Illinois home sales dip in December but 2016 housing market ends on a high note

Illinois home sales dip in December but 2016 housing market ends on a high note

January 25 – Despite a dip in home sales in December, both sales and median prices finished in positive territory in 2016.


According to Illinois REALTORS, statewide homes in December 2016 totaled 11,629 homes sold, down 2.8 percent from 11,969 in December 2015. The statewide median price in December was $174,900, up 6.0 percent from December 2015.


In Macon County, closed sales fell nearly 16 percent compared to the previous year. Only 85 homes sold in December 2016, down from 101 homes sold in 2015.


The median price of a home in Macon County also dropped 9 percent to $78,000. The inventory of homes for sale dropped .8 percent to 755 available last month in Macon County. In December 2015, 761 homes were available for purchase.


The report also shows that homes in Macon County sat on the market for 68 days in December 2016 compared to 113 days in December 2015.

State Board requests increase of $266.4 million over fiscal year 2017

State Board requests increase of $266.4 million over fiscal year 2017

January 25 – The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) finalized its fiscal year 2018 budget recommendations for pre-K through 12th-grade educational services providers statewide.


ISBE’s total budget recommendations amount to $7.727 billion, an increase of $266.4 million (3.45 percent) over FY 2017 levels.


ISBE held three public hearings in different parts of the state to gather feedback on spending needs and priorities. ISBE formulated its budget recommendations based on the testimony of educators, students, and community members and adhered to three key principles: aligning with ISBE’s goals; advocating for the needs of children across the state, as identified through requests from the field; and recognizing the need for universal and differentiated support to meet the unique needs of each and every child in the state.


“The budget request approved by ISBE today strives to meet the needs of students, families, and school districts,” said State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith, Ph.D. “ISBE remains committed to the vision of Illinois as a state of whole, healthy children nested in whole, healthy systems supporting communities wherein all citizens are socially and economically secure.”


ISBE recommends fully funding General State Aid (GSA) in FY 2018 at the Foundation Level of $6,119 per student, while maintaining the current GSA appropriation of $5.078 billion. The Foundation Level represents the mandated minimum level of funding required to meet the basic education needs of one student in the Illinois pre-K through 12th-grade public school system.


Other highlights from the budget request approved by ISBE include…

  • An increase of $50 million for Early Childhood Education, as incorporated into the federal Preschool Expansion grant agreement to increase access to quality, effective services for the most at-risk children in the state;
  • An increase of $38.4 million to fully fund bilingual education programs serving the growing number of English Learners in the state; and
  • Increases in funding to support special education, arts and foreign language programs, agricultural education, broadband expansion and other digital technology enhancements, Career and Technical Education, teacher mentoring and diverse educator recruitment, Advanced Placement exam fees for low-income students, and other critical investments that contribute to the college and career success of all Illinois students.


ISBE will submit its recommended budget to the Illinois General Assembly before Feb. 17.

Harristown and others attend informative meeting regarding water options

Harristown and others attend informative meeting regarding water options

January 25 – As the village of Harristown continues to weigh their options for residential water, the United Regional Water Co-Op held a meeting in Illiopolis to offer conclusions.


The village is still gathering information and the board is still investigating options. Deputy Clerk for the village of Harristown Tammy Walker says right now the board isn’t leaning one way or another and is keeping an open mind.


“We want to do what’s best for the village and they’re thinking long-term as well as what can be done right now,” says Walker.


The meeting featured several mayors from small towns interested in the United Regional Water Co-Op. The United Regional Water Co-Op would be run by EJ Water. All towns in the co-op would get an equal say on a governing board.  EJ Water would construct a brand new water plant near Illiopolis because they have the most wells.


Walker says the EJ Water team wants to keep the towns in the loop and will have informative meetings in the future. She says they will continue to look at options.


“The United Regional Water Co-Op is not set in stone by any means whatsoever,” says Walker. “We’re still looking at the options of drilling a new well, building a new water plant or possibly going on Decatur water.”

Decatur mayoral candidates square off in first debate

Decatur mayoral candidates square off in first debate

January 25 – The Decatur Public Library held the first of several debates that Decatur mayoral candidates Julie Moore Wolfe and John Phillips will have until the spring election.


The forum was hosted by the Coalition of Neighborhood Organizations or CONO. The two discussed several topics including their vision if elected and answered questions from attendees.


Moore Wolfe is seeking election for the first time after being appointed in 2015 with the passing of Mike McElroy. She says progress is being made currently and she’d like to continue to be a part of the decision making to continue that success.


“We’re getting things done here and we’re taking care of the basics like infrastructure,” says Moore Wolfe. “You have to have those things in place for economic development to happen. All you have to do is look at downtown Decatur to see what vibrant means and we want to see that throughout the rest of the community.”


Moore Wolfe served on city council for eight years and says she’s proud of the accomplishments of the council during that time.


“We needed to solve the water issue, find space for the police department and figure out the sewer issue, we’re taking care of all those things like we said we would do and I’m proud of that,” says Moore Wolfe.


Phillips is a Decatur businessman and President of the Decatur Public Library Board. He presented five key principals that he would like to accomplish if elected. Phillips attended a regional network meeting in Dayton, Ohio and listened to the mayor of Youngstown, Ohio speak. Phillips says after hearing that speech learned that Decatur’s problems are miniscule compared to theirs.


“We’ve got no problems compared to what Youngstown is dealing with after the steel industry moved out and then how to figure out how to reconstitute a city,” says Phillips. “I was inspired by him and I’m patterning what I’d like to do after what I heard from him.”


The two were asked questions like their plans for job creation and how to revitalize older neighborhoods. Phillips brought up several points including no increases on taxes, having someone to manage the City Manager, creating a requirement for all city employees living in the city and to create well paying jobs.


Moore Wolfe says the key to job growth is by supporting what the city currently has and cited the Midwest Inland Port as one of the possibilities. She said she would also like to see more minority police officers and firefighters. Phillips said continuing to bring in fast food will not help with good paying jobs.


The forum was around an hour long and several city council candidates attended including David Horn, Andrew Apel and Pat McDaniel. The city council will have its forum at the Decatur Public Library on Tuesday, February 28th at 5:30 p.m.

Conaway shares her story, will graduate from Drug Court this Friday

Conaway shares her story, will graduate from Drug Court this Friday

January 24 – This Friday another group of graduates will have successfully completed Macon County Drug Court.


The Macon County Drug Court is holding its eighth graduation and one graduate shared her story of how the program has affected her and how far she’s come.


Sharon Conaway is a lifelong Decatur resident who’s very conscious of her mistakes. In the past, she says her dependence on meth and marijuana was a hindrance to a productive life.  It was after she was arrested for retail theft and burglary that she had to make a choice. Conaway faced 4 to 11 years at the Illinois Department of Corrections or could attend the drug court. She decided getting clean was her best option.


Conaway has now served in the program for 14 months and admits it was difficult at first and had a couple slip ups. Now she can proudly say she’s been sober for five months, is employed, has completed three semesters at Richland Community College majoring in Business Management and gets to see her one and a half-year-old grandson grow up.


“My main supporters are my son, daughter in law and grandson,” says Conaway. “The biggest part of my support group is my hybrid drug court family. Everybody is awesome they know your life story and what you’re going through. These people have changed my life.”


Loved ones will be present as Conaway and other graduates will be honored for their achievements at the graduation ceremony at Macon County Courthouse Courtroom 5A. Since March 2014, the program has graduated a total of 76 participants who have successfully completed the program.


“This is probably the biggest accomplishment of my entire life,” says Conaway. “This is life changing, and such an achievement for me because of the lifestyle I lead for 23 years. I’m sure I’ll be emotional with joy and sadness and it’s kind of a bittersweet moment because these people with the drug court are my family and they know everything I’ve gone through and my struggles.”


Conaway wrote a poem about her struggles that she will recite at the graduation. The poem reflects her struggles with addiction that she wrote a year ago.


“This poem is where I was a year ago and here’s where I am today,” says Conaway. “When I arrived at the program I was struggling with anxiety, codependency and addiction. Now I’ve got everything under control. I’m going to read it to let the people know in drug court to never give up.”


The Drug Court Graduation is this Friday, January 27 at 2:30 p.m. in Macon County Courthouse Courtroom 5A. The public is welcome and encouraged to attend. Refreshments will be served following the graduation.

Shelter Directors ask to refrain from giving money to panhandlers

Shelter Directors ask to refrain from giving money to panhandlers

January 24 – Local shelter directors are encouraging Decatur residents to refrain from giving money to panhandlers in the city.


You may have seen individuals with makeshift cardboard signs primarily on the corner of Eldorado and North Main. While these people may be in need Director of the Oasis Day Center Todd Tuggle says it’s best to not give.


“It is feeding something that I don’t think the average person that gives realizes,” says Tuggle. “Oftentimes the messages on the signs are not true. Residents think they’re supporting something they’re really not.”


Tuggle says he’s seen an increased amount of panhandling in the last several months. He says the only reason he can attribute the increase is because it’s working.


“If it wasn’t working then they wouldn’t be there,” says Tuggle. “I’m asking residents to refrain from doing it because it’s only making the situation worse.”


Tuggle understands those that may feel guilty for not helping an individual asking for money but says that’s exactly the emotion that’s intended. Tuggle says instead of making a guilt driven decision, he hopes people will put thought into a decision to support organizations around the neighborhood that are helping those in need.


The Salvation Army Men’s Shelter, Northeast Community Fund, Good Samaritan Inn, Oasis Day Center and the United Way are some, not all, of the organizations in Decatur helping those less fortunate.


Salvation Army Men’s Shelter Director Jeff Mueller says the panhandling is the worst he’s seen in his thirteen years of residence in the area.


“We need to be meeting these folks where they’re at and then trying to help solve the issue and let them know it’s not acceptable in the community,” says Mueller. “I think it’s critical we find out why they’re there and make every effort to stop it.”


Mueller says it’s important to put the agencies in a spot where they can help solve the problem and that running the panhandlers off the corner isn’t going to fix it.


“Unfortunately we do have a good number of panhandlers right now and looking back we haven’t,” says Mueller. “It’s only 2 or 3 percent of our total population of individuals needing services. The 2 or 3 percent, or 8 to 10 people, are really going to give those who need services a black eye.”

Illinois hunters harvested a preliminary total of 144,150 deer during 2016-17 seasons

Illinois hunters harvested a preliminary total of 144,150 deer during 2016-17 seasons

January 24 – Hunters in Illinois harvested a preliminary total of 144,150 deer during all 2016-17 seasons, which concluded January 15.


The total preliminary deer harvest for all seasons compares with a total harvest for all seasons of 155,229 in 2015-16. During this year’s deer seasons, hunters took 44 percent does and 56 percent males.


Archery deer hunters in Illinois took a preliminary total of 53,479 deer during the season which began on Oct. 1, 2016 and concluded on Jan. 15, 2017. That compares with the harvest of 56,767 during the 2015-16 archery seasons.


Young deer hunters harvested 3,259 deer during the 2016 Illinois Youth Deer Season conducted on Oct. 8-10, 2016 compared with 2,850 deer harvested during the 2015 youth hunt.


Hunters took a preliminary total of 79,429 deer during the 2016 Illinois Firearm Deer Season on Nov. 18-20 and Dec. 1-4, 2016, compared with 86,847 deer taken during the 2015 firearm season.


Hunters using muzzleloading rifles harvested 3,297 deer during the 2016 Muzzleloader-Only Deer Season on Dec. 9-11, 2016, compared with 2,403 in 2015.


In Macon County, 411 deer were harvested via archery, 17 by youth, 251 by firearm and 25 by muzzleloader.


Source: CMS

Illinois Senate plans to plow ahead with its own budget plan

Illinois Senate plans to plow ahead with its own budget plan

January 24 – The Illinois Senate plans to plow ahead with its proposed budget compromise to end the nearly 2-year-old deadlock with Governor Bruce Rauner.


Five committees are scheduled to meet today to debate 13 pieces of legislation that Democrats and Republicans in the Senate worked out — if only to gain traction on the problem that has left Illinois without an annual spending plan for two years.


The measures include an income-tax increase, a massive pension overhaul to save up to $1 billion a year, a property-tax freeze and a change in the way public schools are funded. There are measures for riverboat casino expansion and for borrowing money to pay overdue bills.


Senate leaders vow floor votes on Wednesday. There’s no guarantee the House would act on a Senate-endorsed package.


Source: AP

Forsyth village board reviews proposals for library refurbishing and liquor store hours

Forsyth village board reviews proposals for library refurbishing and liquor store hours

January 23 – The Forsyth village board is working on a proposal that would help refurbish the library and is contemplating passing a request that would allow local liquor stores extended hours during the holiday season.


The board discussed a request from Friar Tuck regarding the hours of operation for retail alcohol sales under the liquor license ordinance.  Friar Tuck requested to be allowed to sell starting at 9 a.m. on Sundays during December and at 10 or 11a.m. on Sundays during the rest of the year.


Their proposal is for the month of December but Village Trustee Dave Wendt says the consensus of the board was to make it consistent twelve months of the year in an effort to promote economic activity and to help with sales tax revenue for the village.


“The way we looked at it is for ease of administration, let’s have one set of rules and if the business doesn’t want to open that early during part of the year that’s their business decision,” says Wendt.


Friar Tuck says Christmas shoppers during November and December are a large portion of their annual sales. Currently, Forsyth’s package sales license restricts sales to start at noon on Sunday, while the restaurant license sales starts at 11a.m. on Sunday.


Another item the board is reviewing a proposal for the library furnishing project. Wendt says renovations were necessary around five years ago that involved foundation work, interior with new carpet and paint and now the last step is modernizing furnishings.


“The small conference room had big heavy tables that weren’t on casters and were hard to get out of the way if someone had to use the room,” says Wendt. “We want seating areas in the library where you can sit and relax and read a newspaper.”


The designs and items that are proposed will allow more efficient use of spaces in the library and easier conversion of the small meeting room to different configurations.


Wendt says the total amount came in slightly over budget. He says because of this, the director’s office redo was removed in order to stay under budget.  The village inquired about losing any discounts if they didn’t buy the furniture now and was confirmed that not only would discounts be lost, but that prices are scheduled to go up next year.  The village decided to keep the office in the project and will be slightly over budget.


Wendt says next meeting the board will have a resolution prepared to donate the old but usable furniture to an organization like Habitat for Humanity


“Some things are still functional and if somebody can get use out of that we will dispose of that surplus property that way but it needs to go through the formal process of being declared ‘surplus property’ and then donated,” says Wendt.

DPD says software could make communications between law enforcement easier

DPD says software could make communications between law enforcement easier

January 23 – The Decatur Police Department is hoping they might soon have a way to better communicate with other law enforcement agencies across the state.


DPD has been testing the COPsync Network for several months now. The COPsync Network is software that can be used for report writing, report approval and connects to the state’s Law Enforcement Agencies Database System (LEADS) and will allow DPD to share information with any other agencies using the software.


Sergeant Copeland with the Decatur Police Department says right now the software is geared towards patrol officers and their cars.


“It’s basically immediate information sharing and you can communicate with anyone on the network like an instant messaging type system,” says Copeland. “An officer in a squad car here can send a message to an officer in Texas. Right now there may not be much use for that but if more agencies were to start using it, and if we were to adopt it, then it could prove to be beneficial.”


Copeland says if more agencies adopt it DPD could communicate with officers in Bloomington, Champaign-Urbana and Springfield easier. DPD has done preliminary testing since October and is currently awaiting approval from the state for it to connect to the LEAD system.


Copeland says hopefully the LEADS approval will be in the next week or two.


If approved, the more in depth testing will begin. Copeland says the program is currently hobbled without the access they hope will be approved. Currently, the software isn’t costing DPD a dime but if they decide to pursue it in the future then it will be an annual subscription fee which Copeland says from what he’s seen will be significantly less than what they’re paying for their current solution.


Copeland says he could potentially see the software having major benefits down the road.


“It could really help as far as cost, ease of use, improving officer safety and improving communication among jurisdictions,” says Copeland. “The information and sharing amongst other agencies that are using the system is instantaneous.”