County board OKs program for recently-released inmates

County board OKs program for recently-released inmates

URBANA — Champaign County Board members gave tentative approval Tuesday night to a plan to have Champaign-based Community Elements operate a proposed re-entry program to serve individuals recently released from correctional facilities.

The board also deferred to next month discussion of giving pay raises to three countywide elected officials — the county clerk, treasurer and sheriff — and the chairman of the county board.

Community Elements, which already provides mental-health and human services in Champaign County, was given tentative approval to run the re-entry program over proposals from Lutheran Social Services of Illinois and the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission.

Community Elements proposed to operate the program with two full-time staff members, plus additional staff support, at a cost to the county of $100,000 annually.

But the program could be expanded if the county receives a $600,000-a-year federal Second Chance Grant for re-entry programming. The deadline for the grant application is March 18.

With Tuesday's tentative approval — on a 12-9 roll-call vote with most Republicans voting "no" — a contract will be negotiated that can be brought to the full board meeting Feb. 20.

Some board members said they felt rushed making a decision because of the federal grant deadline. Others said the county still needs to begin planning for a replacement facility for the antiquated county jail in downtown Urbana.

"We need to look at improving facilities," said Sadorus-area Republican Jon Schroeder. "Like I said, downtown is terrible. We've got to do something about it. It feels like we're just not doing a thing."

Also Tuesday, the board gave unanimous approval to pursuing an agreement with the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District to provide the rural transit services that have been provided by Danville-based CRIS since February 2011.

CRIS no longer wants to provide service in Champaign County, the board was told.

"It's just time to transition," said CRIS CEO Amy Marchant.

Rita Black, a planning and community development director for the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, said the county hopes to expand the rural service so that it operates from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday (now 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday) and that requests for service could be called in no longer than 24 hours in advance. The county also hopes for a more affordable fare structure, she said.

As proposed, the MTD would be a contractor for the service, and the rural areas of the county would not be required to be annexed into the mass-transit district. All of the rural service's funding would continue to come from state and federal sources.

The MTD already does all the maintenance for the five county-owned vehicles operated by CRIS in Champaign County.

In the last fiscal year, Black said, the county's rural transit service provided an average of 69 trips per days, most of them from the Rantoul area, with Champaign-Urbana being the primary destination. Medical trips were the major generator, followed by trips to jobs.

The board also learned that two countywide residential electronics collection events would be held this year, the first probably on April 12 at Parkland College. The events will no longer be held at The News-Gazette distribution center in north Champaign.

County Clerk Gordy Hulten told the board that early voting for the March 18 primary election would begin March 3 at the Brookens Administrative Center in east Urbana, and on March 11 at seven other locations in the county. Early voting ends March 15.

Of the 22 board members, only Urbana Democrat Lloyd Carter was absent from Tuesday's meeting.

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