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bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

Artstarts has completed its new set building following a 2014 fire that destroyed the original facility in Marion.

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Carbondale | Home Rule Status
Carbondale's shrinking population could jeopardize home rule

CARBONDALE — The decline in enrollment at Southern Illinois University has had a wide range of effects on Carbondale, and one consequence on the distant horizon is the potential loss of the city’s home-rule status.

Municipalities containing at least 25,000 people are automatically granted home rule, a legal standing first introduced in Illinois in 1970 that allows communities more control in financial engineering and privatization of services.

Historically, Carbondale’s population has hovered right around or just above the 25,000 mark. In 2010, the United States Census Bureau counted 25,509 people in Carbondale, but the city has since lost residents, according to City Manager Gary Williams.

“One of the questions folks always have for us is ‘How many (SIU) students are counted in the census?’” Williams said. “And the answer is we really don’t know, but we would assume a lot of them. So with the decline in enrollment, we haven’t really seen other housing growth here. We obviously have a concern that in the 2020 census, we’ll be below the 25,000, and that puts our home-rule status at risk.”

Home rule gives municipalities, villages and counties freedom from reliance on state statutes to deal with management of day-to-day operations. Such units have greater autonomy to craft laws and ordinances pertaining to the municipality and to establish new revenue streams.

Carbondale’s home-rule sales tax is currently 2.5 percent, and that revenue funds a number of city services necessary to a university town, Williams argued. Home-rule authority also provides the ability to have building code enforcement; Carbondale inspects rental properties every three years.

“We’re a university town and we have a high daytime population, so that alone calls for more law enforcement, and more law enforcement requires more pension obligation. There’s more wear-and-tear on our streets, which requires more street department people. Because we’re a university town, we have a lot of rental housing, so people have an expectation of having code enforcement. There’s a cost of that,” Williams said.

Outside of population, municipalities can obtain home-rule authority by referendum. If the 2020 census indicates that Carbondale’s population is below 25,000, the city will have to bring the item to a vote in the 2021 general election.

“The good thing about doing a referendum is you always have it,” Williams said.

But anti-tax sentiments and general mistrust of local government could prompt voters to reject the measure.

“Our fear would be that there certainly would be an anti-home rule lobby, as there are in all cities that try this, but at the same time, we have a lot of services we know we need to provide, because we’re a service center for the region, and there’s a cost to be in that service center,” Williams said.

Illinois Realtors, a private property advocacy group, opposes home rule because it allows municipalities to put more red tape and taxes on real estate transactions and to impose new inspections and fees, according to the organization’s website.

But losing the home-rule sales tax would mean the city would need to make up the revenue for services, likely by raising taxes on real estate.

“If we lose the ability to collect home-rule sales tax, we’re going to have to make up for it in real estate tax. So I would think that argument alone would incentivize people to understand the value of home rule and how important it is to Carbondale,” Williams said.

Although the possibility of a referendum is still a long way off, the matter has been on the city’s radar for some time.

“It’s a concern of ours. It’s definitely a risk, and SIU is making a lot of attempts to turn things around, but it’s going to take time,” Williams said.

Cairo Housing Crisis
Where's Gov. Rauner on Cairo housing crisis?

CAIRO — The following political leaders have visited Cairo since the public housing crisis in Illinois’ southernmost city came to a head:

• Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson

• U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Democrats

• U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro

• Delta Regional Authority Federal Co-Chairman Chris Masingill

• State Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg

• State Rep. Natalie Phelps Finnie, D-Elizabethtown

• Former State Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Eldorado

• Former Illinois Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, of Lemont

• State Treasurer Mike Frerichs 

• Democratic gubernatorial candidates J.B. Pritzker, Chris Kennedy and Daniel Biss and former candidate Ameya Pawar

Meanwhile, one prominent Illinois political leader has not visited Cairo since HUD announced in April its decision to relocate about 400 people from two derelict public housing complexes that have been deemed beyond repair:

• Gov. Bruce Rauner

It’s also been difficult for The Southern to get much detailed information about what Rauner’s administration is doing alongside the federal government to assist public housing residents and the city through this housing crisis, or to address the related health and economic issues facing southernmost Illinois. A shortage of affordable housing in Cairo and access to basic amenities and jobs means most residents are relocating to other communities, generally in excess of an hour away. 

Rauner has said the situation involving the nearly bankrupt Alexander County Housing Authority is largely a federal issue. But as HUD officials have noted, the underlying economic crisis facing the Cairo region is not the sole, nor primary, responsibility of HUD. Also, housing authorities are entities of state and local government. And across the country, many state leaders also are tackling issues of affordable housing as they recognize that solutions to the housing problems facing struggling rural regions and fast-growing urban cities must be multifaceted and require long-term planning. 

Since July, The Southern has discussed the situation with at least seven different officials in Rauner’s communications office. There have been numerous staff changeovers since that time, and many of those people are no longer in the governor's employ. 

Patty Schuh, Rauner’s current spokeswoman, who recently transitioned from her role as spokeswoman for the Senate Republicans, said that though the governor himself has not been to Cairo since April, the office is plugged in to the situation. She said the issue for the governor’s office at this time is that state officials have not been able to obtain the information it needs from HUD to develop the appropriate state response.

Schuh said the governor’s office is seeking information on how many people want to stay in the region who have been unable to locate housing, and what financial needs related to the relocation that the families may have that are not being covered by HUD, such as deposits or replacement furniture.

As well, she said the governor’s office needs a clear timeline of when HUD intends to close the McBride and Elmwood complexes, and more overall information on HUD’s relocation plans. “Then we can review our options,” she said. She added that the governor's office does not want to give false hope about what it can do once it receives the information it seeks from HUD, but stressed that the fact-finding mission is the first step.

Of note, The Southern has published dozens of stories about the housing crisis in Cairo dating back to the fall of 2015, including numerous updates on the relocation effort that began in April.

“The governor’s office has been actively involved in the discussions about Cairo but there very clearly is federal action that has to take place. We need information,” she said. “We don’t feel like we’re getting the full story yet.”

Asked about the comments from the governor's office, HUD spokesman Jereon Brown said HUD stands ready to work with any public officials in Illinois to provide whatever information is needed. He offered to reach out to the governor’s office directly. 

In a follow-up interview, Schuh said that wasn’t necessary because during a “task force” meeting on Cairo in July, which a representative of the governor’s office attended, it was decided that the federal delegation would handle the communication with HUD so as not to duplicate efforts or create confusion.

Therefore, Schuh said that the governor’s office has not directly reached out to HUD, and isn't requesting HUD reach out to Rauner's office to provide the information they are seeking. Rather, she said, Rauner's office has been working through Bost's office to seek the information. 

“I know that request has been made to HUD. I know Congressman Bost did it last. He’s (Bost) still pursuing a clear timeline,” she said. As of press time, the newspaper was unable to obtain clarity on why the governor's office would not speak with HUD directly for the information it needed when the offer was made, given that's what Schuh said is holding up the administration's response. 

Meanwhile, HUD is moving forward with relocating families from the complexes that have been deemed unsafe and unfit for habitation.

In a letter dated Oct. 19 that Secretary Carson wrote to Mayor Coleman, Carson noted that after his visit to the city in early August, he instructed his staff to re-examine the possibility of salvaging some of the buildings within Elmwood and McBride. “Unfortunately, our latest analysis confirms our prior assessment — rehabilitation is not a viable option and both developments must be vacated and demolished.” 

“While the department has not yet established a definitive date for everyone to move from these properties, at some point in the very near future, we will have to set a date certain for all families to vacate Elmwood and McBride,” Carson’s letter to Coleman stated. Brown has said that if the boilers that heat the units break during the winter months, the agency may have to relocate families temporarily while they continue to look for housing. Brown said the housing authority, which HUD is operating in receivership, cannot afford to spend excessive amounts of money on repairs of complexes slated to be torn down while there are other developments within the ACHA's portfolio also in need of rehabilitation. 

Carson told the mayor that the passion and commitment the people of Cairo show for their hometown, coupled with the city’s location at the confluence of two major rivers, “suggests that brighter days may indeed lay ahead for the city.” The solution for Cairo’s future “must be driven by more than the rehabilitation of federally assisted housing and must harness the private market.”

“It also requires creative thinking at the local, regional, state and national levels,” the letter continued.

As it relates to the state's response to the dire economic situation facing Cairo and the surrounding region, Schuh there’s no one-size-fits all solution. She said the governor’s office has been involved in numerous ways in trying to help where it can in the short term, as well as in developing long-term strategies.

She said a representative of the governor's office was part of the delegation that toured the site of a potential port operation in Cairo in May with Masingill, the DRA federal co-chairman. Local officials have been seeking funds to begin engineering work and environmental studies for the port, but no money has been identified to date. The state's budget woes have dramatically slowed infrastructure projects. 

Schuh also said representatives from Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity helped local officials write grant proposals to the Delta Regional Authority, which were recently awarded. A $161,560 grant was awarded to the city to support road improvements to Bunge, an oilseed production facility and one of the town’s largest employers. A $118,489 grant was awarded to strengthen the local health clinic’s information technology infrastructure to support an Electronic Health Record system.

Shuch said that representatives of the Illinois Housing Development Authority also visited in the spring to survey the existing private housing market and provided a study to the city about what’s available for rent. 

Asked why Rauner has not been among the many regional and statewide officials to visit the city and meet directly with the residents, Schuh said he's been tethered to Springfield as session ran long this summer, and for the current veto session. 

"Given the distance, I'm not sure he's gotten that far down in Southern Illinois in recent months," she said. Since April, when HUD announced the relocation decision, Rauner has traveled on trade and research missions to China, Japan and Israel and announced his 2018 re-election plans.  

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Carterville Schools
Carterville school board to sue if Cambria passes TIF proposal

CARTERVILLE — During a special meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Carterville Community Unit School District 5 board voted to retain counsel to sue the Village of Cambria if it passes ordinances related to creating a TIF district as proposed.

Don Yewell, vice president of Carterville school board, called the meeting to order. School Board President David Schwartz was present by phone and all other board members were in attendance, as well as Superintendent Keith Liddell and the board’s TIF counsel, Kurt Schroeder.

Although a crowd of around 30 gathered for the meeting, no one chose to speak during the visitor participation portion of the meeting. The next item on the agenda was a closed session to discuss litigation.

The board entered a closed session that Yewell said would last about 15 minutes. They returned to open meeting before 6:15 p.m.

After adjourning the closed session and approving that there was no business resulting in no minutes, the board voted to discuss the proposed intergovernmental agreement from the Village of Cambria regarding the TIF proposal.

Schroeder reminded the board that they discussed the agreement during a special meeting Nov. 1.

“The agreement falls far short of the agreements we have with Carterville and Crainville,” Schroeder said.

The school district agreements with Crainville and Carterville give the school district 27.6 percent of any TIF funds collected, with a guarantee that no residential property is included in their TIF districts.

Cambria offered the school district 15 percent of TIF funds, and one developer offered to give 10 percent of TIF funds he was paid to the school district. Also, the Cambria TIF District includes both residential and commercial property equaling about 95 percent of the town.

The board unanimously voted to not approve the intergovernmental agreement.

Schroeder said the joint board of review voted to disapprove the TIF district, with representatives from the school board, Williamson County Board, John A. Logan College and Anne West Lindsay Public Library all voting in favor of the motion. Cambria representatives abstained from the vote.

The board then entertained a motion to retain Greensfelder, Hemker and Gale P.C. to file and prosecute on behalf of Carterville Community Unit School District 5 a lawsuit against the Village of Cambria upon passing any ordinance that approves creation of a redevelopment plan or TIF agreement, any ordinance defining the project area of the proposed TIF plan, or any ordinance regarding allocation of Cambria’s TIF proposal.

The motion passed unanimously, and the crowd clapped.

The school board meeting was adjourned.

Cambria village board is scheduled to vote on its TIF proposal at 4 p.m. Thursday in the community center gymnasium.

State issues report cards on school districts; here's how Southern Illinois districts measure up

Aaron Mattox

PINCKNEYVILLE — Once upon a time, Pinckneyville Community High School was listed as one of the "lowest performing schools in the state," with a "very small percentage" of its students being considered college ready.

The release of a State Report Card last week on this district and others, reflects that Pinckneyville has made great strides in preparing its students for their next educational pursuit, said the school's principal, Dustin R. Foutch.

"We are very pleased with the growth that has been demonstrated in our student achievement over the last several years," he said via email. "In 2012, we were listed as one of the lowest performing schools ...

"I am very proud to say that in 2017, our students performed right with the state averages in reading and math and we also performed very well when compared with schools of similar demographics in our geographical area. I was also very pleased that we have reduced the number of our graduates that are required to take remedial coursework when they enter college."

This marks the first year that the report card reflects the state-administered results of the SAT, which state officials opted to use to measure proficiency in language arts and mathematics. Results from that test are used to indicate whether 11th grade students "partially meet," "approach," "meet" or "exceed" academic performance standards. The percent of the SAT deemed proficiency is a combination of a school's percent of students who "meet" and "exceed" performance standards.

Overall, students' scores improved in English language arts achievement on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment, the four-year graduation rate, college enrollment rates, Advanced Placement participation and success, the community college remediation rate, ninth-grade students on track to graduate, and eighth-grade students passing Algebra I, according to a news release from The Illinois State Board of Education.

The state averaged 39 percent of its 11th graders "meeting" or "exceeding" academic standards on the ELA and math tests, based on results from the new SAT testing. Statewide, 87.1 percent of freshmen were on target; 87 percent graduated from high school within four years; and 51 percent of graduating seniors were college ready (meaning they scored a 21 or higher on an ACT test).

In 2015, more than 50 percent of Pinckneyville High School students were enrolled in remedial post-secondary coursework, he said; that rate has now been reduced to 25 percent, with only 2 percent of the district's students needing to take remedial reading courses after they graduate.

"When our remedial coursework percentage is compared with the state average of 47 percent," Foutch said, "it shows that we are doing an excellent job of preparing our students for post-secondary success."

In Benton, students have the opportunity to dual-enroll in college courses through a partnership with Rend Lake College, the school's superintendent, Aaron Mattox, said.

The high school's college readiness rate is 42 percent and its graduation rate is 82 percent. Some 81 percent of its freshmen were on track.

"The challenge that the district has faced is improving academic achievement while trying to balance the resources that are available to promote college and career readiness for all of the district’s students," Mattox said. "Benton High School has implemented SAT preparation courses to help prepare students for testing and has put in place a student incentive program to help maximize academic achievement."

He said the district also partners with the Franklin County Vocational Cooperative to offer students more vocational opportunities.

For other districts, the college readiness of their student body is reflected at:

• Anna-Jonesboro HS: 42 percent college readiness; 91 percent of freshmen on track; 91 percent graduation rate; and 32 percent proficient, SAT.

• Benton Consolidated HSD 103: 42 percent college readiness; 81 percent of freshmen on track; 82 percent graduation rate; and 23 percent proficient, SAT.

• Cairo USD 1: 16 percent college readiness; with 83 percent of freshmen on track; 73 percent graduation rate; and 6 percent proficient, SAT.

• Carbondale CHSD 165: 71 percent college readiness; 87 percent of freshmen on track; and an 85 percent graduation rate; 40 percent proficient, SAT.

• Carterville HS: 73 percent college readiness; 90 percent of freshmen on track; 94 percent graduation rate; and 54 percent proficient, SAT.

• Du Quoin: 36 percent college readiness; 91 percent of freshmen on track; 92 percent graduation rate; and 32 percent proficient, SAT.

• Harrisburg: 24 percent college readiness, 88 percent of freshmen on track; 81 percent graduation rate; and 20 percent proficient, SAT.

• Herrin HS: 40 percent college readiness; 89 percent of freshmen on track; 88 percent graduation rate; and 33 percent proficient, SAT.

• Marion: 61 percent college readiness; 76 percent of freshmen on track; 84 percent graduation rate; and 29 percent proficient, SAT.

• Murphysboro HS/CUSD 186: 40 percent college readiness; 89 percent of freshmen on track; 85 percent graduation rate; and 28 percent proficient, SAT.

To view your district and other school's results reflected on the state's Report Card, visit the documents online at