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Cambria votes to create TIF district despite lawsuit threat from Carterville schools

CAMBRIA — The Cambria Village Board during its meeting Thursday voted to approve three ordinances that will move a proposed TIF district redevelopment project plan to law.

Carterville Community Unit District 5 voted Wednesday evening to retain counsel to sue the village of Cambria if the board passes any part of the proposed TIF redevelopment plan.

A TIF sets property taxes at a pre-development baseline. As property values increase, the difference, called the tax increment, is put into a special fund for 23 years. It is used to pay back the investment of developers, with the remainder available for use by the village.

Carterville schools would receive the same amount in taxes from Cambria that they got this year. Part of the problem is that new development is expected to attract new residents — many with children — to the area. Carterville schools will receive the same amount of tax dollars with possibly an increased enrollment.

As the village board adjourned to the smaller council room for executive session, Mayor Steve Gottschalk told the crowd of more than 100 not to go anywhere. After a few minutes, the board came back to the regular meeting. The first order of business was to a tax levy ordinance, which was tabled to the next meeting.

The mayor then called for discussion on ordinance 1117546, which approves the redevelopment plan and creates a commercial and residential TIF district.

Trustee Robin McFarlin spoke to the crowd, saying she was elected, then made commissioner of public relations and the park.

“Our integrity and our best intentions for our village have been questioned, but we are Cambria strong,” McFarlin said.

She then made a motion to approve the ordinance creating the TIF district.

Zack Cox abstained from the vote, with McFarlin, Suzette Coffey, Terry McKenzie, Robert Chitwood, Mark Phillips and the mayor voting yes.

McFarlin then made a motion to approve ordinance 1117547, which designates the TIF project area. Again, Cox abstained and all other board members voted to approve the ordinance. The TIF project area, as proposed, includes slightly more than 95 percent of the village, both residential and commercial property.

McFarlin followed with a motion to approve ordinance 1117548, which allocates the TIF funds. Cox once again abstained.

Coffey said she was in the last class to attend junior high at the building now known as the community center.

“In the last few weeks, I have never been more bullied and intimidated, mostly by people who do not live in this village,” Coffey said. “Without hesitation, I vote yes for Cambria and yes for the TIF.”

The next item on the agenda was visitor participation. When the mayor called for visitor participation, a couple members of the crowd said that was out of order. Most who had signed up to speak wanted to speak against the proposed Cambria TIF district. All but one person declined to speak.

That man, David Brown, of Cambria, said, from his point of view, Cambria passing a residential TIF district is like Florida voting in favor of hot weather. The development would come without the TIF.

Gottschalk made a brief statement in support of the TIF, and the meeting was adjourned.

McFarlin said it is so disheartening to hear the negative comments about individuals on the board and the board as a whole.

“As a registered nurse, I was an advocate for my patients. I ran for trustee to be an advocate for my village,” McFarlin said. “Sometimes I have to make decisions that aren’t going to be popular.”

McFarlin researched the issue, went to multiple meetings and listened to the residents of Carterville and Cambria. She considered the “Vote No” on the Cambria TIF signs in the yards of 19 houses in town.

“My No. 1 priority is this village. We are Cambria strong, and we will survive,” McFarlin said.

For the Rev. Robert Chitwood, who serves as a village trustee and pastor of First Apostolic Church in Cambria, he understands the plight of the school district.

“Kids need a good education, but they also need a good home,” Chitwood said.

Coffey, who was born and raised in Cambria and is the third generation of her family to live in the small town, said the decision to vote in favor of the TIF was not a difficult one.

“It was difficult hearing all the bullying and intimidation. My job is to do what’s best for Cambria,” Coffey said. “I really feel like it is what’s going to help us survive.”

“I think it went very well. The trustees felt very good about the vote,” Gottschalk said. “We are cognizant of the comments of the school board and Carterville, yet we fell like this will benefit our village.”

He said their TIF attorney said there is no justification for litigation.

The next steps, according to Gottschalk, are to let everyone know Cambria is open for business, sign up new contractors and discuss what they are willing to do to help the village.

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Food Pantries
Local food pantries see season spike in donations, need for services

DU QUOIN — Local food pantries agree that as the weather gets cold and the signs of holiday spirit emerge, they see a boost in two areas — the lines in their pantries get longer and their donations see a spike.

However, there is a tradeoff here. Jane Williams, president of the Murphysboro Food Pantry board, said they have a need the other 10 months of the year.

“Money has got to be there all year long,” Williams said. “We can’t tell people, 'We will feed you in November.'”

She admitted there certainly is a strong need in November and December, but added that this does not diminish the need in the other months.

Jim Dimitroff, president of the Du Quoin Food Pantry, said there can be as much as a 25-percent increase in food pantry use this time of year, so the help is appreciated. However, he said he has seen an overall increase in need in recent months and years.

Megan Austin, director of the Murphysboro Food Pantry, said they saw an average of 100 more families come through their lines last month compared to historic data for the facility. On average, they serve about 3,400 to 3,500 people a month.

Whatever the cause, all agreed that the need is great in Southern Illinois, and though the uneven flow of donations makes things difficult sometimes — Austin said if the pantry runs low on food, they would have to cut back on how much each family receives as opposed to cutting back how many families they serve — they manage to get by on the goodness of people’s hearts.

“There are a lot of generous people out there and we are thankful for them,” Dimitroff said.

Williams said no matter when people give, she is always thankful.

“Even if the donors only think about it in November and December, I’ll take it,” she said.

Steve McCray, vice president of the Du Quoin Food Pantry, said it’s not always easy making ends meet for the pantry.

“Yes we go through rough times,” he said, explaining that when things go wrong — a freezer goes out or the air conditioning needs to be replaced — they still somehow manage. The support always comes in.

Both the Du Quoin Food Pantry and the Murphysboro Food Pantry do their best to take the stigma away from needing to ask for help. In Du Quoin, patrons are given a certain allotment of points based on a variety of factors, including household size. With these points they are allowed to “shop” for goods the pantry has to offer — some things like bread do not count against their points. McCray said this allows people's personal tastes and needs to be most closely met, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all basket approach.

Williams said in Murphysboro she tries to give families the most value she can when preparing their boxes of food. She gave the example of a family of six — she said were someone to take the components of a box to a grocery store and replace them with the cheapest product equivalents, their total value would come to about $150.

In their work, all said one thing is absolutely paramount — check judgement at the door.

“This is really not a position that you can grow to be callous in,” Austin said.

“I’ve learned from work up here, do not judge people,” McCray said. “You’ve not walked in their shoes. You have no idea what this lady or this guy is going through.”

McCray and Williams said they take issue with the idea that their patron lists are full of scammers. Williams said while they do have the ability to ban people from using their services — this is done for things like selling food for other goods — they have done so very rarely. She said being poor and in-need is not an easy thing, spiritually and practically.

“I feel like if they are willing to endure that to get whatever we have to share with them, they probably are in need,” Williams said. “They don’t come, for the most, because they think they are going to get a T-bone steak.” Williams said many have “swallowed their pride” and have exhausted all their other resources before coming there.

Williams said one never knows what a person's situation is. She provided the example of a woman who came in in a nice car and dressed well to ask for help. She approached Williams and said she had hit rock bottom. She had been having seizures and lost her job because she couldn’t work.

“I don’t know what to do,” Williams remembers her telling her, adding that she had never been to the food bank before.

McCray said he tries to correct misconceptions whenever he can. He remembered reading on social media a common complaint of someone with using a Link card — a card used to access government subsidy for designated food items — to buy cigarettes and other nonessentials.

“I thought, ‘What a lie,’” he said, and explained that he then posted the purchasable items list from the Department of Human Services.

McCray said the why is less important than the simple fact that people are hungry.

“The need, it’s here,” he said.

When it comes to how people give, Williams said anything is appreciated and different types of giving have different meaning. She said from adults, cash can be stretched the most by the pantry — she said because of USDA programs, which Murphysboro and Du Quoin both participate in, she can sometimes get a pound of food for just 50 cents. She said this means a $100 donation can bring in about 200 pounds of food.

However, she said canned food drives still have their place. She said if young children can have the experience of thinking about the hungry and seeing just how big an impact a group can have in helping the needy through a school food drive, then that has its own tremendous value.

She said she is never in any place to complain about a donation, whether it’s $5 cash or a package of mixed vegetables.

“By gosh I’m thankful for every can I get,” she said.

Richard Sitler, The Southern 

Jase Gosha carries the ball for Herrin in the second half at Herrin on Sept. 15.

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Gov. Rauner on veto defeats: The struggle for a better state is 'ongoing'

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner downplayed on Thursday the beating he took in the fall legislative session as evidence of an "ongoing and difficult" struggle for a better state.

With less than a year before he stands for re-election, lawmakers finished work Thursday after overturning more than a dozen gubernatorial vetoes.

The first-term Republican dismissed the notion that GOP lawmakers are abandoning him.

"The battle to get a better future for the people of Illinois is going to be ongoing and difficult," Rauner told reporters after a deployment ceremony for six Illinois National Guard members headed for Afghanistan.

"This is about what's best for the people of Illinois: Protecting our taxpayers, reducing our tax burden, growing more jobs, making our economy competitive. I vetoed some bills that were harmful to the people."

He claimed a key victory in his three-year-old agenda when the House failed to override his veto of a measure barring local governments from establishing "right-to-work" zones immune from labor-union influence.

And on Friday, the Senate failed to overturn him on a bill that would prohibit employers from asking an applicant's salary history, a practice advocates say hurts women who are traditionally underpaid.

But Rauner didn't fare as well when no one in the House and just three senators stood with him on separate override votes on an issue that became a political spat with Democratic Comptroller Susana Mendoza. It requires state agencies to report on the bills they've incurred monthly instead of once annually. It takes effect Jan. 1.

Rauner called it a "make-work" waste of money to generate instantaneously obsolete reports because of the speed with which government financing changes.

Mendoza also began using $6 billion in borrowed money Wednesday to pay down a mass of overdue bills wrought by a two-year budget stalemate. The first payment dropped the debt by $3.5 billion, to $13.2 billion.

But documents prepared to secure the loan showed that $2.8 billion in Rauner administration spending last year had not been authorized by the Legislature. She said Wednesday that the just-approved "debt-transparency act" would have helped taxpayers see the overspending sooner.

"Comptroller Mendoza criticizing an unbalanced budget that the Democrats passed and that she has worked on is like a bank robber calling the police and saying, 'We've got a problem,'" Rauner said. "This is a broken system."