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Ream’s through May 2015
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Regional - page 29

KC final multiplier announced

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SPRINGFIELD—Kane County has been issued a final property assessment equalization factor of 1.0000, according to Brian Hamer, director of the Illinois Department of Revenue.

The property assessment equalization factor, often called the “multiplier,” is the method used to achieve uniform property assessments among counties, as required by law. This equalization is particularly important because some of the state’s 6,600 local taxing districts overlap into two or more counties (for example, school districts, junior college districts, fire protection districts). If there were no equalization among counties, substantial inequities among taxpayers with comparable properties would result.

Under a law passed in 1975, property in Illinois should be assessed at one-third (1/3) of its market value. Farm property is assessed differently, with farm homesites and dwellings subject to regular assessing and equalization procedures, but with farmland assessed at one-third of its agriculture economic value. Farmland is not subject to the state equalization factor.

Assessments in Kane County are at 33.31 percent of market value, based on sales of properties in 2007, 2008, and 2009. The equalization factor currently being assigned is for 2010 taxes, payable in 2011.

Last year’s equalization factor for the county was 1.0000. The final assessment equalization factor was issued after a public hearing on the tentative factor. The tentative factor issued in November 2010 was 1.0000. The equalization factor is determined annually for each county by comparing the price of individual properties sold over the past three years to the assessed value placed on those properties by the county supervisor of assessments/county assessor.

If this three-year average level of assessment is one-third of the market value, the equalization factor will be one (1). If the average level of assessment is greater than one-third of market value, the equalization factor will be less than one (1). And if the average level of assessment is less than one-third of market value, the equalization factor will be greater than one (1).

A change in the equalization factor does not mean total property tax bills will increase or decrease. Tax bills are determined by local taxing bodies when they request money each year to provide services to local citizens. If the amount requested by local taxing districts is not greater than the amount received in the previous year, then total property taxes will not increase, even if assessments increase.

The assessed value of an individual property determines what portion of the tax burden a specific taxpayer will assume. That individual’s portion of tax responsibility is not changed by the multiplier.

Rep. Hatcher advances protections for grieving families during funeral services

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Springfield—State Rep. Kay Hatcher advanced legislation last week protecting grieving families from protests and other disrespectful conduct during funeral services for a loved one.

Hatcher (R-Yorkville) won overwhelming House approval of House Bill 180, which prohibits disorderly conduct near a funeral site while a funeral or memorial service is being conducted.

“This is a simple issue of respect and consideration owed to families saying goodbye to a loved one,” Hatcher said.

Hatcher’s legislation was inspired by hurtful protests at funeral services for fallen soldiers. It prohibits protests and disorderly conduct within 1,000 feet of a funeral site (currently 200 feet) and also prohibits protests from 60 minutes before the funeral begins to 60 minutes after the service ends (currently 30 minutes).

“A student from Northern Illinois University came to me with the realization that the current guidelines for conduct during funerals are just not adequate to ensure families can say goodbye in peace,” Hatcher said. “Our new restrictions won’t eliminate anyone’s freedom of speech rights, but they will help protect grieving families from having to unnecessarily endure additional stress and pain.”

Having passed the House, House Bill 180 now advances to the Senate for further consideration.

Delnor completes merger with Central DuPage

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by Lynn Meredith
Geneva—Delnor Health System announced that it has merged with Central DuPage Health (CDH) to form an integrated, locally-managed health system. The merger received its final approval from each hospital’s board of directors on Thursday of last week. Plans for the merger had been in discussion since October 2010.

“We are excited to bring together these two exceptional, financially sound hospitals with shared vision, values and complementary strengths,” said William Wolford, chairman of Delnor Health System’s Board of Directors. “We are all committed to developing a seamless care experience for our patients, so they continue to receive exceptional and uninterrupted service from the same doctors and hospitals they have come to trust.”

C. William Pollard, chairman of the CDH Board of Directors, said that the combined health system will provide patients with even higher quality care, access to a greater number of specialists, a broader range of clinical capabilities and a more integrated approach to health care.

“We intend for both hospitals to continue providing an outstanding patient experience, just as they do today, and we will continue to invest in primary and advanced specialty care at each campus,” Pollard said.

Luke McGuinness, CDH’s president and chief executive officer, has been named CEO of the new system, reporting to a 20-person board composed of 10 trustees from CDH and 10 trustees from Delnor.

Thomas L. Wright will continue as president of Delnor Hospital and will also serve as executive vice president of the health system.

Each hospital will continue to maintain its own charitable foundation. Other affiliates, such as Delnor Health and Wellness Center, Delnor Glen Senior Living and CNS Home Health & Hospice, will continue under the new health system. Each hospital will retain its own identity. A name for the health system is under development, said Brian Griffin, director of public relations and marketing.

CDH is a nationally recognized 313-bed facility located in Winfield, Ill. It is a leading center for medical technology and one of the busiest surgical hospitals in Illinois. For the last five consecutive years, Thomson Reuters has listed CDH as a 100 Top Hospital in the U.S.

TriCity Family Services Annual Benefit, Auction

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St. Charles—TriCity Family Services will host its 22nd Annual Benefit and Auction on Saturday, April 9, at the Hilton Garden Inn in St. Charles. The theme for this year’s event is “A Blooming Affair … Growing Healthy Families,” and it will feature extensive silent and live auctions, a split-the-pot raffle, diamond raffle and dinner and entertainment provided by the Mary Hunt Duo.

The Hilton Garden Inn St. Charles is located at 4070 E. Main St, St. Charles, IL 60174.

Cocktail hour begins at 5:30 p.m., with dinner at 7 p.m. Cocktail attire is required.

Tickets are $75 each. Tables of 8 persons can be purchased for $600. All proceeds benefit TriCity Family Services, a local leader in community-based counseling and supportive services for those in need.

Make your reservation online at www.tricityfamilyservices.org or call the TriCity Family Services offices at (630) 232-1070.

The agency is accepting items for the silent and live auctions. They are also accepting advertisers for the event program book. The donation packet is available on the website. Contact Hallie Hudson, Development Associate, at (630) 232-1070 or hhudson@tricityfamilyservices.org for more information.

Pottawatomie Golf Course recognized for environmental excellence

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St. Charles—Pottawatomie Golf Course retained its designation as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary through the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program (ACSP) for Golf Courses and Audubon International program.

To reach certification, course personnel demonstrate that they are maintaining a high degree of environmental quality in: environmental planning, wildlife and habitat management, outreach and education, chemical use reduction and safety, water conservation, and water quality management.

Twenty years after its creation, the ACSP continues to promote ecologically sound land management and conservation of natural resources of golf courses. Results of a recent survey to measure environmental outcomes of the ACSP provide strong support for the program’s effectiveness. Queried on a number of environmental management practices, ACSP members report improvements in wildlife habitat and water quality protection and conservation.

Pottawatomie Golf Course is one of 816 courses in the world to receive the honor, not only because of the environmental achievements of this course, but because of the model that it now represents to its surrounding community. It helps tell the story that good environmental stewardship is good business and leads to more sustainable communities.

Visit www.auduboninternational.org. For more information on golf and the environment, visit www.golfandenvironment.com.

Golf for Good

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ST. CHARLES—How would you like a day on the golf course with a chance to win a 2011 Harley Davidson with a hole-in-one? What about a week at a luxurious island home? How about a fun-filled evening for a good cause? Any or all of these could be yours if you attend the “Golf for Good” benefit event to be held Monday, May 16, at the Royal Fox Country Club in St. Charles.

Lazarus House and the St. Charles Kiwanis are combining efforts for this spring fundraiser. Tickets are $140 per golfer for RSVPs received by April 1, or $150 for RSVPs received by May 1. Evening-only (dinner and auction) tickets are available for $40. To RSVP, contact Michael at (630) 624-0229. Donations to the event are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. Lazarus House and St. Charles Kiwanis Foundation are both 501(c)(3) charitable organizations.

A week’s stay at a beautiful five-bedroom Captiva Island home is one of the fabulous auction items available for bid. Take a sneak peek by going to www.lazarushouseonline.com. Other auction items include unique furniture, sports and outdoor goods. More items are still coming in. If you have an item to donate, please call Lazarus House Volunteer and Event Coordinator Donna Bauer at (630) 587-2144. To learn about the wide array of sponsorship opportunities, call Brian Ducey at (224) 678-8838.

“We are excited to partner with the Kiwanis on this spring event,” said Lazarus House Executive Director Liz Eakins. “They have been such a great partner to us, especially in meeting the needs of children at our shelter, and we are looking forward to raising funds with them. They are helping us tremendously by taking on a great deal of the work and risk of this event while sharing profits with us.”

IRS announces new effort to help struggling taxpayers get fresh start

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Changes made to lien process
Washington—In its latest effort to help struggling taxpayers, the Internal Revenue Service announced a series of new steps to help people get a fresh start with their tax liabilities.

The goal is to help individuals and small businesses meet their tax obligations without adding unnecessary burden to taxpayers. Specifically, the IRS is announcing new policies and programs to help taxpayers pay back taxes and avoid tax liens.

“We are making fundamental changes to our lien system and other collection tools that will help taxpayers and give them a fresh start,” IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said. “These steps are good for people facing tough times, and they reflect a responsible approach for the tax system.”

Important changes to IRS lien filing practices will lessen the negative impact on taxpayers. The changes include significantly increasing the dollar threshold when liens are generally issued, resulting in fewer tax liens; making it easier for taxpayers to obtain lien withdrawals after paying a tax bill; withdrawing liens in most cases where a taxpayer enters into a Direct Debit Installment Agreement; creating easier access to Installment Agreements for more struggling small businesses; and expanding a streamlined Offer in Compromise program to cover more taxpayers.

“These steps are in the best interest of both taxpayers and the tax system,” Shulman said. “People will have a better chance to stay current on their taxes and keep their financial house in order. We all benefit if that happens.”

This is another in a series of steps to help struggling taxpayers. In 2008, the IRS announced lien relief for people trying to refinance or sell a home. In 2009, the IRS added new flexibility for taxpayers facing payment or collection problems. And last year, the IRS held about 1,000 special open houses to help small businesses and individuals resolve tax issues with the Agency.

Tax lien thresholds increased
The IRS will significantly increase the dollar thresholds when liens are generally filed. The new dollar amount is in keeping with inflationary changes since the number was last revised. Currently, liens are automatically filed at certain dollar levels for people with past-due balances.

The IRS plans to review the results and impact of the lien threshold change in about a year.

A federal tax lien gives the IRS a legal claim to a taxpayer’s property for the amount of an unpaid tax debt. Filing a Notice of Federal Tax Lien is necessary to establish priority rights against certain other creditors. Usually the government is not the only creditor to whom the taxpayer owes money.

A lien informs the public that the U.S. government has a claim against all property, and any rights to property, of the taxpayer. This includes property owned at the time the notice of lien is filed and any acquired thereafter. A lien can affect a taxpayer’s credit rating, so it is critical to arrange the payment of taxes as quickly as possible.

“Raising the lien threshold keeps pace with inflation and makes sense for the tax system,” Shulman said. “These changes mean tens of thousands of people won’t be burdened by liens, and this step will take place without significantly increasing the financial risk to the government.”

Tax lien withdrawals made easier

The IRS will also modify procedures that will make it easier for taxpayers to obtain lien withdrawals.

Liens will now be withdrawn once full payment of taxes is made, if the taxpayer requests it. The IRS has determined that this approach is in the best interest of the government.

In order to speed the withdrawal process, the IRS will also streamline its internal procedures to allow collection personnel to withdraw the liens.

Direct debit installment agreements
and liens changed

The IRS is making other fundamental changes to liens in cases where taxpayers enter into a Direct Debit Installment Agreement (DDIA). For taxpayers with unpaid assessments of $25,000 or less, the IRS will now allow lien withdrawals under several scenarios:
• Lien withdrawals for taxpayers entering into a Direct Debit Installment Agreement.
• The IRS will withdraw a lien if a taxpayer on a regular Installment Agreement converts to a Direct Debit Installment Agreement.
• The IRS will also withdraw liens on existing Direct Debit Installment Agreements upon taxpayer request.

Liens will be withdrawn after a probationary period demonstrating that direct debit payments will be honored.

In addition, this lowers user fees and saves the government money from mailing monthly payment notices. Taxpayers can use the Online Payment Agreement application on www.IRS.gov to set up Direct Debit Installment Agreements.

“We are trying to minimize burden on taxpayers while collecting the proper amount of tax,” Shulman said. “We believe taking away taxpayer burden makes sense when a taxpayer has taken the proactive step of entering a direct debit agreement.”

Installment Agreements made available
to small businesses

The IRS will make streamlined Installment Agreements available to more small businesses. The payment program will raise the dollar limit to allow additional small businesses to participate.

Small businesses with $25,000 or less in unpaid tax can participate. Currently, only small businesses with under $10,000 in liabilities can participate. Small businesses will have 24 months to pay.

The streamlined Installment Agreements will be available for small businesses that file either as an individual or as a business. Small businesses with an unpaid assessment balance greater than $25,000 would qualify for the streamlined Installment Agreement if they pay down the balance to $25,000 or less.

Small businesses will need to enroll in a Direct Debit Installment Agreement to participate.

“Small businesses are an important part of the nation’s economy, and the IRS should help them when we can,” Shulman said, “By expanding payment options, we can help small businesses pay their tax bill while freeing up cash flow to keep funding their operations.”

Offers in Compromise program expanded

The IRS is expanding a new streamlined Offer in Compromise (OIC) program to cover a larger group of struggling taxpayers.

This streamlined OIC is being expanded to allow taxpayers with annual incomes up to $100,000 to participate. In addition, participants must have tax liability of less than $50,000, doubling the current limit of $25,000 or less.

OICs are subject to acceptance based on legal requirements. An offer-in-compromise is an agreement between a taxpayer and the IRS that settles the taxpayer’s tax liabilities for less than the full amount owed. Generally, an offer will not be accepted if the IRS believes that the liability can be paid in full as a lump sum or through a payment agreement. The IRS looks at the taxpayer’s income and assets to make a determination regarding the taxpayer’s ability to pay.

Sen. Lauzen, Republicans unveil budget plan

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SPRINGFIELD—Senator Chris Lauzen and Senate Republicans this week unveiled a series of spending cuts and revenue adjustments that they say would put Illinois on firm financial footing and allow the roll back of the 67 percent income tax increase enacted during the lame-duck legislative session in January.

“Last week, we laid out the disastrous financial path that Illinois will face if we follow the governor’s spending plan. We pointed out that without significant changes, Illinois is on target to accumulate a $22 billion deficit in five years, even after the staggering tax increase,” Senator Chris Lauzen (R-Aurora) said. “No one disputed those numbers.”

“We also said that we would lay out a plan that avoids the budget disaster, brings spending under control and improves the Illinois economy. Today, as promised, we are releasing that plan,” he said.

The GOP caucus determined that $5 billion in spending and revenue changes would allow the state to roll back the full income tax increase and eliminate job-killing business tax hikes that were also enacted in January.

“Our goals are to encourage job creation in the private sector through fewer taxes and less unnecessary regulation, to pay our bills on time, and to balance the state budget without borrowing,” Lauzen said.

Lauzen and the Republican caucus provided a menu of spending cut options and revenue adjustments that totaled $6.7 billion per year. Besides cutting items designated as waste like state planes, cell phones and state automobiles, the plan says that program modifications will be necessary in state pensions and Medicaid eligibility. Lauzen said at least $4 billion would be needed to bring the budget into line by the time the temporary tax hike is set to expire, and $5 billion would be needed to allow an earlier stepped reduction in the tax increase.

“It is obvious to the great majority of people I serve that government has a spending addiction. Passing the tax increase or borrowing more is like serving another bottle of whiskey. We must substantially cut back our spending appetite,” Lauzen said.

State provides new info to help make better decisions about health care providers

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Springfield—Illinoisans are now able to find more information that can help them decide where to go for medical care. Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Damon T. Arnold recently announced several updates to the Hospital Report Card and Consumer Guide to Health Care Web site, including new information about hospital acquired infection prevention and control, staffing and rates of newborn breastfeeding in hospitals.

“It is vital that consumers have a solid understanding about the quality of health care they will receive at a hospital or health care provider. If consumers are informed, they will be able to ask questions of their health care providers to receive the best health care possible,” said Dr. Arnold. “The Hospital Report Card and Consumer Guide to Health Care Web site allows Illinoisans to find average costs for specific medical procedures, nurse staffing levels at hospitals and general quality of care information.”

The Hospital Report Card Act requires all Illinois hospitals to report nurse staffing, infection prevention measures and hospital acquired infections data to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). The Consumer Guide to Health Care contains information from hospitals and ambulatory surgical treatment centers about conditions and procedures and shows variation in charges and quality of care. The website includes inpatient and outpatient data with current comparison information related to volume of cases, average charges, mortality rates, complications and hospital associated infections.

The latest additions made to the website include data from 2010 in the following areas:
new infection control staffing data and new breastfeeding data.

The Infection Control Staffing measures now available on the website show the number of infection prevention and control staff for every 100 authorized hospital beds. Healthcare associated infections are becoming an increasingly important focus for quality improvement initiatives. All hospitals in Illinois are required to have an infection prevention and control program. Infection prevention programs and staff are essential in reducing the number of infections acquired during a hospital stay and providing expertise in disease transmission and prevention. These new data supplement the information on central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSI) already provided on the report card.

The report card also now features the percentage of newborn infants who are breastfeeding upon discharge from the hospital. Breast milk contains antibodies that can protect infants from bacterial and viral infections, and breastfed infants are at lower risk of certain chronic diseases, including diabetes, obesity and asthma. Research shows that women who breastfeed may also have lower risk of some health problems, including certain breast and ovarian cancers, obesity and diabetes. IDPH encourages consumers to ask their hospital if they have a specially trained breast feeding consultant or if their maternal/child nursing staff is trained to offer help with breast feeding.

In addition, the website now includes a link to a preliminary release of the new Illinois Public Health Map. The Illinois Public Health Map feature provides the public with information about the quality of health and health care in communities, and highlights socioeconomic and racial/ethnic disparities that may exist.

The site also offers hospitals and surgical treatment centers the opportunity to identify quality and safety improvements by comparing information with other facilities. The site will continue to be routinely updated with the most recent data available.

Voters asked to help forest preserve add more land

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by Keith Beebe
KANE COUNTY—Kane County residents voting on the April 5 ballot will have the option to approve the Forest Preserve District Land Acquisition and Preserve Improvement Referendum, which would give the district $30 million to acquire land and perform capital initiatives.

The Forest Preserve District’s website states that the $30 million in general obligation bonds will go toward acquisition and preservation of forests and natural lands, protection of wildlife habitats, enhanced flood control, improved hiking, bike trails and fishing, and improved forest preserves, wetlands and prairies.

Land acquisition entails the addition of land to existing preserves and acquirement of land for new forest preserves, while capital projects include tasks such as resurfacing trails and renovating facilities.

Kane County forest preserves currently cover a total of 18,752 acres.

The Forest Preserve District previously issued referendums in 1999, 2005 and 2007 (those referendums were for $70 million, $75 million and $85 million, respectively), so why is there a need for a referendum in 2011? The district’s answer is simple: it believes land prices are at their lowest in years.

“We’re estimating being able to buy the same amount of land with $30 million that we were able to buy with that $85 million (a few years ago),” said Monica Meyers, executive director of the Kane County Forest Preserve District. “If the referendum passes, we’ll be going in as the only land buyer for a while, and that creates some opportunity—prices are low, there’s no competition to make prices go up, and we know there’s a lot of land on the market.”

The referendum’s impact on taxpayers would be $13.20 for a household in a $268,000 home (the average cost of a house in Kane County) each year over a 20-year period, which amounts to $1.10 every month.

According to Meyers, the issue of timing and the economy were both prime factors when the district was discussing whether or not to go through with the Land Acquisition and Preserve Improvement Referendum. And though land prices have never been better, the district is still committed to maintaining a rapport with Kane County taxpayers.

“The district’s always had a philosophy of, ‘If we’re going to do these programs, we’re going to send them out for the public to vote on them,’” Meyers said. “We’ve got a master plan in place, and we’re moving forward with that program as long as the taxpayers tell us they want us to move forward with it. We’re going to ask for their permission.”

Investigation leads to pair of drug arrests

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Photo: Ronnie McLarrin (left) and Thomas Skowronski (right).

MONTGOMERY—On March 17, the North Central Narcotics Task Force (NCNTF) concluded a two-month undercover investigation into illegal drug distribution with the arrests of Ronne McLarrin, 37, and Thomas Skowronski, 19, both of Montgomery.

At approximately 7:30 a.m., NCNTF Agents executed a search warrant in the 300 block of Webster St. in Montgomery at the residence of both McLarrin and Skowronski.

McLarrin was charged with Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon by a Felon (Class 3 Felony, 1 count), Unlawful Possession of a Cannabis with the intent to Deliver (Class 4 Felony), Unlawful Possession of Cannabis (Class A Felony), and Unlawful Possession of Drug Paraphernalia (Class A Misdemeanor). Skowronski was charged with Unlawful Possession of a Stolen Weapon (Class 2 Felony), Unlawful Use of a Weapon without FOID (Class A Misdemeanor), and Unlawful Possession of Drug Paraphernalia (Class A Misdemeanor).

Agents located and seized approximately an ounce of cannabis and one rifle, which had been reported stolen. The recovered weapon located by agents aided the Montgomery Police to charge Skowronski with a recent unsolved residential burglary. NCNTF agents were assisted in this investigation by the Montgomery Police Department, as well as the Illinois State Police. McLarrin and Skowronki were transported to the Kane County Jail, where they were incarcerated, awaiting a bond hearing.

“While this investigation did not involve a large amount of illegal drugs, the activity was causing concern and issues in the surrounding neighborhood,” NCNTF Director Bill Backus said. “The quality of life for the residents in the area is definitely improved with these arrests.”

If anybody has any information regarding illegal narcotic activity, please call the NCNTF at (630) 264-4335 or visit www.ncntf.org.

The charges against McLarrin and Skowronski are not a proof of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial in which it is the State’s burden to prove his or her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Rep. Hatcher backs spending cuts; demands state live within its means

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SPRINGFIELD—State Rep. Kay Hatcher is backing spending cuts that will force the state to live within its means. Hatcher (R-Yorkville) last week helped pass a resolution in the Illinois House that will reduce the state’s revenue estimate, leading to significant cuts in state spending.

“Families and businesses are struggling, and have been forced to make tough decisions and tighten their belts to get by. For years, my House Republican colleagues and I have been demanding that the state do the same,” Hatcher said. “Today, the House took a very important step in that direction by passing a resolution that will force the state to set realistic revenue projections and reduce spending.”

House Resolution 110 creates a fiscal framework for Fiscal Year 2012 budget negotiations. The resolution establishes an FY12 revenue estimate of $33.2 billion, which is $2 billion less than Governor Quinn’s spending proposal. The governor’s introduced budget would increase General Revenue Fund spending to $35.4 billion, a 5 percent increase over FY11. By establishing a lower revenue estimate of $33.2 billion, HR 110 will require the governor and General Assembly to make several billion dollars in cuts to state spending. HR 110 passed the House on a vote of 112-0.

“The fact that this crucial resolution had strong bi-partisan sponsorship and support in the House makes me very hopeful that we are finally on the path to putting together a responsible state budget that reins in excessive spending, and at last forces the state to live within its means,” Hatcher said.

Hultgren announces Congressional Art Competition

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GENEVA—U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren (IL-14) announced the start of the 2011 Congressional Art Competition for the 14th District, where the winner’s artwork will hang in the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. for one year.

“The Congressional Art Competition provides me the opportunity to showcase the talent of high school student constituents and acknowledge this region’s gifted young artists,” Hultgren said. “I look forward receiving entries from students throughout the 14th Congressional District.”

The Congressional Art Competition was created in 1982, and hundreds of thousands of high school students have been able to participate at the local level over the years. Each Congressional District has one winner whose artwork goes to Washington D.C., and each winner also receives a roundtrip ticket to Washington D.C., compliments of Southwest Airlines.

Entries for the competition are now being accepted and must be submitted to Rep. Hultgren’s district office in Dixon or Geneva by Monday, April 25. The entry only needs to be framed if it is selected as the winner to be hung in the U.S. Capitol.

For any additional questions or to obtain a copy of the guidelines and student information/release forms, visit www.house.gov /house/ArtGuidelines.shtml or contact Ruth Richardson at (630) 232-7104.

Better Business Bureau warns of fraud

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Chicago—Reports of the enormous damage from the devastating earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit Japan last week resulted in damage to the Hawaii and the west coast of the U.S., and it has prompted many Americans to consider making donations to charities that provide relief to survivors.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises potential donors to be cautious, because fraudulent charities and individuals often crop up to take advantage of their sympathy for victims of natural disasters.

“Natural disasters are an opportunity for scammers to take advantage of generous Americans at all times. However, when a tragedy happens, they are the first to help victims. However, this generosity can be used by scammers, and potential donors must be extremely careful with whom they entrust with their donations. Be especially careful to check with the BBB and others agencies prior to writing that check,” said Steve J. Bernas, BBB president and CEO. “Donors should be certain their money goes to competent relief organizations that have the knowledge and experience to handle the huge challenges of providing assistance in a disaster zone.”

The best way to help is to donate money to a reputable humanitarian organization with a history of providing assistance in disasters and other crisis situations.

For more information about charities go to www.give.org or www.bbb.org When making a donation of any kind or entering into an agreement to obtain services, the BBB encourages consumers to follow certain guidelines, including:

• Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming e-mails, including clicking links contained within those messages, because they may contain computer viruses.

• Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as members of environmental organizations or officials asking for donations via e-mail or social networking sites.

• Beware of organizations with copy-cat names similar to but not exactly the same as those of reputable charities.

• Rather than follow a purported link to a website, verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations by utilizing various Internet-based resources that may assist in confirming the group’s existence and its nonprofit status.

• Be cautious of e-mails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files, because the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.

• To ensure contributions are received and used for intended purposes, make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf.

• Do not be pressured into making contributions; reputable charities do not use such tactics.

• Be aware of whom you are dealing with when providing your personal and financial information. Providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.

• Avoid cash donations if possible. Pay by debit or credit card, or write a check directly to the charity. Do not make checks payable to individuals.

• Legitimate charities do not normally solicit donations via money transfer services.

• Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations assist victims. All charities have fundraising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee.

• Be cautious when giving online to unfamiliar charities. Be wary of spam messages and e-mails that claim to link to a relief organization. After the tsunami disaster in 2004 and the earthquake in Haiti last year, many websites and organizations that were created overnight allegedly to help victims turned out to be scams.

• Find out if the charity has a presence in the impacted areas. Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to get new aid workers into the area to provide assistance. See if the charity’s website clearly describes what they can do to address immediate needs.

• Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups. You may want to avoid the middleman and give directly to charities that have a presence in the region. Check out the ultimate recipients of the donations to ensure that the organizations are equipped to effectively provide aid.

• Gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations may not be appropriate. Unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to distribute such aid, the donations may be more of a burden than a help. Ask the charity about their transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.

• Legitimate charities websites end in .org rather than .com.

• Depend on respected experts to evaluate a charity. Be cautious when relying on recommendations by people such as bloggers, because they may not have fully researched the listed relief organizations. The BBB provides a Wise Giving Guide to charities at www.bbb.org. The guide shows which charities meet the BBB’s stringent standards.

Forest preserve to hold meetings on space referendum

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GENEVA—The Forest Preserve District of Kane County invites the public to attend information meetings on the upcoming Land Acquisition and Preserve Improvement Referendum.

The Forest Preserve Commission will hold various meetings throughout Kane County to provide information and answer questions about the April 5 ballot question. The district is asking voters whether it should borrow and sell $30 million in general obligation bonds.

The money would go to acquire and preserve forest and natural lands; protect wildlife habitats; enhance flood control; improve hiking and biking trails, fishing and other recreational areas; provide forest and wildlife education programs; and improve forest preserves, wetlands and prairies.

A bond amount of $30 million would be expected to cost the average household in Kane County $13.20 annually over 20 years, or $1.10 per month.

Meetings currently scheduled include:
• Monday, March 21, 7 p.m. at the West Dundee Fire Department, 100 Carrington Dr., West Dundee, IL.
• Tuesday, March 22, 7 p.m. in the Geneva Public Library, 127 James St., Geneva.
• Thursday, March 24, 7 p.m. at the Pottawatomie Community Center, 8 North Ave., St. Charles.

Visit www.kaneforest.com. There will be a list of public meetings available.

Hultgren opens district offices, announces open house

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GENEVA—U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren (IL-14) recently announced the opening of three district office locations and an upcoming open house in the 14th Congressional District.

“Maintaining three office locations throughout the district will allow my staff and I to remain accessible and properly serve all of the residents of the 14th Congressional District,” Hultgren said. “I urge any individual constituent that has concerns to please call or visit one of our offices so that my staff and I can assist you with your issue.”

The district office locations are:
• Geneva—1797 W. State St., Suite A. Hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
• Dixon, Ill.—119 West First St. Hours are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday.
• Geneseo, Ill.—100 West Main St. Hours are by appointment.

Rep. Hultgren also announced that he will  host an open house at the Geneva office from 11 a.m. to noon on Monday, March 14, for residents to stop by, meet the staff and ask any questions about the services the office offers. The office has been up and running since January and serves as a method to provide the district with help and personal assistance when dealing with federal government agencies, as well as keeping constituents up-to-date on important issues in Congress.

Hatcher introduces bill to amend the IL pension code

in Elburn/Regional by

by Lynn Meredith
Elburn—Illinois House Rep. Kay Hatcher may have introduced a bill that would save money for taxpayers in small towns, but she credits Elburn Village President Dave Anderson with the idea.

House Bill 1901 amends the Downstate Police and Downstate Firefighters articles of the Illinois Pension Code. Currently, once a municipality reaches a population of 5,000—which Elburn has now done—it is required to pay into the downstate fund. This bill gives first-time eligible municipalities a choice: either follow the statute and pay into the Downstate Police and Downstate Firefighters pension fund, or stay with their current fund, the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF).

“This gives local communities, in cooperation with fire departments and police departments, a chance to temporarily stay with IMRF, rather than (be required to) move to the downstate pension fund,” Hatcher said. “It’s a chance for everyone to take a deep breath and look if this is the way to go.”

Anderson said that he asked her to sponsor a bill that would allow communities like Elburn to have an option in regards to their police and fire pensions. This bill would only affect the police and not the fire because the fire is a separate taxing district, not a department.

Hatcher said that with the economy tight, communities that break the 5,000-population mark will be helped in their transition, adding that it’s a smart way to handle a crisis.

“It’s a win-win for everyone,” she said. “The best part is that it can be reversed whenever (the municipality) wants to. It’s a smart way for the community and its employees to plan for retirement.”

On Feb. 22, the bill was assigned to the Personnel and Pension Committee for consideration.

Anderson said the bill, if passed, will benefit Elburn.

“It will cost taxpayers less money,” he said.

IDOT secretary announces Illinois pothole repair operations

in Regional by

SPRINGFIELD–Illinois Transportation Secretary Gary Hannig announced that road crews are out searching and repairing potholes on state highways to further improve highway safety. The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) advises motorists to slow down and be on the lookout for maintenance workers as they patch potholes.

“We are confident in the proven techniques the department uses to effectively and safely repair roadways damaged by frequent freeze-thaw cycles,” Hannig said. “As the harsh winter begins to subside, IDOT’s road crews are out inspecting pavement and responding to calls about pothole formation. State crews are promptly patching broken pavements, but we do ask that motorists please slow down and be attentive as they are likely to encounter our workers patching potholes and performing other winter maintenance tasks along the roadways.”

Potholes are caused by a combination of factors, including gradual aging and deterioration of the roadway, an unusually high level of moisture affecting roadways and frequent freeze-thaw cycles that can cause potholes to form overnight. The formation of potholes is worsened by cold temperatures, as water expands when it freezes to form ice and puts stress on cracked or weakened pavement. Moisture that has seeped through cracks and joints in pavement freezes and expands causing the pavement to bulge, heave and fracture. The damage is amplified by wear and tear from traffic.

IDOT’s road crews are patrolling Illinois roadways across the state looking for potholes and making repairs using cold-patch asphalt material. The department also utilizes spray injection patching, using truck and trailer mounted equipment to make repairs.

The public can help by reporting potholes to IDOT by using the Contact Us link at www.dot.il.gov or by calling 1-800-452-4368.

Fox Valley Rep Performing Arts Academy spring open house

in Regional by

ST. CHARLES—The newly named Fox Valley Rep Performing Arts Academy (previously Noble Fool in 2010) invites aspiring local youth who are ages 3 to 19 to a Spring Open House and Free Workshop Event on Saturday, March 12, from 1 to 4 p.m. on the Mainstage Theater at Pheasant Run Resort, 4051 E. Main St., St. Charles.

The open house is designed for interested children and their parents to come and learn about the academy, meet fellow students and parents, and try out a mini-workshop with fellow attendees. Each workshop will include a short performance from past students.

“By having an open house, we’re creating an environment that’s inviting and fun, where current students can talk to new students, and fellow parents can get to know each other and ask questions,” said Education Manager Tracy Whiteside. “This free event is a great way to just try it out and see if it’s right for you.”

Each hour consists of an introduction from Tracy Whiteside, a showcase performance from current FVR students, and attendee participation with sing-a-longs, games and dance routines. Attendees are able to come at anytime between 1 to 4 p.m. to participate or just watch. Parents are invited to observe as well. All new attendees will receive a $25 gift certificate to use towards a spring enrollment (one per household).

For more information, visit www.foxvalleyrep.org.

Village president’s shopping spree raises over $1,200 for food pantry

in Regional/Sugar Grove by

by Keith Beebe
SUGAR GROVE—Sugar Grove Village President Sean Michels could feel the pressure as he was about to square off against Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner before a crowd of onlookers, Batavia High School cheerleaders and the clanging school band.

A spring debate between two mayors? No, it was just an intense build-up for the Kane County Farm Bureau’s 10th annual Shopping Spree.

The nonperishable grocery-shopping spree, held Friday at the Jewel-Osco in Batavia, had the mayors of Sugar Grove and Aurora zipping through store aisles to collect food for the food pantries they represented for the event. Michels shopped for Between Friends Food Pantry, while Weisner shopped for the Aurora Interfaith Food Pantry. Weisner’s wife, Marilyn, is the executive director of Aurora Interfaith.

“There were quite a few spectators there to cheer me on, and with all the people there, I was like, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of pressure on me to perform,’” Michels said. “I raised about $1,288, and Mayor Weisner raised about $1,001. It was a lot of fun, and it was great to help raise awareness for the food banks.”

The farm bureau’s five-minute shopping spree is meant to raise awareness for National Check-Out Week, which seeks to educate the public on how to shop for healthy food. According to Michels, various elected officials have participated in the shopping spree in previous years.

“They’ve gone through all the state reps and state senators, and now they’re working with local mayors,” he said.

The rules for the shopping spree were simple: the two contestants had to stay between the second and eighth aisle (where the nonperishable items are located) and could take only two of each item. Michels filled up five grocery carts with items and practically ensured that families who visit the Between Friends food pantry will be well-caffeinated for months to come.

“Coffee seemed to be the best deal for us. A half-pound of coffee added about $7 or $8 (to the total), and they don’t get a lot of coffee at the food bank,” Michels said. “I also grabbed a lot of (cooking) oils, cereal, cereal bars, chocolate—things that the food bank doesn’t always get.”

All of the food items collected by Michels and Weisner during the shopping spree were boxed up and sent to the respective food banks.

Between Friends Food Pantry Founder/Director Melisa Taylor considered the shopping spree a success for the food pantry before the event even began.

“We went into the shopping spree knowing that even if we walked out with an additional can of beans, it’s just one more thing to help the food pantry. We knew (the spree) was a win-win no matter what,” she said.

Taylor also admitted that Michels was more than prepared for his frantic supermarket jaunt.

“At one point, I turned to a cameraman (there) and said, ‘This right here is why I am really glad my village president runs every day,’” she said.

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