Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Farming Update: Rain Delays and Trade Wars

Local agriculture is taking a double hit this season from trade wars to an inability to plant in soil that's too wet and preventing roots from taking hold or fields that are actually flooded. Towards the end of last month the issues with wet whether were already causing planting delays. From WCCU April 29th:
"We haven't been able to plant or do anything as far as cropping too much," farmer Joe Burke said.

Burke said this has been the longest stretch of rain he's ever dealt with.

"Like you can see in the low ground out there, how it's dark, that means it's wet," he said. "Started wet in the fall, it was wet all winter pretty much and it's been wet this spring."

He grows corn and soybeans on his Thomasboro 1,100-acre farm and he understands part of being a farmer is having patience...

Burke said right now he's staying afloat by selling older crops. But, he couldn't put a dollar amount on how much each passing day is costing him...

"It's scary because they don't know when they're going to get things in, so they don't know when things are going to come out," said Rey Dalitto, Farmers Market & Food Access Manager.

"I've had farmer after farmer after farmer tell me that they've never seen anything like this," Dalitto said.
Full article with video segment here.

WILL's the 21st show had an audio segment and interviews with an area farmer and other experts. Synopsis:
It’s been a cold and wet spring here in Illinois, one of the wettest in 124 years, according to the state climatologists office. Spring showers are a nuisance for most of us, but too much rain can be disastrous for farmers who aren’t able to get their seeds in the ground. To make things worse, the trade war with China continues to heat up. How are farmers coping? We thought we would check in with a few folks who’ve been following this closely, including Steve Fourez. He farms about 500 acres of corn and soy in Vermillion County in East Central Illinois. Madelyn Beck is a reporter for Harvest Public Media. Scott Irwin is the Laurence J. Norton Chair of Agricultural Marketing in the college of ACES at the University of Illinois.
Full audio segment here, includes the show intro and roughly 16 minutes long. It goes into a lot of details about the historic nature of the amount of rainfall and how it compares to previous growing seasons where crops would have already been planted by now. For those who planted early there's a chance that some sections may need to be replanted later depending on if any areas get over-saturated, pooling, etc. They also discuss the previous expectations of the trade war agreements falling through and its devastating effect on soybean prices, even before the weather problems. Another guest pointed to the recent rainfall and called it a "Black Swan event" and had a 7 day rainfall forecast map illustrating the problem:

From his twitter post here. For more information on the trade war situation, the News-Gazette also had coverage of the status a couple weeks ago here. Harvest Public Media had a helpful overview of the trade situation today here:
Collateral damage is exactly what many U.S. farmers feel like right now, even as the Trump administration has promised a second bailout, this time worth $20 billion. That will help some, but many farmers say a trade resolution that reopens the Chinese market is what they really want.

“We were willing to take one for the team, if it was going to be a long-term goal,” said Ronnie Russell, vice president of the Missouri Soybean Association. “But the truth of the matter is now, are we going to be able to still survive in the short term so we can be here to take advantage and enjoy that long-term goal?”

And while those who don’t farm may ask why farmers just don’t grow something else, it’s not an easy pivot — especially when it comes to grains like wheat, corn and soybeans. Farmers, like Friest in Iowa, invest thousands in land, equipment and technology.

“Our soils adapt very well to growing corn, they grown soybeans. We have the markets for them and we have the machinery set up for it,” he said.
More at the full article here.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Crime Stoppers Update and Shred Event

Champaign County Crime Stoppers has a Shred Event going on this morning by the State Farm Center (formerly the Assembly Hall). From the News-Gazette earlier this month:
Document-shredding/drug drop-off event set May 18 near State Farm Center
With the help of Triad Shredding, Crime Stoppers will shred up to two banker's boxes worth of documents, but the organization is asking for a $5 donation to pay rewards for future tips.

Examples of acceptable documents are medical records, financial statements, credit applications, bank statements, documents with Social Security or driver-license numbers, bank checks, tax records, and legal documents over 8 years old.

At the same drop-off site, folks may bring in potentially dangerous expired, unused and unwanted prescription drugs in the form of pills and patches. The DEA officials cannot accept liquids, needles or sharps.

The service is free and intended to keep unused medication from falling into the wrong hands and avoid health hazards caused when drugs are flushed or buried in landfills. No questions will be asked of the people dropping off drugs.
Full blurb here. More information at the Crime Stoppers website here. Crime Stoppers is also looking for ideas for fundraising to help it continue its Gun Bounty program that helps solve gun related crimes. WCCU had more on that with a video segment here. Excerpt:
A total of 10 handguns, two shotguns and a semi-automatic rifle were recovered as a result of the tips given to the Champaign County Crime Stoppers.

The tips were accumulated over a span of three-and-a-half month trial period for its new Gun Bounty Reward Program.

Officials said the pilot program ran from January 10 to April 26 of this year.

The program showed a 467% increase in recovered guns over the same period last year.
That article and video segment here. The News-Gazette had a blurb asking for help with fundraising, fundraising ideas, and tips:
Hecker said Crime Stoppers has a couple fundraising ideas, but he declined to share them. Last year, the group gave out $9,800 in rewards.

Crime Stoppers gets money from court fees, fundraisers and donations.

If you want to help out, or to submit a tip anonymously, head online to
The full blurb available here. Crime Stoppers is also looking for nominations for its Dave Benton Crime Fighter Award before the June 1st deadline. From WCIA:
The Dave Benton Crime Fighter Award is an annual award established by Crime Stoppers of Champaign County in honor of former board member and WCIA-TV anchor Dave Benton. Each year this award recognizes the Champaign County citizen who most exemplifies the crime-fighting spirit that Dave Benton exhibits during his award-winning newscasts, programs and his tenure on the Crime Stopper’s Board of Directors.

Nominations are open to all residents of Champaign County. The intent is to recognize an individual who has made a difference in the fight against crime. The recipient must have been involved in an onoing activity or program that helped to stop a crime, solve a case, or made a big difference in resolving a dangerous situation that made a neighborhood, community or the whole of Champaign County safer. Criteria for nominations are very general in order to avoid limiting the kinds of activities that would qualify and maintain a broad appeal to all citizens.
Full article here with more details. More on the award and nomination process from the Crime Stoppers website here.

Nursing Home Updates

Earlier this month it was reported that the Nursing Home recently sold by the county was being fined. The News-Gazette listed out the violations as occurring when the County still owned the facility. From the News-Gazette:
Five area nursing homes fined for violations found during inspections
Five nursing homes in the area have been fined in connection with recent violations found in state inspections, according to an Illinois Department of Public Health report for the first quarter of the year.

The list includes the former Champaign County-owned nursing home in Urbana (now University Rehab Center) and the former Heartland of Champaign (now Champaign Living Center at 309 E. Springfield Ave., C). Both are now under common ownership as a result of recent purchases.

The former county nursing home was fined $25,000 for a type A violation noted on a Nov. 28, 2018, inspection. A type A violation is the second-most serious violation category in which a substantial probability that death or serious mental or physical harm either will occur or has occurred.

The former county nursing home was also fined $2,200 for a type B violation found in a Dec. 19, 2018, inspection.
Full article here. In other news related to the new owner of the old County nursing home and other nursing homes in the area, Rothner linked companies also own and have been shuffling around ownership of the Inman building in downtown Champaign that serves a retirement community and offers senior care. From the News-Gazette this week:
Inman Place gets new owner; no changes expected
Inman Place, a senior independent living community in downtown Champaign, is under new ownership...

Inman Place was sold March 29 for $2.95 million to the new Evanston-based Champaign Atied LLC, doing business as Inman Place Senior Living, according to county and state records.

The seller was Lincolnwood-based East University LLC, a corporation managed by Brickyard Bank, also of Lincolnwood.

Brickyard Bank became the mortgagee in possession of the Inman property in 2010 after filing a foreclosure complaint against the previous owners.

The bank's parent organization, Brickyard Bancorp, is owned by members of the Rothner family, also part-owners of three nursing homes in Champaign-Urbana...

The corporate addresses for those three nursing homes are all the same Evanston address listed for other Rothner businesses and for Champaign Atied LLC.
Full article here. This is a followup on a previous Cheat Sheet post about the new owner buying other area nursing homes and recently closing one here.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Mahomet Annexation

A contentious local item for Mahomet revolves around what happens when unincorporated parts of Champaign County are annexed by a municipality. For residents this can affect their taxes, services, and regulations. For governments this can affect revenue, budgets, and intergovernmental agreements based on population, etc.

The Mahomet Daily had an article laying out the potential changes to the Mahomet annexation policy and had a nice overview of what annexation could mean to those County residents annexed into the village:
All tax dollars coming from Mahomet residents spread per the tax rate between the Mahomet-Seymour School District, Champaign County Government, Parkland College, Cornbelt Fire District, the Mahomet Public Library, the Champaign County Forest Preserve, Mahomet Township, Mahomet Road and Bridge and Mahomet Permanent Road.

Residents living within the Village of Mahomet are also subject to a Village of Mahomet tax.

Village Administrator Patrick Brown said that the Village tax rate is currently similar in dollar amount and percentage to the Champaign County tax rate on a property tax bill. A currently unincorporated property annexed into the Village would see a property tax increase of a similar amount.

Properties annexed into the Village would also be subject to Village ordinances, such as the leaf, and brush burning, which prohibits the practice, and construction and driveway permits.

Brown said that those annexed into the Village would receive Village services such as service from the Mahomet Police Department instead of the Champaign County Department, snow plowing, brush and limb pickup and those residents would not have to pay the out-of-Village fee for Mahomet Parks and Recreation programming.

Unlike some other municipalities, annexation in Mahomet is unique in that there are two water districts that serve residents and it has an abundance of parks, waterways, and interstates.
Full article with more information here. Last month these changes became a focal point of opposition to the annexation of the Briarcliff subdivision. From the News-Gazette after a village trustees vote in favor of annexation:
In opposing annexation, numerous residents have said they don't believe there are enough benefits to being part of the village to warrant added taxes, and many have said they wish to preserve the rural lifestyle they enjoy outside village limits.

The annexations approved this week will add about 300 people to the village's population.

Prior to the regularly scheduled meeting, about 20 people held signs in opposition to annexation outside the Cornbelt Fire Protection District training facility on Main Street. The session was moved to the Cornbelt facility in anticipation of a larger crowd than most trustee meetings, and the move was warranted. Dozens of people filled the training facility room for the meeting.
More details at that full article here. Some were threatening to sue to block the annexation before and after the vote. The News-Gazette explored the legal issues in a Law Q&A article this week:
Can a city or village forcibly annex your property, thereafter subjecting you to city real estate taxes?

Generally, a city can only forcibly annex property if it is adjacent to the city's boundary and is wholly bounded by one or more cities or is wholly bounded by cities and the state line (including being bounded by rivers or lakes in counties of certain larger sizes).

Forcible annexation can also be done when the territory to be annexed is wholly bounded by municipalities and a forest preserve district or park district.

However, annexation cannot be had to the surrounded territory if it is more than 60 acres. Thus, if your house lot is surrounded by other house lots, and the sum of the size of the encirclement of all the house lots is more than 60 acres, you are safe under the current legislation in Illinois...

The public policy behind forceful annexation is to prevent enclaves arising which might interfere with the orderly growth of cities because of the geographic disruption to the flow of city infrastructure and services.

It's tit for tat. While you may start paying higher property taxes because of the annexation, you will get city police and fire protection, and possibly sanitary sewage service. But the argument against forcible annexation is the American sanctity of land ownership free from the unwanted intrusions of the tyrant king. Hence the 60-acre exception is a policy counterbalance...

The objection raised by the owners adjacent to the East Central Illinois village has to do with whether the unincorporated territory is properly wholly bounded under the requirements of the annexation statute.
Full article with more information here. What's next? It depends on if there's a lawsuit. From the previous trustees meeting:
The subdivisions in question are said by Mahomet leaders to be either completely surrounded by, or partially touching, village boundaries, making them eligible for annexation.

"Essentially, what happens next is going to depend on the area subdivisions," village President Sean Widener said.

The Tuesday vote doesn't mean the subdivisions will be immediately considered within the village limits. Widener noted that the village must file paperwork with the Champaign County Clerk's Office and finish the process of official annexation.
I'll leave it to the lawyers to figure out the odds in fighting it.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

County Board Updates

This post covers the last regular County Board meeting in April and the May Committee of the Whole meeting yesterday. The full April meeting isn't yet available on the County Clerk's YouTube channel, but the Clerk recently said videos will be available again soon. The News-Gazette's coverage of the April regular County Board meeting focused mainly on the 5 year financial outlook presentation:
Ogden's report detailed financial pressures the county is under:

— The state's cut to county income-tax revenues has cost Champaign County $422,000 year-to-date, with Gov. J.B. Pritzker proposing the continuation of this cut.

— Less revenue is being distributed from the Personal Property Replacement Tax on corporations and partnerships due to the state's diversion of those funds...

— A 10-year capital facilities plan, which does not include the sheriff's office and downtown jail, calls for addressing deferred maintenance "to keep its buildings from declining." That plan calls for spending $1 million on infrastructure in 2020.

— The county is considering developing a strategic technology plan to update or improve software for everything from tax-cycle work to jail management, law enforcement and animal control...

— A ruling in the Carle property-tax exemption case could leave the county liable for as much as $2.65 million, not including possible interest.

Ogden's report forecasts expenses to outpace revenues in the general fund to the tune of $400,544 in 2020, $629,436 in 2021, $955,783 in 2022 and $999,970 in 2023.
Full article with more information here. The full Five Year Financial Forecast is available here and includes many of the challenges the County faces from critical building maintenance to dire technology problems on top of budgets already operating with tight belts and skeleton crews. From the "final thoughts" summary:
The Forecast has been prepared based on conservative revenue assumptions, including modest property and sales tax growth and the extension of income tax cuts. Forecasted expenditures assume consistent growth in personnel costs and modest increases in commodities and services costs. Deviations from these assumptions will have a subsequent impact on forecasted revenues and expenditures, particularly in the later fiscal years.

The Forecast does not included funding to replace the County’s financial system although this is an urgent need that can no longer be deferred and must be managed with currently available revenues. Upon issuance of an RFP, and receipt of responses, the County will have a better idea of the system cost. It is expected there will be limited Public Safety Sales Tax funds available beginning in FY2020 to partially fund the system. Unfortunately, there is a projected structural deficit within the General Fund. Unless new revenue sources are secured, it is essential the County restrict expenditure growth to the maximum extent possible within these funds in order to ensure it has adequate financial resources for its financial system and facility needs...

In May, a resolution establishing the FY2020 budget process will be presented to the Finance Committee. The County Executive will provide budget instructions to Department Heads and Elected Officials in June, followed by meetings in July to begin developing the FY2020 budget. By this time, more data will be available to better analyze revenue and expenditure performance in the current fiscal year and fine tune projections for the upcoming fiscal year.
Full report here. Yesterday's Committee of the Whole touched on the Five Year Forecast topics repeatedly and also had a few presentations of its own. The meeting ran over three hours, adjourning at just about a quarter to 10 o'clock. Here are links to the presentation materials for now: the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation presentation, the Circuit Clerk's presentation for the Criminal and Traffic Assessment Act, and the Champaign County Reentry Council's Third Quarter Report (page 27 of Agenda Packet, page 30 of PDF file). I'll be highlighting these presentations more later when board videos become available again.

Outside of the presentations, the meeting was fairly contentious on budget challenges facing the board and more Democrats concerned about the County Executive's exclusive appointment process. Member McGuire began the budget discussion by proposing a measure to help balance the budget. He offered an amendment to Resolution Adopting Champaign County Financial Policies on the agenda (page 13 of the packet, page 16 of the PDF) that would require a supermajority of 15 votes for budget increases over 2% without matching cuts or added revenue to cover the costs.

McGuire pointed to the financial forecast and argued that the county simply can't spend more money it doesn't have. A handful of Democrats questioned the mechanics of the amendment with County Departments, while members McGuire and Goss reiterated the necessity due to the County's financial situation in the aftermath of the Nursing Home sale. The amendment voice vote was close enough that it fell to a hand vote which failed to pass closely along party lines. The originally worded policy resolution then passed.

The next debate was about amending the County Executive's proposed budget process (agenda page 20, page 23 of the PDF) with priorities for technological upgrades, including those related to the Capital Asset Replacement Fund and election equipment upgrades. The debate fell mostly along party lines again with Republicans standing by the original language. Members Goss and McGuire argued that the process described already allows for all departments to make their case for funding to the County Executive who is tasked with creating the budget. Attempts to prioritize departments over others was painted as unfair and unnecessary.

The debate also covered previous equipment issues raised by the prior Republican County Clerk and accusations both directions about hypocrisy of a long standing issue that the board made the previous clerk make do with. Several Democratic members argued the security and technology concerns with elections has only grown with the equipment becoming more outdated and unsecure. Member Goss emphasized the importance of qualified people over software and made a dig at the recent property tax bill delays and new Democratic office holders.

The County Executive weighed in towards the end noting the changes with the new County Executive form of government. She said the language had been removed as a compromise with member Goss (as the Finance Committee vice chair). She explained how she intended to outline the process and why. She said she'll listen to department heads and she will listen to the board in the process. A suggestion to split the vote between the Capital Asset Replacement Fund language and the election technology priorities was accepted and voted on separately. Both passed by roll call vote, with heavier Republican opposition on the second half. The final process was approved as amended by roll call vote with heavy Republican opposition again.

There was some information presented about the General Corporate Fund Budget Projection that mentioned a call with Moody's on Friday in which the administrative staff hoped to retain their bond rating.

The Finance Chair report was delivered by a visibly irritated member Goss. He criticized the "highly paid" County officeholders for failing to attend County Board meetings again, specifically targeting the Treasurer and calling her incompetent outright. He criticized the County Clerk for being too busy lobbying to get the taxes right and complained that if the shoe was on the other foot they'd be screaming at the previous Republican office holders and not blaming old software. He reiterated concerns about the debt and pointed to mail in ballots as a sensible alternative to some of the election needs.

The final argument of the evening also involved the County Executive and Republicans appearing to defend the new process under the County Executive form of government with the majority Democrats arguing to ensure the board is included in that process. Fortado and other Democrats argued that they had an advise and consent role in the appointment process. They argued that without more transparency into the application process they weren't able to give informed advise and some were willing to start voting against consent under those circumstances. Republicans argued that the process was reasonable and that the complaints were ridiculous. They pointed out that its hard enough to get applicants to do these important appointed jobs and people might say it's not worth it if it gets tainted with political maneuvers.

The debate escalated to a crescendo, quite literally, as member Rector loudly criticized the Democrats for angry partisan politics. It's a criticism he's leveled in the past, but the Democrats were able to point to the appointee specifically being debated over at the moment being a Democrat himself. The Democrats laughed a bit at Rector's expense, but the Republicans may have gotten the last laugh. The Democrats merely pointed out that at a public and recorded meeting they were having open disagreements between Democratic board members and the Democratic County Executive to the point they were seriously trying to undermine a Democratic appointee that the Republicans were happy to vote for.

The appointment passed 12-9 on a roll call vote. The remaining appointments passed easily by voice vote, though a couple votes had some audible nays. The meeting rushed to an adjournment at approximately 9:45pm.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Community Coalition Meeting and Walk as One Event

[UPDATE: Local coverage and video segments of yesterday's Walk as One event are available here from WCCU and two segments here from WCIA. The News-Gazette also had an article covering the walk here.]

Tomorrow Wednesday May 15th, the Champaign Community Coalition will be having a Walk as One event (WILL coverage) in the 'North End' to connect people with their neighbors and information. Here are two of the information cards for the event. The first one is for folks who want to volunteer and participate and the other is information for residents in the neighborhood (click to enlarge):

Last week's Community Coalition Meeting also announced a new location for future meetings. From the News-Gazette coverage:
Parsons also announced that this year's Walk as One event, which promotes peace and community resiliency, is set for 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 15 at Salem Baptist Church in Champaign. This will be a door-knocking initiative to hand out information to the north end neighborhood about the city's summer community programs and crisis-response efforts for gun violence.

And after three years at the library, the coalition will again move its meetings. The regular gatherings will now take place from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on the second Wednesday of every month at the Holiday Inn, 101 Trade Center Drive, C.
More at the full article here. The full article describes in detail plans towards community forums within 36 hours of a gun violence incident to connect the community affected with resources (a post on the first of these forums here). The aim is interrupt the cycle of trauma and violence. It's also to react almost as if to a natural disaster, to ensure the community has the tools and resources to deal with the fallout of these events.

More from the meeting...

Police Chief Updates: This week is Police Memorial Week and there will be an event for local departments at West Side Park at 11:15am on Friday May 17th.

Shooting incidents involving multiple shooters (with multiple types of bullet casings at scene) occurred in both Champaign and Urbana. The chiefs laid out their reports of shootings, including some with injuries and at least two homicides at the time of the meeting. Since the meeting a 14 year old was also killed: more on that in today's paper here. The campus police for Parkland and the University of Illinois are expecting things to slow down some as students leave in their areas. U of I police reminded folks of the Youth Leadership Camp coming up again.

The Champaign Park District had an announcement for their Summer Neighborhood Block Parties program with the latest dates and locations at the link.

Among the other program updates was an announcement that Urbana would be starting a pilot program modeled after the Unit 4 "Goal Getter" program. More information that from WCCU:
After seeing the success of Champaign's Goal Getters Program, community activists in Urbana decided to create a similar blueprint, for what they will be calling, The Urbana Youth High School Program.

The program will focus on students who have struggled socially and academically.

The program is expected to begin in June, which will include 16 sessions over the summer and will run through the school year as well.
Full blurb with video segment here. The project was pending final approval, although I'm not sure if that will be coming from the City of Urbana or the District 116 school board at this point (perhaps both?). More on the announcement to the Urbana City Council from the News-Gazette a week ago here.

There were some updates on the progress of the iRead/iCount program through the United Way. They're going to be looking for volunteers who can give an hour a week to help with basic reading skills, including improving letter recognition. More information available at this WCIA interview from January here. Flyer (click to enlarge):

Bend the Arc had a presentation on white nationalism locally, including active white nationalist groups in the area. They are going to have an event later this month on the subject. I'll post an update with that information when available.

Mothers Demand Action had information about their Wear Orange event working with Truce and the Champaign Park District next month: Saturday, June 8th 2-5pm Douglass Park at 512 E Grove St, Champaign, IL 61820.

The meeting ran low on time at the end and a couple of the hurried presenters were invited back to a future meeting:

  • The Money Mentors program at the University of Illinois Extension
  • Community Data: Mixed Methods for Community Centered Design which appeared to focus on how algorithms by various entities we interact with could be reinforcing previous problems (e.g. feedback loops of red lined neighborhoods causing discriminatory results in your Amazon purchases)
There was also information about the Leadership Development Academy's 4 week summer program (click to enlarge flyer):

There was more, including an overview of the "Embracing Your Past" event last month. A post on that will be coming up after a little more research.

Property Tax Rate Delays

[UPDATE: The mailing date has been changed already since yesterday's post. From the News-Gazette website today:
Champaign County property tax bills are going to be mailed even later than projected.

The new tentative tax date for tax bills to be mailed is May 28, eight days later than the last tentative date, according to county Treasurer Laurel Prussing.

The further delay is intended to give taxing districts enough time to review their extensions and rates and take up any issues with the county clerk's office...

The delay in tax bills means property owners will have longer before the first installment payments are due. If tax bills are mailed on May 28, the first installment will likely be due June 28, according to Prussing.
More at the full blurb here. No other updates for now.]

More property tax complications have popped up since an initial delay in setting the rates in Champaign County. Local governments depend on these figures and timelines to plan out their budgets. The News-Gazette had information on the original delay last month. Updates on more recent complications, especially with Urbana, below.
Champaign County tax bills coming 3 weeks late
County officials said they had been missing a piece of information from the state Department of Revenue that's necessary to complete their work on 2018 tax bills payable this year.

The tentative mailing date for tax bills is now May 20, according to the Champaign County clerk's office.

In most Illinois counties, tax bills mailed after May 1 are considered to be late.

County officials blamed the delay in tax bills on a delay by the state Department of Revenue in issuing a final county multiplier, which is needed for the calculations done by the county clerk's office on tax rates...

The first installment on property taxes will be due 30 days after the mailing date for the bills, with the second installment tentatively due on Sept. 3, county officials said.

The state Department of Revenue didn't respond to questions about whether it was behind on providing multipliers to counties. But Champaign County Supervisor of Assessments Paula Bates said she provided assessment information to the state on time in February.
More at the full article here. The News-Gazette had information on the tentative tax rates last week, but the numbers on the County website were taken down the next day (more on why below with the Urbana numbers):
The tentative 2018 rates for Rantoul residents continued to be highest in Champaign County, though they dropped this year from about $12 per $100 of assessed value to about $11 per $100 of assessed value.

Champaign property owners in the Unit 4 school district will be paying 2018 rates in the $9 per $100 range, about the same as last year.

The rate for the majority of Champaign taxpayers is tentatively set at $9.0457 per $100. Based on that rate, taxes on a $150,000 home (assessed at one-third its market value) will be $4,522 this year, about $4 more than last year, excluding any exemptions on the property that would lower the bill...

Elsewhere in Champaign County, rates for Allerton, Bondville, Broadlands, Fisher, Mahomet, Philo, Royal, Sadorus, St. Joseph and Tolono are all tentatively set in the $7 range per $100.

In Foosland, Gifford, Homer, Ivesdale, Longview and Ogden, rates are in the $8 range per $100, and joining Champaign in the $9 range are Ludlow and Thomasboro.

Savoy residents will tentatively be paying rates in the $7 or $8 range, depending on which township they're in and whether or not the MTD is included on their bills.

County officials have set a tentative date of May 20 for tax bills to hit the mail, with the first installment payment tentatively due June 20.
More at the full article here and an update on Urbana's numbers from an article the next day on Urbana's property tax situation:
The dispute over Urbana's tax rate is one reason County Executive Darlene Kloeppel asked the county clerk's office to remove tentative property-tax rates that were posted Wednesday from its website Thursday.

Kloeppel said tax-rate information shouldn't have been released to the public before taxing districts got a chance to review their rates and final rates were set...

Hannan said the county clerk's office incorrectly set Urbana's 2018 municipal tax rate — which is part of the overall rate Urbana residents will pay this year — at $1.5591 per $100 of assessed value.

The city had directed the county to set its tax rate lower than $1.3555 if any hospital properties were taxable for 2018, so the city's rate will be reduced to 1.3499, Hannan said...

Andy Rhodes, the county's IT director who is assisting with this year's tax work in the county clerk's office, said the tentative municipal rates for both Champaign and Urbana will be lowered when final rates are issued.

"The county clerk's office missed applying abatements to the city of Champaign and city of Urbana levies, and it generated an artificially high rate," he said.
That full article here. Related Cheat Sheet post on more issues with the City of Urbana property tax rate here.

[Updated: originally posted on 5/13/2019 at 9:26am]

Monday, May 13, 2019

County Board Videos

Typically if you want to see what happens at one of the County government meetings, there are a few options: attend in person, watch live on-line streaming during the meeting (when available), or catch the recorded meeting on YouTube a few days later on the Champaign County Clerk's YouTube Channel. Folks attempting to use the third option have noticed some hiccups this year. Long delays, technical issues with the videos, and then the videos stopped completely in March. The latest meeting covered is the March 12th Committee of the Whole that was uploaded over two weeks later.

The reasons given for this situation are staffing. For those following County politics, you may remember that the County Clerk's office changing hands involved a bit of a staff exodus, including the information technology specialist. From the News-Gazette back in February:
Tom Kacich | For new Champaign County clerk, 'it's been a learning curve'
Soon after he took over Dec. 1, the county clerk's office was down six employees. Ammons said it was a foregone conclusion that his Republican opponent, Matt Grandone, would leave the office, as would former clerk Gordy Hulten and Hulten's Chief Deputy Jeremy Cirks.

But he said he was unprepared for the loss of three other employees almost immediately, plus a fourth who left within a couple of months. He said it was "disheartening" that two of the former employees gave two days' notice and another gave no notice at all.

"If they thought they were hurting me, I think they missed the fact that they were hurting the taxpayers and maybe some of their teammates who have had to pick up the slack," he said. "We want to stay focused and positive, but I think it's important the taxpayers know this from a professional standpoint."

The employees who remained, Ammons said, have been "absolutely amazing. Their expertise and commitment has been unquestionable."

Slowly, he said, he's filling positions. He's hired an information technology specialist, expects to have a deputy county clerk within a week and is close to hiring a chief of staff. By May he thinks all the positions in the office will be filled.
That full article available here. Unfortunately the IT specialist mentioned in this February story didn't work out. A new IT specialist started last week, but is still getting up to speed on everything. There seems to be some hope of videos becoming available again soon, but I wasn't given a time frame on when that can be expected.

For the time being, the options to catch County Board meetings are to catch them live or you might be waiting a while. Meetings from March and before are still up and available on YouTube here.

Update: The County Clerk added this additional information via twitter today:
We are working with County IT department to make the videos available. We are still determining if that will be on the County website or through YouTube. We anticipate having the videos available very soon and appreciate everyone’s patience.

County Cannabis Update

The Champaign County Circuit Clerk and and State's Attorney have both been in the news recently talking about their work and concerns with the possible legalization of recreational marijuana in Illinois. From the News-Gazette a couple weeks back:
Champaign circuit clerk among those working on potential issues with legal pot
Champaign County Circuit Clerk Katie Blakeman is working behind the scenes to prepare for what's coming when and if recreational cannabis for adults is legalized in Illinois...

Blakeman has been part of a working group convened by Deputy Governor Christian Mitchell and bill co-sponsors Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, and Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, that's been meeting for about three months.
The group is brainstorming how to deal with issues that will come up when legalized cannabis rolls out.
Those include equity and finance, public education and awareness, record expungement and criminal justice, home growing, licensing and market size, tax structure, and revenue allocation...

She said the sponsors of the bill to legalize recreational pot want a mechanism in place to allow people convicted of minor cannabis possession charges to shed that past without having to go through a lengthy, complicated petition process...

Blakeman said some legislators also assumed that Illinois State Police would have all records of cannabis convictions, but Blakeman noted that anyone not fingerprinted would not be in the state police records system. Someone arrested for a small amount of cannabis could very well have been given a notice to appear in court by police rather than being arrested and fingerprinted, so a record of their conviction would be found at the county circuit clerk level.
A lot more additional information at the full article here. There was also another Cheat Sheet post on challengers to Blakeman for the Circuit Clerk seat in 2020 here. The Champaign County State's Attorney interview with WCIA is available in a video segment and article here. Excerpt:
From a legal perspective in general, there are parts of the proposal Rietz says she doesn't have a problem with, but there are some issues she has with the expungement provision as it stands right now.

Generally, the expungement process has to be initiated by the person with the record. This proposal outlines an automatic expungement. Rietz says this means police would have to provide manpower and money to go through the records to decide who qualifies and to destroy those records.

"It seems like a significant allocation of resources for something I'm not really sure has a great benefit."

Expungement under this bill is not something she fully supports.

Rietz says, "I struggle with the concept that somebody who committed an offense and was convicted of that offense, without having to even request it, gets that offense stricken off their record."
Full article and link with video segment here. WILL had an article and radio interview on the same topic here. Excerpt:
“I personally don't have an issue with adults who can make decisions for themselves who want to use cannabis in their living rooms,” Rietz said. “I have concern about safety on our roadways, and I think that we are working with the legislature on addressing those issues as well.”

Rietz said there needs to be funding to train officers to detect impairments associated with cannabis use.

“The field sobriety tests that one does when there's a concern about alcohol use are different from the tests to detect cannabis use,” Rietz explained. “And there are only in the entire state of Illinois 50 police officers who are certified to do those tests. In Champaign County, we have one. So that's a safety issue and a funding issue that we need to address before we can move forward.”
Full article and audio interview here.

Circuit Clerk Candidates

Two Democratic Party challengers, Robert "Bob" Burkhalter and Susan McGrath, have announced their candidacy for County Circuit Clerk against the incumbent Republican, Katie Blakeman. From a couple recent News-Gazette articles. The first from the last week of April:
Champaign County courts employee announces candidacy for circuit clerk
Robert "Bob" Burkhalter, 44, of Champaign announced Wednesday his candidacy for the Democratic nomination to the office now held by Katie Blakeman.
Blakeman, a Republican, has been circuit clerk since 2012 and intends to run for re-election.

Burkhalter began his civil-service career as a clerk in the circuit clerk's office in 2007. Since 2011, he has served as a minute clerk to various Champaign County judges and currently is assigned to Judge Jeff Ford.
Full blurb available here. And from last week:
2nd Democrat joins race for Champaign County circuit clerk
An assistant state's attorney is the latest to announce her candidacy to be the Champaign County legal system's record-keeper.

Susan McGrath, 62, of Champaign said she plans to seek the Democratic Party's nod to be the candidate for circuit clerk, an office held by Republican Katie Blakeman since 2012. Blakeman intends to seek re-election...

McGrath has been active in the party for years, serving on the county board from 1978 to 1994; as a paid appointee to the Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District board from 1997 to 2005; and a precinct committee person, election judge and volunteer in several Democratic candidate campaigns.

She has also served on the boards of the Champaign County Health Care Consumers, Girls Inc., East Central Illinois Elder Abuse Task Force, Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation and other groups.
More at the full article here. Burkhalter has a campaign website and facebook page up already. McGrath formally announced this morning.

Population and Ag Census Data Updates

Champaign County population is declining according to U.S. Census data, but not as fast as neighboring counties. From the News-Gazette in April:
Latest Census Bureau estimates show Illinois' populations in decline
For the first time this decade, Champaign County has fewer people than it did the year before. But the slight drop is nothing compared to the population plummets elsewhere in Illinois...

— Of Illinois' 102 counties, 82 suffered population drops. Among them: Champaign (down 0.1 percent — matching the decline for the C-U metro area); Ford (0.4); Piatt (0.4); Douglas (0.8); and Vermilion (1.2).

— With the real Census a year away, Champaign remains Illinois' 10th largest county. But losing 121 residents knocked it back below 210,000 (to 209,983) — still comfortably ahead of No. 11 Sangamon (195,348).
More data at the full article here. WCIA had additional coverage, including a video segment here. Excerpt:
Larger places which usually see an increase in population are losing people, including Champaign County. Census data shows it's mainly people between the ages of 25 - 54. Last year 86 counties saw a population loss. The year before it was 80 counties. This was the fitth year in a row Illinois saw significant population loss. Some places like Champaign County saw a decrease in poplulation when in years past there's been growth...

Other cities which saw decline included Decatur, Springfield, Rockford and Bloomington. No other city shrank faster than Danville. In fact, Danville is listed as the fourth fastest shrinking city in the entire country. 
The U.S. Census of Agriculture's data on Champaign County was also highlighted in the News-Gazette yesterday, specifically on consolidations and internet access.
Ag census finds area farmers are connecting, consolidating more
In 2007, 64 percent of Champaign County farmers had internet access. A decade later, that's up to 80 percent, though most don't have a cable that provides the internet.

About 48 percent of Champaign County farmers get their internet from mobile devices, and 26 percent get their internet from satellite...

As mobile and satellite access has increased, dial-up and DSL access has decreased.

About 16 percent of Champaign County farms still use DSL, while less than 10 of the county's 1,214 farms use dial-up...

The latest ag census also shows that farms are continuing to consolidate, with 16 percent fewer farms in Champaign County between 50 and 1,000 acres compared to 2012.

The total number of farms in the county declined from 1,312 to 1,214, even as the number of farms above a thousand acres increased by only one — from 193 to 194.

On the opposite end, the number of small farms increased in Champaign County, with the number of farms of less than 50 acres increasing from 385 in 2012 to 402 in 2017.
More data, including comparisons to other counties, at the full article here.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Local Autonomous Cars and Espionage

There were a couple technology stories related to the University of Illinois and some local and international ramifications. The University of Illinois is collaborating with Rantoul and others for an automated car test track on the old Chanute Air Base. From WCCU (including a video segment) earlier this month:
Rantoul may be the new face for autonomous driving with a new test track...

Say hello to the Illinois Automated and Connected Track (I-ACT) - a research facility in Rantoul that would conduct testing on self-driving vehicles.

"They would be able to bring these vehicles up to a speed of 75 mph and then test braking, distance, right lane activity and left lane activity," said Rantoul Mayor Charles Smith.

The Smart Transportation Infrastructure Initiative has been working on this project for about a year. The project is a result of a partnership with several Illinois universities, including Northwestern University, the University of Illinois- Chicago and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"Also, the Village of Rantoul will be donating that land to the university," Smith said.
More at the full article here. More information on the test track plans are available from Illinois Center on Transportation here. More information on the Smart Transportation Infrastructure Initiative (STII) here.

In more concerns about foreign intelligence threats (following up on a previous concern about Huawei at the Research Park), the University is ending its partnership with Huawei. From the Daily Illini Monday:
The University has decided to cancel further partnership with Huawei, one of the largest Chinese high-tech telecommunications equipment companies, which granted fundings and research awards for University faculties.

The decision was not publicly posted on University websites but only announced in an email sent to the College of Engineering faculty and staff...

Bill Bell, executive director of marketing and communications of Engineering, said the U.S. government has filed a criminal charge against Huawei and its leadership, so the University thinks it is time to reconsider the relationship with Huawei.

Bell said he is not sure if this is the first time the University canceled partnerships with a company because of criminal charge issues. He said long before the recent news of Huawei, the University had been careful when negotiating with companies and corporate partners to protect the institution, regardless of their headquarters location.

Huawei has been involved in lawsuits and disputes against the U.S. government for years. The U.S. government believes Huawei is a threat to national security.
More at the full article here. March Cheat Sheet post on the Huawei concerns at the U of I Research Park here: U of I Research Park and Spygames.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

League of Women Voters: Observer Reports

The last League of Women Voters meeting was a series of their annual Observer Reports. The reports are available from Urbana Public Television's YouTube channel here:

Here's a list of links to the government entities covered and the LWV reports on them:
A couple highlights for people looking for appointment opportunities. The Urbana Plan Commission had a recent vacancy, though I don't see it on the Urbana Mayor's list of open commission seats here. I don't know if that means it has already been filled or just isn't listed yet. Another position will be opening up on the Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District, including its very controversial pay schedule, in June. Those seats are appointed by the Champaign County Board with more information on that here.

For more information on the League of Women Voters of Champaign County, visit their website and check out their annual meeting coming up this Saturday, May 4, 9:00am - 1:00pm, St Matthews Lutheran Church on Philo Rd., Urbana.