Enrollment numbers down at SIU-C while SIU-E reports record enrollments

Enrollment numbers down at SIU-C while SIU-E reports record enrollments

CARBONDALE, Ill. (AP) — Southern Illinois University at Carbondale is reporting enrollment has dropped more than 5 percent for the spring semester.


SIU administrators said Tuesday enrollment for spring is down to 15,806 from 16,684 during spring 2015.


Graduate student enrollment fell 11.5 percent, or 420 students, for the period. Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell attributes the decline, in part, to a delay in awarding graduate assistantships because of state budget uncertainty.


Administrators said uncertainty surrounding MAP grant funding also impacted enrollment. But they did not say how many students failed to re-enroll as a result.


Meanwhile, Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville is reporting record enrollment numbers. SIUE enrolled 13,346 undergraduate and graduate students spring semester. That’s the highest in the school’s history, and an increase from 13,178 enrolled in spring semester 2015.


Due to the lack of a state budget, the SIU is providing grand funds to low-income students this semester. SIU President Randy Dunn has said if the state does not reimburse the university, students will be on the hook.

FirsTech announces $3.5 million downtown expansion

FirsTech announces $3.5 million downtown expansion

DECATUR–  The corridor just south of Central Park is getting a face-lift with the expansion and renovation of Firstech Inc. next to Busey Bank.


The payment processing company has called Decatur home for thirty-plus years, says CEO Howard Mooney, and that played into their decision to build downtown, “I am from here so I’ve always had a commitment personally, but from a business perspective, we have had a successful run for 30 years so the investment, as much as anything, was about the people and what they’ve created here and our desire to expand on that in the future.”


The renovation project is expected to cost $3.5 million and will see improvements to the interior and exterior of the building, as well as the demolition of the two buildings just south of it. Mooney says a new parking lot will be built in the space where the old buildings were and a drive through lane for Busey Bank will also be added there.


“It is nice to see the ripple effect of our $14,000,000 downtown renovation project,” Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe said. “This project will not only continue our beautification efforts, but it will also retain workers which is a huge benefit to retailers and restaurants in the area.”


Economic Development Corporation President Ryan McCrady said the development will utilize the downtown enterprise zone, which will allow Firstech to purchase construction supplies with a sales tax exemption, and will also offer them a 5 year graduated abatement on any additional property values.


“We don’t write these checks up front,” McCrady said, “So this isn’t like we are giving them money in good faith, they actually have to make the investment, see it through, and make sure they do what they say they are going to do, to see any of these benefits.”


With the Decatur expansion, FirsTech will keep 50 jobs in the community, instead of moving them to other locations.


Mooney says they plan to put out bids for construction on the project next month, with construction scheduled to begin in March. Mooney says construction should extend through the early part of summer before the demolition process on the other two buildings begins. He says they hope to have all construction and demolition finished by the end of the 2016 calendar year.

Senate Dems to stall sending higher ed funding bill to Governor

Senate Dems to stall sending higher ed funding bill to Governor

SPRINGFIELD– The Senate President is playing politics with a bill that appears doomed on arrival. That’s according to Governor Bruce Rauner’s office in response to Senate President John Cullerton calling for a cooling-off period before sending over a tuition assistance bill.


Senate Bill 2043, which Democrat majorities say will fund MAP grants for eligible students, passed the legislature last week despite minority Republicans pointing out the governor intends to veto the bill because it’s not tied to any funding stream.


Senate President John Cullerton’s office issued a news release Monday saying he’s waiting until February 16th to send the bill to the governor so the governor will “rethink his veto announcement.”


Cullerton’s office said the state isn’t honoring its commitment to students and urged the governor rethink his position and “not act rashly but rather in the best interest of these students.”


Governor Bruce Rauner’s office responded saying there’s no way to pay for SB 2042. The administration has offered a path toward compromise. A statement from Rauner’s office says the governor has agreed “to sign legislation that funds MAP, community colleges and universities tied to ways to pay for the programs.”


The governor’s office says “rather than playing politics with a dead piece of legislation, we urge the Senate to focus on finding real solutions and vote next week on legislation that would fund MAP grants with a fiscally responsible way to pay for them.”


During debate last week Republicans said there’s a plan that would fund MAP grants, community colleges and higher education tied to another measure to give the governor broader authority in managing the state’s resources.


A memo from the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget last week recommended the bill be vetoed because without a funding stream the measure would add hundreds of millions of to the state’s deficit.


ADM reports 4th quarter earnings

ADM reports 4th quarter earnings

CHICAGO–(BUSINESS WIRE)– Archer Daniels Midland Company (NYSE: ADM) today reported financial results for the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2015.


The company reported adjusted earnings per share1 of $0.61, down from $1.00 in the same period last year. Adjusted segment operating profit1 was $599 million, down 47 percent from $1,128 million in the year-ago period. Net earnings for the quarter were $718 million, or $1.19 per share, and segment operating profit1 was $900 million. Global dynamics reduced margins across the U.S. agricultural export sector, the U.S. ethanol industry and in the soybean crushing industry worldwide.


“Adverse market conditions that impacted many of our businesses earlier in the year continued through the fourth quarter,” said Juan Luciano, ADM chairman and CEO. “Despite the challenging conditions, we achieved 2015 adjusted ROIC of 7.3 percent, 70 basis points above our annual cost of capital, generating positive EVA. In the fourth quarter, we advanced our strategic plan by expanding our international corn processing footprint with the acquisition of Eaststarch, progressing our destination marketing strategy with the announcement of the Medsofts Egyptian joint venture, and strengthening our European Olenex refined oils joint venture. And, today we are announcing an investment in Harvest Innovations, a leading producer of non-GMO, organic and gluten-free ingredients. From a portfolio management perspective, we completed the sale of our global cocoa business.


“With current headwinds likely to persist, we remain focused on the areas within our control. We will continue to implement our pipeline of operational excellence initiatives, with an objective of an incremental $275 million of run-rate savings by the end of the calendar year. As part of the evolution of our strategic plan, we are taking a fresh look at the capital intensity of our operations and portfolio, seeking innovative ways to lighten-up and redeploy capital in our efforts to drive long-term returns.


“In 2016, our balanced capital allocation framework remains a priority, including a quarterly dividend rate increase of 7 percent to $0.30 per share, and share repurchases of between $1.0 billion and $1.5 billion, subject to strategic capital requirements. With a strong balance sheet, we will also remain opportunistic for investments, especially bolt-ons, in this more challenged macro environment.”

Motor Fuel tax receives support from City Council; will be up for a vote in two weeks

Motor Fuel tax receives support from City Council; will be up for a vote in two weeks

DECATUR– The Decatur City Council will have a new tax to consider when they meet again in two weeks and one day.


Several council members voiced their support for a local motor fuel tax in order to jump start road repairs that otherwise wouldn’t have been addressed because of restraints in the current budget.


City Manager Tim Gleason says the 5 cent tax will go towards funding road repairs on non-primary roads, “These are roads, like in neighborhoods, that otherwise wouldn’t be able to be addressed given our current financial situation.”


The council discussed the tax during a lengthy study session Monday night that included input from several residents.


“We don’t like adding new taxes, mayor Julie Moore Wolfe said, “but we have to do something to start improving our roads.”


Councilman Jerry Dawson echoed the statements by the mayor, “I don’t like the idea of a new tax but I am also tired of driving over potholes and traveling on roads with failing pavement.”


Gleason said the city will get between $1.5 and $1.8 million annually from the 5 cent tax on unleaded fuel and 1 cent tax on diesel. Gleason said the difference in tax rate between unleaded fuel and diesel fuel is because diesel fuel is already taxed additionally by the state.


The gas tax proposal that Gleason says will appear in front of council during their next meeting may include a sunset provision, as requested by several council members during the study session.


Gleason says the city will do everything they can to make the implementation of the tax, and the projects funded through it, as transparent as possible, “I will direct city staff to develop a website that lists all of the monies and all of the projects that are funded through the tax. The residents of Decatur deserve to know where their money is being spent.”


The pavement master plan created by Public Works Director Rick Marley shows that Decatur has over $21 million in needed road repairs, all of which will not be addressed through the proposed motor fuel tax.


“If we go forward with this proposal as written I would still look locally to obtain a $3 million to $5 million municipal loan to get a jump start on these projects for the 2018 construction season,” Gleason added.


Area communities such as Bloomington, Champaign, Normal, and Pekin, have four cent local motor fuel taxes; Peoria and Urbana have five cent taxes, while Carbondale has a three cent tax.


In other business… The council approved a $63,000 emergency repair at the South Water Treatment Plant to fix a broken gearbox. City Water Manager Keith Alexander said many of the parts are original and have not been replaced since the plant was built over 27 years ago.


The council also voted 6-1 in favor of adding Paulina Heinkel to the Decatur Public Library Board. Heinkel, previously Thornton, worked as an investigative reporter for WAND TV for 5 years before beginning her career at Ameren Illinois in 2015.


Research firm blames slow approval process for ‘down’ medical marijuana industry

Research firm blames slow approval process for ‘down’ medical marijuana industry

CHICAGO (AP) — A market research company is growing pessimistic about Illinois medical marijuana, telling investors that retail sales could reach just $15.6 million in 2016.

California-based ArcView Market Research released its projections Monday exclusively to The Associated Press. The estimate comes from the company’s annual guide to legal marijuana markets, co-published with New Frontier.

ArcView CEO Troy Dayton tells AP some Illinois marijuana businesses will fail if the slow pace of patient approvals continues. Only 4,000 Illinois patients can buy the drug at licensed dispensaries.

ArcView predicts the Illinois retail marijuana market will reach $23 million in 2017.

The ArcView projections are much lower than a year ago for Illinois, in part because Gov. Bruce Rauner has not expanded the program to new health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

State GOP offers own solution to higher education funding

State GOP offers own solution to higher education funding

DECATUR–  State Senator Chapin Rose thinks his solution to funding higher education is head and shoulders above the rest.


Rose, along with his colleague State Senator Dale Righter submitted a bill late last week that would provide funding to state run universities, community colleges, and the MAP Grant program.


Joining Byers and Company Monday morning, Rose said the difference between his bill and the one passed by democrats last week was that his plan actually has a funding mechanism, “We have tied higher education funding to the governor’s proposed procurement reform to actually pay for some of this funding.”


Rauner said last week that he believes the state could save up to $500 million annually by rethinking and retooling the way the state pays for everyday items like office supplies.


Rose’s proposed bill would fund public universities at 80% of their current levels, community colleges at 90%, and provide funding for the state’s MAP Grants.


Rose says he believes the bill passed by democrats last year will get vetoed by the Governor, “It’s a piecemeal funding approach that the democrats have taken this entire time and it hasn’t worked.”


Combined with procurement reform, the Republican higher education funding plan would allow for up to $1.7 billion to be spent in higher education.


Rose says he intends to find a democrat to co-sponsor his bill.

Illinois lawmakers weigh in ahead of Iowa caucuses

Illinois lawmakers weigh in ahead of Iowa caucuses

SPRINGFIELD– Tonight’s Iowa caucuses may kick off presidential voting, but it may not be a make-or-break night for all candidates, according to some political observers in Illinois.

With nearly a dozen major candidates to choose from on the Republican side, Chicago Republican Party chairman Chris Cleveland feels the results from Iowa may be more important for those further down in the polls.

“It’s likely that a number of candidates will drop out if they don’t even register in Iowa or New Hampshire or any of the other early states,” Cleveland said.

Cleveland is the Illinois co-chairman for Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign, and said he believes the Iowa results are more important for Donald Trump’s chances of capturing the nomination than they are for Cruz.

On the Democratic side, Cleveland said he expects Republican voters in Illinois are too concerned with the race in their own party to be doing something like rooting for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to beat Hillary Clinton, despite Clinton’s lead in national polling.

“I don’t think anybody really is that calculating,” Cleveland said. “For the average voter, I think they’re just thinking about their own circumstances, they’re looking at the terrible economic condition that Illinois is in right now, and which candidate is really going to help us out of this mess.”

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is backing Clinton’s campaign, but said a loss to Sanders in Iowa or in the Feb. 9 primary in New Hampshire doesn’t worry him.

“He has the edge in those states,” Durbin said. “We know from history that those states at least have unpredictable results when it comes to the final choice of president.”

In the last three presidential elections without a Democratic incumbent, the eventual nominee was victorious in Iowa. It’s been a different story on the Republican side, with the winners in the caucuses in both 2012 and 2008 failing to secure the nomination.

Durbin doesn’t think highly of the Republican field, calling it “bedlam,” and has been critical of Trump’s comments during the campaign.

“Mr. Trump, despite saying the most outrageous things I’ve ever heard from a mainstream presidential candidate, continues to grow in popularity among Republicans in the United States. I don’t get it,” Durbin said. “The Republicans I know in this state, though we may disagree on many things, I don’t think they’re cut from the same cloth as Donald Trump.”

The caucuses begin at 7 p.m. tonight. Illinois voters won’t have their say in the presidential race until March 15.

Council to discuss creation of Local Motor Fuel Tax during Monday meeting

Council to discuss creation of Local Motor Fuel Tax during Monday meeting

DECATUR– A local motor fuel tax could be the solution for Decatur’s crumbling roads.


The creation of a five cent local motor fuel tax will be the focal point of a study session during Monday night’s Decatur City Council meeting.


Decatur City Manager Tim Gleason says the proposed tax would help fund roadway improvements on the city’s less traveled roads like neighborhoods and side streets, “With funding being the way that it has been for the past several years many of these streets have been overlooked because the city had no money, this tax would change that and would allow us to focus on improving neighborhood streets.”


Gleason brought up the idea of a five cent tax during his priorities presentation late last year as a new revenue stream that would help the city catch up on much needed projects.


Decatur is one of the only major cities in Central Illinois without a local motor fuel tax, Gleason says communities like Springfield, Champaign, and Bloomington have had one in place for several years, “I was surprised to learn when I came here eight months ago that we didn’t have a local motor fuel tax because many of the communities our size have already had one in place.”


Gleason says the tax proposal to be discussed Monday night will include provisions like a five year sunset on the tax, and a clause stating the money will only be used towards road projects, “We want the residents of Decatur to have faith that the money will go towards what we say it will go towards, and that’s roads.”


Early estimates show that the tax would raise $300,000 for every one cent, so a five cent tax would bring in roughly $1.5 to $1.8 million annually.


The Decatur City Council meets Monday night at 5:30 in the council chambers on the 3rd floor of the Decatur Civic Center. A City Council agenda can be found here.

Couples get a jump start on ‘wedding season’ at weekend expo

Couples get a jump start on ‘wedding season’ at weekend expo

DECATUR–  The former Sears location at Hickory Point Mall has mostly sat empty since the anchor store left late in 2014, but Saturday afternoon the space was filled with wedding cheer.


The 1st Neuhoff Media Wedding Extravaganza drew brides-to-be, grooms, parents, and vendors from across Macon County.


28 year old Amanda Mundsinger brought her future husband Jason so they could do some food tastings, “We have never come out to anything like this before and we thought that it would be a good chance for us to get a bunch of stuff figured out in one day.”


The expo included food vendors, entertainment, transportation, stylists, and photographers hoping to get a chance at some one-on-one time with a future couple.


“I’ve never done anything like this before so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it’s been great, I’ve had a lot of people come to my booth and ask about photography,” Valerie Cook of Valerie Cook Photography said. “I’ve already had some people express interest in booking a date.”


Cook wasn’t the only one in attendance appreciative of the advanced notice for bookings, Kevin Daly with Bizou said they are booked several months in advance, “Wedding season is right around the corner for us, we are booked up through three months already so people have been coming by today to try the food but also book us for their wedding.”


The Wedding Extravaganza ran Saturday afternoon and had over 25 vendors offering a variety of services. The Wedding extravaganza runs until 5 pm on Saturday at Hickory Point Mall.