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Centennial students spread Valentine's cheer at Swann Special Care

CHAMPAIGN – Mahta Amidi is used to doing community service projects.

She's a member of Centennial High School's Rotary Interact Club, an organization for seniors that emphasizes service. She's also in Centennial's Expressions choir, which sings to groups all over town.

But Monday night's event had Amidi a little nervous, even though she organized it. The Interact Club was passing out homemade valentines and Expressions would be singing to the residents of the Swann Special Care Center, a residence for people with severe disabilities.

Local man thrilled about tentative deal to buy Rams

ST. LOUIS – Champaign-Urbana businessman Shahid Khan is "excited to begin" the process of gaining approval to buy the St. Louis Rams' National Football League team.

"As a long time Rams fan and supporter of the city of St. Louis, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be considered by the NFL," said Khan, who owns the Urbana-based auto parts manufacturer Flex-N-Gate.

Khan has a tentative agreement to buy a 60 percent stake in the St. Louis football team, according to announcements Thursday.

State backlog takes toll on Health Alliance rating

URBANA – An executive of Health Alliance Medical Plans says the downgraded financial outlook given to the company this week by credit rating firm A.M. Best is based on Illinois' financial crisis.

A large chunk of Urbana-based Health Alliance's business is providing health coverage for some 78,000 state employees and their dependents, and Illinois is $132 million behind in paying the premiums for those Health Alliance members, according to the insurer's Chief Financial Officer Gordon Salm.

Unpopular Dem, GOP candidates an opening for Greens

Illinois Democrats have a gubernatorial candidate favored by only half the members of his own party, who faces a difficult budget battle this spring and – for now – is stuck with a running mate who is a political nightmare. Pat Quinn's opponents will hammer him on his support for a tax increase and tie him to his disgraced former running mate, Rod Blagojevich.

The Republican ticket has a gubernatorial candidate favored by 20 percent of his party, with views on social issues that are to the right of the mainstream and who has run poorly in the Chicago area and the suburbs, where the vast majority of the general election votes lie. Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, got 11 percent of the primary vote in the six-county Chicago area last Tuesday – where 53 percent of the GOP vote was cast. And he doesn't have a lot to show for 16 years in the Legislature, where he isn't even a leader among the 22 Republicans.

Taxpayers footing bill for increases to city's pensions

When Champaign officials more than five years ago were considering the $2.5 million construction of a sixth fire station to serve a growing population, the state Legislature was approving a benefit increase for municipal employees.

The events that would follow were a microcosm of a conflict that local budgeters say has plagued them for decades. Years' worth of documents listing what local governments pay into police and fire pensions show the contributions – ultimately a payment from taxpayers – have increased sometimes four times what they were 20 years ago.

State senator endorsed by 28 mayors in 52nd District

CHAMPAIGN – Twenty-eight mayors in the 52nd Senate District have endorsed state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, for re-election, Frerichs' campaign announced Friday.

The endorsements came from mayors in both Champaign and Vermilion counties and included a number of prominent Republicans.

New Web site to share ideas, info on UI resources

URBANA – The University of Illinois has launched a new budget Web site to give students and employees input on how to best use scarce university resources.

The site, "Stewarding Excellence at Illinois," was created to provide a "one-stop source" for people who are curious about the ongoing budget review process, are working on a budget issue on campus, or want to offer ideas, UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler said on Friday.

Local officials changing tune on widening I-74

URBANA – What a difference a month makes.

In early January, economic development leaders in Champaign County said they were baffled by the Illinois Department of Transportation's push to widen Interstate 74 between Champaign and Mahomet to six lanes.

Grant to train citizens to assist during emergencies

Residents of Champaign and Coles counties will be trained to help out emergency responders, thanks to state grants.

The Illinois Terrorism Task Force in Springfield recently announced that the Champaign and Coles County emergency management agencies will each receive grants of $5,500 as part of a Citizen Corps Council program to prepare for and respond to emergencies. Statewide, 80 communities will receive a total of $440,835.

Murals, murals on the walls? Danville officials hope so

DANVILLE – Downtown Danville Inc. and the Danville Area Convention and Visitors bureau want to paint the town this summer.

Officials from both organizations announced at a meeting Wednesday night at the David S. Palmer Arena a project to decorate downtown buildings with murals featuring local people, places, products and history.