From nursing home to wind farm, county board's plate is piled high

URBANA — Champaign County Board members have a full spreadsheet of issues to consider tonight, including borrowing potentially millions of dollars for the cash-strapped county nursing home and approving a contract extension with County Administrator Deb Busey.

The county board will also act on next year's budget and property-tax levy, a contract with union employees at the nursing home and a resolution in support of naming the federal courthouse in Urbana for the late James R. Burgess, a onetime county state's attorney.

But perhaps the biggest issue on the agenda is approval of a special-use permit for the county's first wind farm, the proposed 30-turbine California Ridge Wind Energy LLC development in northeastern Champaign County. The wind farm development was discussed at eight separate meetings of the county zoning board of appeals, beginning in August, and finally forwarded to the county board this month.

The special-use permit is expected to be approved by the county board.

The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at the Brookens Administrative Center, 1776 E. Washington St. U.

"I think it will pass, primarily because last month when we discussed it at the committee of the whole, there was no large uproar about the thing," said County Board Chair C. Pius Weibel, a Champaign Democrat.

"I think that for the most part everyone is pretty well settled on it," said Diane Michaels, a Rantoul Republican whose county board district includes the area the wind farm would be built in. "I'm not saying that there won't be some questions. We have gotten some calls from people who are concerned about it being too close to their homes. But I think we've been careful and have practiced due diligence."

Republicans may ask for an amendment to the agreement, said Stan James, a rural Rantoul Republican who also represents northeast Champaign County.

"In some of the ordinances in there, there is wording that the county could be held liable for some of the costs of decommissioning the wind farm if the funds aren't there," James said, adding that he hoped to discuss the wording with county zoning director John Hall.

The Republicans will meet with Hall in a caucus before tonight's meeting, James said.

Several items dealing with the financially challenged nursing home will be discussed tonight, including issuing $850,000 in tax anticipation warrants for the facility, and renewing a $333,142 loan made to it in 2008. The nursing home is owed millions of dollars in various payments by the state and federal governments, but also owes its vendors more than $3.1 million.

"It makes me nervous that we're so short of funds," said Champaign Democrat Janet Anderson, a county board member who also is on the nursing home's board of directors.

The board also may look into issuing $765,000 in revenue anticipation notes — money borrowed against funds owed by the state — although no vote on that proposal is expected tonight.

Among other items on the agenda are an extension of the county's contract with County Administrator Busey to December 2015, a resolution asking U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk and U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson to name the Urbana federal courthouse for Burgess, approval of a $28 million property tax levy that is about 1.8 percent greater than this year, and a vote on an overall $113 million county budget that includes $31.6 million in general fund spending, about 2.4 percent greater than the current year.

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