has a strong commitment to being a good corporate citizen," Fitzgerald said. "The proposed Prairie Solar facility satisfies and, in many aspects, exceeds the requirements of the Champaign County solar ordinance."

Fitzgerald said in cooperation with landowners, the entire project area will be pattern-tiled so as to not disturb drainage.

Fitzgerald also announced Thursday night that the Illinois Power Authority has awarded the Prairie Solar facility a full subscription of renewable-energy credits, which would lower the price of electricity to the buyer.

The project was previously approved by the county's Zoning Board of Appeals on Nov. 29 in a 4-2 vote.
Full article here. In other solar farm news the University of Illinois received recognition for its efforts in Climate leadership, including its solar energy intiatives:
UI selected as recipient of ninth annual Climate Leadership Award
The University of Illinois was selected for the ninth annual Climate Leadership Award from the Boston-based nonprofit Second Nature, in partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council.

One four-year university and one two-year college are chosen annually for the award, which recognizes innovation and leadership in climate action...

The awards are based on advances in climate innovation, collaboration and student preparedness. The UI was cited for:

— The breadth of its sustainability, energy and environmental research.

— Efforts to make the campus and its buildings more sustainable, including a solar farm, purchase of renewable energy, conservation efforts and a framework developed in the Illinois Climate Action Plan to reach carbon neutrality no later than 2050.

— Courses in sustainability across campus, with participation from almost every college and the majority of academic units.

— Initiatives to change behavior and engage students, including the Certified Green Office and Laboratory Programs, zero-waste athletic events, and student organizations and events dedicated to sustainability.
Full article here.

Local Flu Updates

There was a regional spike in influenza like illnesses (ILI) in the area and flu levels remain higher in the Champaign region. From the News-Gazette last week:
Four area hospitals restricting visitors amid uptick in flu cases
Four area hospitals are imposing visitor restrictions starting today due to an increase in flu cases.

Both Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana and Carle Hoopeston Regional Health Center have begun limiting the number of visitors to two at a time in a patient room.

OSF Heart of Mary Medical Center in Urbana, OSF Sacred Heart Medical Center in Danville and the two Carle hospitals are also restricting visitors to age 18 and older and asking that anyone with symptoms of respiratory illness or flu refrain from visiting patients.

Carle hospitals are further requesting that visits to patients in isoloation due to flu  be limited to those vital to the patients' well-being.

Carle has recently seen about a 7 percent increase in flu cases over the same time last year, according to Carle spokeswoman Jamie Mullin...

The Illinois Department of Public Health typically starts calling on hospitals to begin visitor restrictions when flu reaches the widespread level, meaning outbreaks have occurred in at least half of the regions in the state.

As of late December, the level of flu-like illness being reported by providers in the Champaign region was higher than those levels reported in the other six regions in the state, according to IDPH data.
More at the full article here. The spike has leveled down some, as you can see from the latest data (available here from the Illinois Department of Public Health and explanation of "MMWR weeks" here):

As usual, health officials strongly encourage people who can get a flu shot to get one to protect themselves and others from the misery, lost income, but also tragedy like the recent death of a three year old.

Shutdown Local Effects

Various local and county services are facing delays, closures and complications due to the partial federal shutdown. Here's a few examples from the local and county level:

Local farmers are facing various challenges and delays from trade-war bailout applications to commodities pricing. From the News-Gazette Wednesday:
Farmers get more time to apply for bailout funds
Champaign County Farm Bureau Manager Brad Uken said closing the local FSA offices is "kind of a big deal."

"A number of programs that are initiated at the federal level are then implemented at the local level through that office," he said. "When they're closed, they don't get implemented or administered."

He said that has affected the trade payments and the processing of farm loans for the coming year.

The local USDA offices in west Champaign have been half closed and half open.

The FSA and Rural Development are closed, but the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which has its state headquarters in Champaign, is open, state spokeswoman Paige Buck said...

Farmers have also been indirectly impacted by the absence of reports from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, which drive commodity markets and help growers decide what to grow and when to sell their crop...

The NASS has already said a slew of reports scheduled to come out Friday will be delayed, even if the shutdown ends before then.
Full article with more information here. Research dependent on federal funds and agencies has also been affected. From Tuesday's News-Gazette:
For federal researcher, government shutdown impedes office, maternity planning
LeRoy is a hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey's Central Midwest Water Science Center at 405 N. Goodwin Ave., U, where 40 to 50 full-time employees have been furloughed because of the shutdown...

Employees are allowed to check email for a short time once a day, she said.

They've received one partial paycheck since Dec. 21 that included work done before the shutdown. LeRoy isn't sure what will happen with the next one and said they haven't gotten any word about potential back pay...

Meanwhile, at the UI, more than 30 federal employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research service have been directly affected by the shutdown, according to Professor Adam Davis, head of the Department of Crop Sciences.

Davis said last week that at least nine USDA researchers who are affiliated UI professors were furloughed. But with all scientists and support staff members included, the number totals 31, Davis said Monday.

"This indirectly, and negatively, affects dozens of UIUC graduate students and post-docs who conduct research in these labs," he said.
Full article with more information here. This article was following up on another that highlighted the mixed bag of effects on the University, with some mitigated by the partial nature of the shutdown. The longer the shutdown drags on the more complicated and problematic it becomes, however:
UI mostly unaffected by government shutdown — for now
Students can still get loans and fill out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid as usual, although they could see a delay if extra documentation is needed from the Internal Revenue Service, said Dan Mann, UI associate provost for enrollment management...

The bigger issue is research funding, especially if the shutdown drags on.  Among the science agencies affected are NASA, the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Institute of Standards and Technology, U.S. Geological Survey, and Environmental Protection Agency...

Money for current research grants has already been disbursed, but the authority to spend it could be affected if the shutdown lasts more than 30 days, said Bill Gropp, director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications...

Davis said the larger worry is the potential delay in submitting, and reviewing, new research proposals. Federal granting agencies typically post new requests for proposals for new research opportunities at this time of year, but many are now closed, Davis said.

If the shutdown lasts for a month or more, "it may cause an issue with the next round of grant competition," agreed Evan DeLucia, director of the Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Environment, which works closely with the recently furloughed agricultural researchers.
Full article here. Various State and local social programs could face interruptions and complications as well. The proposed reentry transitional housing program mentioned in a post earlier this week is also facing possible delays due to the shutdown's effect on the department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees the Housing Authority of Champaign County.

These are just a few examples and this is certainly not an exhaustive list. One thing you learn very quickly following local government is how intertwined local programs can be on multiple sources of funding, including federal grants and agencies. The Illinois' State budget impasse or a federal government shutdown aren't just some furloughed bureaucrats in Washington D.C. It people losing medical care, kids going without food, access and opportunities in education lost, homes lost, and lives threatened. They're your neighbors and fellow citizens right here in your community.

UPDATE: Addendum with additional related shutdown news stumbled upon.
  • Parkland's testing for Federal Aviation Licenses was interrupted and when test results will become available is unclear. From a WILL article.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Champaign County Community Coalition in 2019

The first meeting of the Champaign County Community Coalition this year had a packed house with representatives from community organizations, local government liaisons, police department chiefs and other representatives all in one place to collaborate on needs and services for the community. Tracy Parsons, the group and meeting facilitator, described the full crowd going into the new year as humbling. He and one of the police chiefs pointed out that there is interest in other Illinois communities to build similar coalitions. Parsons noted that the willingness of local law enforcement agencies to come to the table is a blessing and key to building a coalition.

Police Chiefs Updates:

The Police Chiefs Updates included gun violence events since the last meeting throughout the area as well as a rundown of 2018's final tally including the Christmas Eve shootings and the rest of December. Total gun violence incidents were 116 with 76 in Champaign, 32 in Urbana, 0 on campus and 8 in the surrounding County jurisdiction. Urbana Police broke down their numbers to show that of the 32 shooting events, there were 9 victims, and 2 of those had died. There had also been a shooting event shortly after midnight in the new year which appeared to be "celebratory" gunfire according to a preliminary investigation.

Both police and anti-violence organization members emphasized the need for outreach to and from the community to both prevent violence but also to help solve and prosecute violent crimes. Working through the very real issues of trust and mistrust between the community and law enforcement continues to be central goal of the coalition going forward.

Organization Updates and Presentations:

The CU Trauma and Resiliency Initiative highlighted their "resiliency rocks" project to raise awareness in the community on the need to address trauma and its ripple effect through our lives. They pointed out that "'hurt people' hurt people." The art project involves painting literal rocks that encourage social media sharing and participation to spread awareness. They have a toolkit for groups interested in participating in the project that has already launched and will continue throughout the year. They're also looking for people interested in donating toolkit supplies and volunteers to work on outreach.

CU Fresh Start gave a brief synopsis of the three men they're working with right now in housing transition. She pointed out the extreme hurdles involved with people reentering from the criminal justice system, especially for housing. They're establishing a Resource Committee towards navigating them to that end.

A crisis plan is being worked on by the gun violence subcommittee of the the Community Coalition. As a community we have plans for fires and tornadoes and other tragedies, but the chaotic aftermath of gun violence still results in uncoordinated needs for trauma care, counseling, up to and including opposing gangs fighting in emergency rooms while health care providers desperately try to save lives. But it also includes a need to interrupt patterns of retaliation and community intervention to tamp down on the multiplicative effect that can have.

There's another training for the community Peace Keepers and Violence Interrupters to train to become involved in that process on January 25 and 26th. It appears to be a followup to the December Training led by Tio Hardiman, the former Ceasefire director, that was covered last month here. More details on the upcoming training soon. There was a question about funding from local government, but it was explained that funding isn't the primary hurdle (although more funding would also be helpful), but at issue is the community's will. Another question on ER safety issues elicited an explanation of the National Hospital Interrupter Model being implemented with Carle Hospital and the hope that similar models could be used in Champaign Schools as well.

Laura Weis, from the Champaign Chamber of Commerce, highlighted the upcoming "I Read, I Count" program they're supporting to improve education outcomes in Champaign by helping students become proficient readers. They're looking for volunteers who would work one hour a week with kids for 11 weeks to help kids learn critical skills from a curriculum that may seem basic, but can make a world of difference for struggling kids. She explained that they're starting with four pilot schools on reading skills and hope to expand to more schools and math skills in the future. She pointed out there will be additional information on the Chamber website in the coming days.

The Young Adult Reentry Program at the Regional Planning Commission presented and overview of their new program targeting 18-24 year olds reentering from the criminal justice system in high crime and high poverty areas of Champaign County including Champaign-Urbana, but several surrounding communities. A quick overview is available in a PDF brochure here as well as more information on the grant from the RPC website here.

The Youth Assessment Center through the RPC also gave an update about its new location and an overview of Moral Reconation Therapy which "rewires" the brain to take responsibility for ones actions and to make moral decisions instead of selfish ones. It's common enough that you'll see the MRT acronym thrown around in a lot of programs dealing with reentry and treatment needs in relation to recidivism.

CU One to One Mentoring is looking for mentors to be matched with a large stack of available mentee applications. January is National Mentoring Month and there are upcoming training opporturnities for interested mentors at the end of this month and the beginning of February. There is an additional shortage of male mentors if you know anyone who might be great at it who could use the nudge. This program goes through the school system so the time commitment is during the week on school days and roughly an hour weekly.

There are a full week of Martin Luther King Day events announced including a countywide celebration event and unity breakfast at the Urbana Vineyard church. There are a couple upcoming events at Krannert. There are also other activities like the Day of Service on campus, "walking the talk" campus event on the 23rd (see calendar), and a poverty simulation event.

There was more that I'm sure I missed and endless opportunities to connect and collaborate as usual. If you're looking to get involved in some of the more critical work to make our community a better and safer place for everyone, there are more opportunities than volunteers. Even some of the smallest commitments can change lives for the better when we work together.

Champaign County Reentry Council 2019

The first meeting of the year for the Champaign County Reentry Council started off with data breakdowns and ended with a bit of decorum drama. Overall the new year brings many of the challenges from last year, including the ongoing effects of the partial federal shutdown.

There was a lot of discussion on improving data representations for the reentry population and linkages to needs and services. One of the goals of the Reentry Council is information sharing between the various participating organizations, many of which use professional jargon and shortcuts within their agencies that can be difficult to understand by other agencies or lay people from community organizations. The executive committee will be taking input from today's meeting to adjust the work project for data presentation.

A proposal for a reentry transitional housing program was discussed including a draft plan for consideration by the Housing Authority of Champaign County and HUD. It would be targeted at those reentering with unstable housing situations. The program is modeled after a shelter program collaboration between the United Way and the Regional Planning Commission that helped transition people from shelters to landlords over time. It had case managers to help clients meet the demands of the voucher program requirements.

In this proposal shelters for men and women provided by local organizations such as First Followers and Women in Transition mentioned in the discussions today. The program would have an initial HUD exemption to work requirements due to the haphazard nature of reentry, including severe difficulties in getting work, or even getting the required documentation to get a valid ID to get access to needed services (a seriously a convoluted nightmare in and of itself). The idea is to eventually transition them successfully to landlords and reduce common factors in recidivism (housing, employment, service needs).

The meeting ended on the old business of First Followers' James Kilgore's recommendation that the Reentry Council's executive committee ensure that at that level of decision making at least one member organization represents affected communities such as First Followers. This had caused some concern and consternation from the Champaign County Board representative Jim McGuire who believed that it was a move to make the Champaign County Reentry Council effectively dominated by one reentry council organization in the area. I asked him about it after it came up during a by-laws discussion previously. He explained his concerns like so:
I would like to let you know that I like the work that First Followers does as a community Re-entry program they have access to the community we may not have. They also both of course advocate for their program and fundraise for their program directly in the community separately from the “Re-entry” program we all are part off. Now it seems they want to have a seat on the executive board to have some sort of executive direction over this Re-entry program also.
The co-chairs had attempted to split the difference it seemed by using more general terms for an additional executive committee member with lived experience by using three criteria:
  1. Illinois Department of Corrections or Champaign County Jail experience.
  2. Willing and able to make the additional time committment.
  3. On a path towards success.
Kilgore pointed out that it wasn't really what he had in mind as he felt that his organization was specifically ideal for a selection decision given their history and involvement on the issue in the community. Co-chair Lenhoff and McGuire explained that this would likely have that very effect in spite of the general language.

Kilgore pressed his concern that the language doesn't appear to distinguish between someone with lived experience versus a decision maker within a represented organization with lived experience and/or representing the interests of affected communities.

McGuire appeared to accuse First Followers of some sort of take over attempt, which elicited denials from Kilgore and a breakdown of decorum as McGuire repeatedly talked over the chair trying to restore order and eventually walking out. Somewhere in there the discussion was effectively tabled. The meeting adjourned soon afterward when things had settled down a bit.

The nature of criminal justice reform inherently places people with diverging philosophies and passions in a room together to build trust where distrust typically reigns. As a naturally stubborn and obnoxious person myself, I believe I am inordinately restrained by decorum rules. When passions or tempers get the best of us, however, it tends to renew the appreciation for civility and parliamentary mundanity (at least among a majority of a quorum!).

Cornerstone Training

Imagine someone you love is driving through a small town on their way to visit relatives over the holidays and they get hit by a drunk driver. Their chances of survival depend on the training and efficiency of local fire department personnel to extract them from the wreckage and get them life saving medical treatment. The Illinois Fire Service Institute's Cornerstone Training program (brochure information here) helps bring that training to fire departments across the state for free.

Today was the unveiling of specialized equipment training trailers that will be distributed across Illinois and mobilized from regional training centers. The IFSI is the State's fire academy and its 28 acre campus is located right here in Champaign south of the University Research Park. IFSI trains over 64,000 students across Illinois and 11,000 in the the Cornerstone Program. The new trailers will make $174,000 worth of training equipment available as part of that training for departments with limited resources. One big highlight is the "big red door" training tool that has a cornucopia of entry training widgets that range from industrial to household scenarios and replaceable wooden blocks to simulate the resistance involved to bypass or break through:

The most recent Cornerstone Program brochure goes through the various skills and scenarios that it brings to train departments throughout the state, including volunteer fire departments that sometimes have very limited resources for training and equipment. At the unveiling Fire Marshal Matt Perez was credited with making the additional trailer project and funding possible via grant money and business partners. From the News-Gazette's preview of the event last week:
Four trailers and equipment for them were purchased with $175,000 in state of Illinois money secured by the state fire marshal’s office. Fire Marshal Matt Perez was instrumental in lobbying for and getting the funds.

A spokeswoman for FSI said the money is funneled through the institute’s “Cornerstone Program,” which delivers fundamental training to local fire departments, Mutal Aid Box Alarm System divisions and Mutual Aid Associations.
Full blurb here and follow up coverage here. Tim Meister of the East Central Illinois regional training center read a letter from the Mattoon fire department thanking them for the training. He explained the difference it made in having the tactics and readiness to deal with a particularly emotional and life threatening vehicle extrication. He highlighted the confidence in knowing exactly how to tackle the situation with the resources available to give the victim a fighting chance to survive.

An IFSI advisor, Brian R. Brauner explained to me that the training they receive goes into so many possible scenarios and complications that it led to his first fire experience being undramatic, "That was it?" It's worth remembering that these dangerous life or death scenarios may be the worst day of our entire lives, but firefighting personnel have to deal with those scenarios efficiently and tactically daily. Behind the Culver's and Arby's on South Neil Street in Champaign thousands of people are training for your worst possible day.

That training has just become a little bit better and more accessible to fire departments throughout the State, for free, including rural and volunteer fire departments. This often includes the efforts of firefighters who take time away from their families to help out in other areas. It includes volunteers and some uncompensated work to help save lives for that day. Someday it might just give someone you love a fighting chance too.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Special Meeting on Nursing Home

[UPDATE: The News-Gazette had the reason for the cancellation in a blurb today:
Tuesday was to be the night the board voted on whether to write off more than $4 million in bad debt from the county nursing home. But due to out-of-town trips, County Executive Darlene Kloeppel said there weren’t enough board members available to cast the 15 votes needed on the measure.]

Last night's special meeting on the Nursing Home was apparently canceled, but there's an agenda for a rescheduled one next Tuesday at 6pm prior to the regularly scheduled Committee of the Whole meeting at 6:30pm. A description of the original meeting from the News-Gazette's blurb yesterday morning:
Champaign County Board to vote on writing off $4 million in nursing home debt
The Champaign County Board could soon write off more than $4 million in bad debt from its nursing home.

At a special meeting tonight, board members will consider a budget amendment appropriating $4,192,062.10 as a bad debt expense to the nursing home fund.

County Executive Darlene Kloeppel said that amount of debt is more than 210 days old, "and due to that age should be considered uncollectable at this point."

Kloeppel said writing off the expense "does not preclude the county from still collecting on these obligations if it is able."
The full blurb here includes a brief reminder of the Nursing Home's delay in sale due to compliance issues. More on that from a post on the previous board meeting here. The only other issue listed so far are the appointments of the standing committee members. I don't see an agenda for the Committee of the Whole meeting yet, so that'll have to be in a future update.

Moms Demand Action in 2019

Tuesday night was the Moms Demand Action first meeting of the New Year. They also have their daytime meeting Wednesday at 9am for those who missed the regular evening meeting. Here's a quick overview from a previous post:
Moms Demand Action is a national organization for reforming gun policy with a local chapter here in Champaign-Urbana (facebook page here). They have regular monthly meetings and other events, but their main focus heading into the midterm elections is supporting what they call "Gun Sense" candidates. Gun Sense is a shorthand for what they view as common sense solutions to gun violence. More information on that at the Everytown for Gun Safety website on the subject.

Tonight's Meeting:

A slate of Unit 4 school board candidates introduced themselves and answered some questions. Elizabeth Sotiropoulos explained how they were running as a slate of candidates in the upcoming April 2nd municipal elections. Vote by mail applications are already available: information here, update on online request problem here.

Michael Foellmer described his anxiety dropping off his daughter at school in the current environment worrying about gun violence. He described his platform as being whole school, whole community, and whole child. He emphasized the need to address the full spectrum of issues kids face in education today.

Jennifer Enoch focus was on equity issues in schools and dealing with the modern segregation issues and their effect on outcomes throughout the educational process. She described her work on a school's equity committee and concerns about the recent teachers union negotiations that led to her decision to run for the school board. One specific concern she mentioned from the teacher's union proposal involved concerns that the board was using active shooter training negotiations as a bargaining chip (proposal here from the related Smile Politely article). This view was disputed by incumbent board member Kathy Richards who asked for her incumbent colleagues running for re-election to have an opportunity to answer questions at a future MDA meeting.

Elizabeth Sotiropoulos then explained her interest in running for several years and her roots in the community. She highlighted both her own education and the educational firm she manages, Illini Tutoring and Academic Coaching, and the challenges faced by parents and students of Unit 4. On the issue of gun violence she highlighted the need to address racism and racial segregation and its role in gun violence in our communities. She also highlighted the need for training and resources to prevent suicide within our community in general, but our schools specifically.

In the Q & A portion the candidates all opposed efforts to arm teachers as a solution to school shootings and a general opposition to opening up the state to such measures at the state level and via pressure in the Illinois Association of School Boards. There appeared to be a general consensus to improve racial sensitivity training, including implicit bias training for staff. An emphasis was made for leadership from affected communities and a need for their concerns to be really listened to and their experiences taken seriously.

The overall idea for violence was to address the underlying causes and to remove the need for armed and otherwise extreme defensive measures while navigating the need for preparedness in the event of a tragedy in the mean time. Active shooter training, non-lethal weapons, and panic buttons were discussed, but also the need to address the dangers of letting fear and anxiety add to or create more trauma. A representative from Truce noted that for solutions to be realistic our appreciation of the danger needs to be grounded in objective reality.

The rest of the meeting mostly ran through the status updates and upcoming events. They'll be confirming an "advocacy day" to lobby State representatives next month. At the state level they're still pushing for the Gun Dealer Licensing reform from the last legislative session. Federal legislation on universal background checks is being floated with the new Democratic Congress and they're looking to educate and build momentum to overcome the political barricades of an otherwise overwhelmingly popular concept.

They are liaising with the campus Students Demand Action and otherwise reaching out to other local organizations and government bodies (e.g. TRUCE and the City of Champaign) towards their goals to reduce violence in the community. The Champaign-Urbana Area Project quickly explained their need for diverse support from the community after the training and collaboration (more on that at an older post here). They explained that their ability to prevent violence depends on all lines of communication from the community.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Local Tax Levy Updates

There have been a series of decisions and proposals for the upcoming tax levy from many of the local government bodies that depend on them recently. This post is to help put them in one place with links to help understand what all this may mean by the time the actual bill comes due to property owners next month:
MTD: "The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (MTD) has approved a nearly 30 percent tax levy increase. MTD is funded through property taxes, grants, and ride fares. This increase does not mean that your property taxes will go up by 30 percent."

City of Champaign: "The City Council has determined that an appropriate total tax levy rate for
the City of Champaign is $1.3152" (the 2017 figure was also $1.3152)." and "Still, the past year's growth will see $826,023 more in property-tax revenue flow into the city's coffers, even with the tax levy at the same level as it has been for the past six years."

City of Urbana: "This will put Urbana's rate within a few cents of Champaign's rate next door. But without hospital properties to count into its levy, the city is likely to see a decrease of $269,375 in revenue available for basic city services."

Unit 4: "The Champaign school district wants to levy for an $8.4 million boost in property taxes next year but is projecting the increase would have a minimal impact on the tax rate paid by property owners."

District 116: "Residents can probably expect to see a lower school tax rate on their tax bills next year."

Parkland: "trustees approved an increase to the school's property-tax levy on Wednesday night that will allow the college to capture additional taxes after an increase in the equalized assessed value of property within the district. Still, Chief Financial Officer Chris Randles said, taxpayers should see a decrease in the college's rate on next year's bill."

Here's a primer post with a few different explanations to help people understand the difference between the tax levy and the tax rate, and how they affect one another: Tax Levies versus Tax Rates

Plant Hardiness Zones and Climate Change

The News-Gazette is publishing a series on how climate change may affect planting in the future with interviews with climatologists, looking at the USDA Hardiness Zone data and recent climate change assessments. Here's a quick excerpt from today's article:
Given the recent publication of the Fourth National Climate Assessment and the ominous conclusion that climate change is happening at an even faster rate than previously predicated, I have to wonder how it will impact plant hardiness zones.

How have these zones changed in the past? How will they change in the future? What do gardeners need to consider when selecting plants now and in the future? Over the next two editions of this column, I will be exploring the answers to these questions to help all of us as gardeners draw some meaningful conclusions...

The take-home message to me is that we really haven't experienced a significant shift in cold hardiness zones (with respect to historical data sets of average low temperatures) in recent iterations of the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map since 1960. Although a half zone shift by itself is significant (5F), we have both lost and gained that amount in past map updates. However, recent national climate assessments in 2014 and 2018 do predict a significant change in climate that will impact the map as average annual low temperatures gradually rise. In addition, other aspects of the Illinois climate will change, along with temperature that will have an impact on gardening.
The full article is available here.

Aquifer Task Force Report

The Mahomet Aquifer Task Force issued a final report this week including recommendations to improve the safety and protect our regional source for drinking water. Here's a quick blurb from the News-Gazette earlier this week:
$19.8M plan: Map water using helicopters
The latest tool for protecting our area’s source of drinking water: helicopters.

An advisory group of local elected officials and community members has recommended the state commit $19.8 million to the UI’s Prairie Research Institute for helicopterbased time-domain electromagnetics, or H-TEM technology, to better map the Mahomet Aquifer.

Doing so will “give us a much clearer view of what’s underground,” said state Sen. Chapin Rose, RMahomet, a member of the Mahomet Aquifer Task Force, which has spent

months studying issues concerning the primary source of drinking water for 500,000 central Illinoisans.

Among the group’s other recommendations, which now go to state lawmakers:

➜ Establish a public body to manage the aquifer long-term.

➜ If the aquifer is contaminated, there should be trust-fund money available to start clean-up right away.

➜ Inspectors should be trained to better detect problem areas like erosion, landslides and seeps.
So far the final report appears to have been given to the legislature and governor's office, but only the draft version is available online at the task force webpage. I'll update with links once I find a copy of the final report. NowDecatur had a more expansive highlight of the final report:
Highlights from the report include recommending the General Assembly provide $19.8 million to the Prairie Research Institute to use helicopter-based time-domain electromagnetics (HTEM technology) to more accurately map and characterize the Mahomet Aquifer to aid in identifying the connections with other aquifers and surface waters.

“That’ll give us a much clearer view of what’s underground, providing detailed data of what’s in and around the Mahomet Aquifer,” Rose said. “For example, if any old landfills above the Aquifer have failed and run the risk of contaminating the water. Also, the laser study can potentially help us find where the natural gas bubble is from the Peoples Gas natural gas leak. The data from this technology will help us deal with all sorts of issues and identity other potential threats to the Aquifer.”

The Task Force also recommends that a public body be established to manage the Aquifer long-term. This body would be responsible for responding to future issues, among other duties, and the report made a number of suggestions for future study for such a body...

Other recommendations include:
  • Establishing a trust fund to cover the cost of remediation in the event of a significant environmental incident so immediate remediation can begin;
  • Requiring companies storing natural gas underground to consult with third-party environmental experts in the event of a significant environmental incident to certify corrective plans and conduct oversight of the cleanup;
  • Training inspectors to use the detailed terrain model templates and instruct staff on how to annotate these images with defects such as depressions, erosion, landslides, barren areas, leachate seeps, trees, and vegetation anomalies;
  • Implementing the recommendations listed and providing additional funding ($1 million for one-time equipment purchase and additional $2.3 million annually) to PRI to deploy state-of-the-art monitoring networks and create the analytical capability to identify emerging contaminants of concern.
More at the full article here.