Tom's #Mailbag, Oct. 14, 2016

Tom's #Mailbag, Oct. 14, 2016

Questions for Tom? ASK THEM HERE and he'll chase down your answer.

It’s been a busy week at Mailbag World Headquarters, but we’re not complaining. We’ve received plenty of good questions (some of which we’ve actually answered), the Cubs are closer to the World Series, the St. Louis Blues are in first place, the weather has been fantastic and we’re seven days closer to Election Day.

That reminds the mailbag staff of an email we got from a reader about this yard sign in east Urbana ...


The 22-year-old man who placed the sign didn’t want to give his name, but he said he didn’t like any of the presidential candidates this year and that he didn’t plan to vote for anyone for any office.

We looked into the website mentioned on the yard sign and found that you too could have one of those signs for ... 30 bucks. No thanks.

Meanwhile, here’s what the ‘bag got into this week: valid write-in candidates, purchase prices for the property around Central High School, concerns about intersections in Urbana, cars on the UI campus and the crazy number cited by U.S. News, whether universities create jobs, chronic problems at a rest stop on I-74, Javier Baez, the Abbeyfield House in St. Joseph, what’s under the overpass east of St. Joseph, why the Kickapoo Trail is so big west of St. Joseph, a comparison of property tax rates for school districts in and around Champaign County and that’s a “no” on Amtrak expansion to the Quad Cities.


School district tax rates

“How does Champaign’s Unit 4 school tax rate compare to others in the county? If the referendum passes, how will the new tax rate compare?”

It would be an approximately 63.7-cent increase in the school district’s tax rate, which this year was $4.41 per $100 of assessed valuation. With the increase the Champaign school’s rate would be about $5.05 per $100 of assessed valuation.

Urbana school’s property tax rate is now $5.98 per $100 of assessed valuation.

Here are the school district tax rates (some of which are combined rates for high school and grade school districts) for areas of Champaign County:

Mahomet-Seymour — $4.54 per $100 of assessed valuation

Fisher — $5.11 per $100 of assessed valuation

Unit 7 — $4.44 per $100 of assessed valuation

Heritage — $5.49 per $100 of assessed valuation

St. Joseph — combined St. Joseph-Ogden High School district ($2.02 per $100 of assessed valuation) and St. Joseph grade school district ($2.68) equals $4.70 per $100 of assessed valuation

Ogden — SJ-O High School plus Prairieview-Ogden Grade School ($3.06) equals $5.08 per $100 of assessed valuation

Rantoul combined districts — Rantoul Township High School ($2.94) plus Rantoul City Schools ($4.81) equals $7.75 per $100 of assessed valuation

Villa Grove — $4.30 per $100 of assessed valuation

Paxton Buckley Loda — $5.66 per $100 of assessed valuation

Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley — $6.47 per $100 of assessed valuation

Armstrong Township High School district — ($2.34) plus Armstrong-Ellis Grade School ($2.77) equals $5.11 per $100 of assessed valuation

Oakwood Unit 76 — $5.40 per $100 of assessed valuation

Gifford — RTHS $2.94 plus Gifford Grade School ($2.61) equals $5.55 per $100 of assessed valuation

Monticello — $3.37 per $100 of assessed valuation


Rest area problems

“What is the deal with the rest area on I-74 between Danville and Oakwood? It seems to be closed every few months with the closure lasting a month or so?”

It sounds like it’s going to be closed a while longer.

“Our operations engineer, Dave Speicher, provided me with the following information concerning the rest area at Oakwood. The most recent closure at the Salk Kettle Rest Area was initially for a (septic system) issue. While the rest area was closed we also discovered a leak in the water main,” said Kensil Garnett, the IDOT deputy director and region 3 engineer.

The leak in the water main affects the water supplied for the toilets and the fountains and is the reason the rest area is not open, he said.

“The sanitary issue has been resolved, but we are still trying to secure a contractor to repair the water main. Once all the repairs have been made the rest area will re-open,” said Garnett.


Write-in votes

“I went to early vote at my county clerk’s office. I wanted to write in a name for president but I was told that I probably shouldn’t. Why can’t I do that?”

You can, but it may not count.

In order for a write-in vote to count, a candidate has to have filed as a valid ballot choice in each election jurisdiction in Illinois. That is more than 100 jurisdictions.

In Champaign County, for example, the following people have filed as valid write-in candidates for president: Coop Smith, Darrell Castle, Evan McMullin, James Matthew Anderson, Jonathan Lee, Joseph A. Maldonado, Laio Morris, Laurence Kotlikoff, Marshall Roy Schoenke and Tom Hoefling.

The only write-in candidate for vice president: James Creighton Mitchell, Jr.

The write-in candidates for U.S. Senate: Chad Koppie, Christopher M. Aguayo, Eric Kufi James Stewart, Jim Brown and Susana Sandoval.

If you write in the name of someone who isn’t a valid write-in candidate, your vote will not be counted. All of the other votes on your ballot will be counted, however.


C-U job creation

“I was watching The News-Gazette’s debate with state Senate candidates Scott Bennett and Mike Madigan. In the debate, Mike Madigan said that the University of Illinois isn’t a real job creator and that his barbecue restaurants are. I was curious to know what the average income for a University of Illinois employee is compared to the average income of an employee of Mike Madigan. Obviously not including U of I administration or professors.”

Here’s what Madigan, an Urbana Republican, said at the forum after a question about Gov. Bruce Rauner:

“This governor was elected on reforms that will actually make this state work again. Frankly, to say that the universities are job creators, I think what the universities and Parkland (College) do, they’re wonderful institutions but they do not create jobs. They create individuals who can create jobs. We need to focus more on the businesses like mine; the big businesses who have left, like Caterpillar, who are incrementally leaving this state; we need to focus on what their needs are. That’s how we solve this problem.”

I asked him this week if he wanted to clarify his statement.

“My statement wasn’t a slight to higher education institutions. What I mean is that businesses create jobs to fulfill consumers’ demand for goods and services. Higher education institutions are funded by businesses through taxes and grants to help equip students with the tools necessary to be successful in a career or as an entrepreneur. They, therefore, help to create ‘job creators,’ ” he said. “The U of I, Parkland, and DACC no doubt are economic engines for our area and the state, and are vital links in that job creation process. In Illinois, because of our poor business climate and dysfunctional state government, our universities and colleges are educating many job creators for better-run states that have more opportunity.”


Kickapoo Trail base

“Is there an explanation why they are building up the Kickapoo Rail Trail so much? Seems there was already a decent base after they cleaned up all the brush, and they are wasting a lot of money moving dirt. Some places look as if they have built up the grade a good three feet.”

There are several reasons that a lot of time and money are being spent building up the trail base, said Dan Olson, director of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, the “owner” of the Champaign County section of the trail.

“I know people think there was a decent base but that just wasn’t the case. As a matter of fact some of the original base along that rail line had been removed over the years. Some of the ballast had been taken away from along the rail line and used in other areas. And some of the dirt had been taken away,” said Olson. “So there is a lot of addition and sculpting that had to be done.”

— In some cases, he said, the rail line wasn’t wide enough to accommodate the width needed (a 10-foot trail with a 2-foot shoulder on each side).

“So what people may be seeing is a place where the grade is actually being dropped and pushed to the side to make the trail wider,” he said. “In some cases, when there was a railroad bed there, it might only have been 8- to 10-feet across. The majority of what made up the bed of the rail line was dirt, top-coated with ballast.”

— Some areas had to be built up to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards, Olson said. “The ADA standards say to make it as flat as possible. There are areas that are higher than they used to be, just to meet the grade purposes,” he said.

— In other areas dirt is being brought in to stabilize the sides of the trail. “In some places we visited we saw that there are some trails where they didn’t stabilize the sides and they’re splitting laterally, right down the trail,” said Olson. “When you don’t stabilize the sides there’s a tendency for the trails to crack and slough off to the side. We knew we didn’t want that.”

— Other areas had to be built up to ensure the proper drainage “so that Route 150 and the farm fields around the trail drained correctly,” he said. “We brought the grade up higher in those areas.”


Under the Glover overpass

“There’s an empty house or some kind of building on U.S. 150 underneath the bridge on the way to Ogden. Can you tell if anyone’s living there?”


No one lives there, but it’s probably not a place you should be hanging around. It’s the salvage and construction equipment storage yard for Franzen Construction Group, LLC.

But there is an interesting history to the property, which for many years was the home of Coeval, a corncob processing plant, and later ADM.

(Coincidentally 50 years ago there was a big fire at the plant that caused $175,000 damage).

Corn cobs are still being piled up on the property — not for Franzen but for a mushroom farm that incorporates the ground-up cobs into a great organic growing medium.

“We have a contract with a company and they store it there until the end of the year or January and then haul it all to Pennsylvania to the mushroom farm,” said Pam Franzen.

The big mound of cobs comes from the Pioneer plant a few miles away on the west side of St. Joseph, she said.


Urbana intersection concerns

“The combined intersections of Park and Broadway as well as Broadway and University are extremely difficult and unsafe to navigate for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike. What plans does the city (of Urbana) have to redesign those intersections? How could Crystal Lake Park be integrated into that design?

“The intersection of Lincoln and Main, again, is extremely difficult to navigate for all. It’s a marked bike-route between Champaign and Urbana. Many pedestrians cross there as well. Any redesign plans?”

Interesting that this question came up the same week the Urbana Park District received word that it got a grant to put a recreation path along Park Street, a block north of University Avenue. Part of the grant would be used at the Park/Broadway intersection.

Urbana Public Works Director Bill Gray said the city “will work closely with the Urbana Park District and its consultant to provide a pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle safe intersection crossing at Broadway Avenue and Park Street.”

As for the others, he said, “Regarding the Broadway Avenue and University Avenue intersection, IDOT is currently studying and designing safety improvements along the University Avenue corridor between Cunningham Avenue/Vine Street and Wright Street. IDOT has not announced when this project would occur.”

And the Lincoln/Main intersection “has been identified for improvements to aid pedestrians and bicyclists.”

“We are in the data collection phase currently. A major resurfacing project scheduled for Fiscal Year 2018 is in the city’s capital improvement plan,” he said.


Superhuman Javy Baez

“Do you think that Javy Baez is even human?”

Of course he is. The bum struck out 108 times this year and made 15 errors.

On the other hand the Cubs’ all-world second baseman, all-world shortstop, all-world third baseman was clutch in the playoff series with the Giants: hitting .375 with a homer and he was simply spectacular in the field.

Said the Chicago Tribune’s Steve Rosenbloom, who usually has nothing good to say about anybody, “Locally, sure, we’ve seen Baez’s star turns at the plate and especially in the field all season. But now he’s coming off a National League Division Series in which he led the team in game-winning RBIs, tied for the team lead in hits and homers, and produced a .974 on-base-plus-slugging (OPS) percentage. He’s also coming off an NLDS in which he led everybody in gasp-inducing defensive plays.

“Baez would be announcing himself to the nation if the nation could find Fox Sports 1.”

That’s a good line.

“But here’s the amazing thing for those of us in our seventh month of this highlight reel: Baez has delivered magical defense routinely but somehow makes sure we haven’t lost our capacity for awe.

“Take the third inning of Game 4 with the speedy Denard Span at the plate, for instance. Baez dived up the middle, grabbed the ball, popped up, spun and bounced a perfect throw across his body to first. Span originally was called out, but replay showed he was safe. Either way, in a classy move, Span tipped his helmet to Baez.

“But maybe he shouldn’t have. A couple pitches later, as Span tried to steal second, Baez snagged David Ross’s throw and applied a tag so spectacular and muscular that Span was stopped a half-foot from the bag. A half-foot, I swear, or something close.”

And he’s only 23 years old. Take care of yourself, kid. Please.


Abbeyfield House

“What’s the status of the ‘Abbeyfield House’ in St. Joseph? Seems that was a dumb idea to begin with.”

The Abbeyfield House, at 501 Peters Drive, St. Joseph, is built but empty. It was to have been a place where seniors in good health could live together but independently, sharing meals and each other’s company, but in separate living units.

Originally it was to have opened about three years ago. But financial problems materialized and the property went into foreclosure.

There was a sheriff’s sale, said St. Joseph Mayor B.J. Hackler, “and they didn’t raise enough money.”

“I’ve had people look at it and they’ve made some offers but it didn’t come to what the bank wanted for what they had into it,” said Hackler. He said he is concerned “about it sitting empty like that. It’s over next to the (middle) school, so it’s not like there are neighbors around to see what’s going on. I hate to see a structure just sit like that.”


Cars on campus

“My question is about the latest U.S. News college rankings. One number that caught my eye was the ‘Percentage of students with cars on campus’ for the UI: 75 percent

“Here’s how that compares to the others in the Big Ten:

Indiana - N/A

Maryland - 50 percent

Michigan - N/A

Michigan State - N/A

Ohio State - N/A

Penn State - 17 percent

Rutgers - N/A

Illinois - 75 percent

Iowa - 18 percent

Minnesota - N/A

Nebraska - 36 percent

Northwestern - N/A

Purdue - 19 percent

Wisconsin - less than 1 percent

“There are a lot of N/A’s, but Illinois’ number is considerably higher than anyone else with data, and way higher than Wisconsin’s less than 1 percent, which seems to be an actual number because it’s been used as a selling point for UW for years.”

UI officials are as puzzled about those automobile use numbers as you are. And, unfortunately, U.S. News officials never got back to me about their data. After two weeks of queries, I’ve given up on the idea they’re going to try to explain it.

In the latest transportation mode study performed by the UI (it is more than 5 years old), most undergraduates said they either walked or took mass transit to classes.

Even the number of doctoral students who rode in an automobile to class was relatively low (24.2 percent).


Question left over from last week

“And is it true that Amtrak is doing feasibility studies on the possibilities of connecting C-U with Bloomington, Peoria, and the Quad Cities someday?”

“We are no longer actively studying new passenger service along this proposed route,” said Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Brian Williamsen.


Prices for Central HS properties

“I see that Unit 4 has options contracts in 10 properties near the existing Central High School. What are the appraised values of those properties and what does the contract set the purchase price as?”

Here are the details for the 10 properties:

— Christian Science Society Church and Reading Room (605 W. Hill St. and 602 W. Church St.) — $4,000 a month option; $699,000 purchase price

— former YMCA and adjacent house (500 W. Church St. and 606 W. Church St.) — $4,000 a month option; $1.88 million purchase price

— apartment houses at 603 W. Church, 606 W. Park, 201 and 203 N. Lynn — $10,000 one-time option; $1.729 million purchase price

— rental home at 607 W. Church St. — $5,000 one-time option; $295,000 purchase price

— home at 615 W. Church St. — $5,000 one-time option; $240,000 purchase price


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Son of a Barrelmaker wrote on October 14, 2016 at 2:10 pm

Anyone remember when the train took out the Glover overpass?


welive wrote on October 14, 2016 at 2:10 pm

so maybe we can ask Mr madigan how many illeagals he has working for him under false names.I can name at least one.

bb wrote on October 14, 2016 at 4:10 pm


Mike Madigan might understand small businesses and Parkland College but on research universities, he's missing the bigger picture.  The UI regularly makes the list of top 20 universities in the world for patents issued, recently averaging nearly 100 per year. Those patents and the knowledge derived down the line are what creates jobs, not just the payroll.  Research that improves standards of living, quality of life, economic efficiency and productivity are some of our stongest contributions to the economy. For a real business appreciation of research universities, here's an article from a former Intel exec:


AltoonaSue wrote on October 14, 2016 at 9:10 pm

Well, since Tom didn't answer the reader's question about Hickory River and my curiosity was piqued, I went on the HR website to see if they listed any salaries. The job application is interesting to say the least. FYI: "navel" refers to one's belly button and "naval" is a branch of the military. Unless you're hiring for belly dancers, sir, I'm pretty sure you mean the latter.