Previous referendum failed 55.4% to 44.6%
Thursday, October 19, 2017
County Board considers using Maple Crest Memorial funds and a “new” sales tax referendum. See Cathy Ward’s Facebook postings for details.
3 hrs ·
BOONE COUNTY NEWS - Maple Crest Memorials safe for now! Board Chair Karl Johnson last night (Wednesday) quickly moved the plan to use Maple Crest Memorial funds for seed money to a community board back to committee for further review. No vote was taken on the proposed plan - yet. I thank Karl and all of you who responded so quickly to the plan to transfer (raid) these memorials which total about $131,000. I did not hear any support for it except from a few board members. I had called Karl the day after three Admin Committee members approved the plan to express my staunch disapproval. Karl said he had no knowledge of this idea prior to the committee vote. He has never showed any support for this option. However, I am also convinced that your many, many comments on facebook (and in the community) in opposition played a huge part in this move. I am meeting today with the Maple Crest Auxiliary to hear their ideas for these memorials. Many auxiliary members did not know the county had been holding these funds and have for at least a decade. I am relieved by the new review, but I will watch closely to see what happens at the next Adm meeting and share it with you.
.....Also, the board voted to once again to use about $1.3 million of public safety sales tax money to balance the budget. I again voted no. I still don't believe you taxpayers had this in mind when you approved building the new jail. So far, about $22 million has been collected for the jail that cost $9 million. All other jail costs were supposed to be paid from our general fund. While it might be legal, it was not the promise that was made when the referendum was passed about 20 years ago. Other board members argued that we need the money for public safety and other county needs. I have heard that the whole legality of these transfers is being reviewed.
The board also expressed strong support for trying again to pass another public safety sales tax. If approved that would double the amount collect, about $1.3 million more for county coffers each year. The last attempt was defeated last spring. It has been tried three times and failed each time, but supporters say it is getting closer to passing. More to come on that.
Saturday, October 14, 2017
Why (Almost) No One Is Charged With Gun Trafficking in Illinois
It’s how the laws are written, and trafficking is hard to prove.
by Mick Dumke
Oct. 13, 6 a.m. CDT
Oliver Munday, special to ProPublica Illinois
To understand why it’s so hard to stop the flow of guns across state lines and into cities like Chicago, you have to start with a simple, well-established fact: Firearms are legal products.
Guns aren’t like cocaine. As the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled, most American adults are allowed to have them. That means there are millions of people who can acquire guns legally — and millions of potential sources of guns that may later be illegally sold, traded, loaned or stolen.
ProPublica Illinois is ProPublica’s first regional operation. We publish investigative journalism on key issues across the state of Illinois and in the city of Chicago.
Regulations and restrictions vary by city and state, and most are loose. As we reported in a story Tuesday, the majority of the guns seized by Chicago police were originally bought out of state.
But even when authorities know a gun has changed hands unlawfully, they often can’t determine its ownership history.
“What comes between that first sale and the recovery is the question,” said Philip Cook, a researcher with the University of Chicago Crime Lab and a professor at Duke University.
It adds up to what some officials describe as a kind of law enforcement version of whack-a-mole: Police and prosecutors spend significant resources targeting people caught possessing illegal guns — who are usually at the end of a lengthy chain of ownership — with little hope of thwarting the illicit gun markets.
In the face of a two-year spike in violence in Chicago, authorities have stepped up their efforts to prosecute gun offenders. Through Oct. 4 of this year, federal prosecutors in the Northern District of Illinois had already brought more gun charges than in any other year over the last decade — with almost three months still to go.
But the vast majority of the defendants were charged with illegal gun possession, according to federal court records. In some cases the guns were allegedly brought to the Chicago area from out of state, but no one was charged with trafficking. The reason: No federal trafficking statute exists.
Local law enforcement officials, meanwhile, lock up thousands of gun offenders every year, almost always on possession charges. Like federal officials, they rarely arrest or prosecute people for trafficking firearms, though such charges carry far stiffer sentences.
While a state trafficking law is on the books, prosecutors say the cases are hard to prove.
Numbers tell the story:
Felon-in-Possession Charge Increased to Nearly 75 Percent of All Gun Charges in 2017
Without a trafficking statute, the "Possession of a Firearm By a Felon" charge is often the best tool federal prosecutors have. See how possession charges have increased to become the majority of all gun charges over the last decade.
NOTES: 2017 figures are through Oct. 4. Three cases that were filed prior to 2007 but reopened during or after 2007 are omitted. SOURCE: United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. (David Eads/ProPublica Illinois)
The most common charge: being a felon in possession of a firearm, which accounts for 73 percent of all gun charges in 2017. The others: using a gun in connection with drug trafficking (17 percent); selling guns without a license (8 percent); and making a false statement in a gun purchase (2 percent).
Over the last decade, the portion of gun defendants facing possession charges has doubled.
Neither the ATF nor the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago would comment to ProPublica Illinois about their approaches to attacking underground gun markets.
Some federal authorities and lawmakers want to create another tool. U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, the Democrat whose district includes parts of Chicago’s South Side and some adjacent suburbs, has cosponsored the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2017, which would ban the purchase or sale of a gun with the intent to transfer it illegally.
She said such a measure would be critical for the Chicago area because surrounding states have looser gun laws than Illinois. Only three Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors, though, and the bill has been buried in committee since it was introduced in March.
“It’s so frustrating,” Kelly said.
At the state level, Illinois prohibits both trafficking guns from out of state and gunrunning, which is the illegal transfer of at least three guns. But police and prosecutors in Chicago almost never charge anyone with those offenses:
- Since 2007, nine of every 10 weapons arrests by Chicago police have been for illegal gun possession, according to the city’s reported crimes database.
- During that time, Chicago police have made more than 27,000 arrests for illegal gun possession, formally known as “unlawful use of a weapon” under state law. But the police have made just 142 arrests for illegal gun sales — and none for gun trafficking or gunrunning — in the last decade.
- Similarly, since 2013, Cook County prosecutors have brought unlawful use of a weapon charges 9,724 times, according to data from the state’s attorney’s office. During the same period, they’ve charged defendants with gunrunning 12 times, and they haven’t charged anyone with gun trafficking.
The Chicago Police Department works with the ATF to trace every illegal gun it recovers, said Anthony Guglielmi, a department spokesman. But most have been sold, stolen or loaned out repeatedly.
“They can be on the street for years,” Guglielmi said. People “don’t get rid of guns here. They bounce around.”
Federal laws limit the ability of authorities to keep records, so no national gun registry exists. Because each state has its own regulations, officials are often unable to determine the entire ownership history of a gun. Without that history, it’s a challenge for local prosecutors to show gun trafficking occurred.
It’s not big trafficking rings. Mostly, it’s through little guys like John Thomas.
“If a car is used in a shooting or robbery, I can easily find out, in a matter of minutes, who owned that car,” said Eric Sussman, a former federal prosecutor who’s now the top deputy to Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. “Gun laws are intentionally set up where there is no searchable database.”
Even when authorities learn a gun’s history, building a trafficking or gunrunning case can be tough. The cases take significant time and resources to investigate, and the laws are narrowly written — for instance, only residents of Illinois can be charged with trafficking here, even though most guns in Chicago come from out of state.
“You have to prove that they’re transferring to someone who’s not allowed to have them or they’re transferring them for illegal purposes,” Sussman said. “And that’s a high burden.”
Friday, October 6, 2017
Boone County Board discusses the idea of solar farms
By Kourtney Adams |
Posted: Wed 10:23 PM, Oct 04, 2017 |
Updated: Wed 11:11 PM, Oct 04, 2017
BOONE COUNTY, Ill. (WIFR) -- Creating a solar farm where crops normally grow. Some Boone County neighbors are on board and others, not so much.
Men with Cypress Creek Renewables gave a presentation Wednesday night to share basic information about solar development to equip the committee and community with more knowledge, to determine what they want to see as far as regulations for solar development in the county.
These men say they've been working to draft an ordinance to try to build two solar farms in the county, one along Reeds Crossing Road between Genoa and Spring Center Roads, and the other off of Illinois 173, east of Capron. The company has been sending letters to Illinois farmers throughout the region asking for $1,000 an acre for 20 years if they permit to their company. Some local farmers are concerned about losing farm land and agricultural jobs, but the company says this additional tax revenue could help the county and city services.
"The main concern is losing productive farm land. The site that they are looking at is prime agriculture land, we can't reproduce that. The plant comes in, it subsides in for any reason at all, who's going to decommission it? Who's going to take it apart?” says Capron farmer, Julie Newhouse.
"We've actually already held a few community meetings to solicit opinions, questions and concerns from neighboring property owners because everybody's so new to solar in the state, understandably because there's quite frankly just not much solar development, but we did it in an open process so they know that we're not trying to just stick shovels in the dirt as quickly as we can," says Cypress Creek Renewables Senior Developer, Scott Novack.
Wednesday was the beginning stages of talking about solar development in the county. The next step will be to determine what projects the county wants to move forward with. Newhouse believes we already have an excess of electricity in Illinois and don't need more.
Cypress is trying to build at least three solar farms in the region by 20-19. Newhouse says she hopes the county board will take their time with this decision.
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
The Trump administration was ordered by a federal judge Wednesday to immediately enforce Obama-era restrictions on the release of potent methane emissions at oil and gas drilling operations on public land.
The ruling came at the behest of California and other states, which charged the administration is required by law to enforce the new rules intended to cut the release of 175,000 tons of the potent greenhouse gas annually, as well as reduce the emission of associated toxic pollutants. The rules took effect Jan. 17, just three days before President Trump’s inauguration.
The Interior Department had been delaying enforcement as it mapped out a strategy to rescind the new rules, which industry has complained are onerous. An earlier push by opponents of new methane restrictions to kill them in Congress fell short of the needed votes amid a backlash from environmentalists and landowners adversely affected by pollution from drilling.
The ruling was the latest in a series of legal setbacks for the Trump administration, as the courts find flaws in its plans for dismantling executive branch actions taken under President Obama to confront climate change.
The ruling covers nearly 100,000 oil and gas wells on federally owned land. The methane they leak is one of the most potent accelerators of climate change, 25 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. The new restrictions require the energy companies that own the wells to capture more of the methane and convert it into electricity.
The amount of methane escaping each year is enough to provide electricity for nearly 740,000 homes.
California noted in its lawsuit that delay in enforcing the rules was costing local communities, which are entitled to royalty revenue when the trapped methane is sold to electricity companies. The new rules are expected to generate as much as $23 million in such royalties nationwide.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte in San Francisco ruled the department cannot legally postpone a rule that has already taken effect. She was unconvinced by administration arguments that it would soon have different regulations in place. She ruled that the process of replacing the rules could take months, and ultimately may not stand up to legal challenges.
“No one is above the law,” California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “As a result of this rule’s implementation, oil and gas operators on federal and Indian lands will be compelled to prevent the waste of natural gas.” He added that methane emissions “threaten the health of nearby residents and contribute to climate change.”
California’s lawsuit alleged that the administration suspended the rule five months later without reviewing any public comment or following the other requirements for such a policy change under the federal Administrative Procedure Act.
The Trump administration and congressional Republicans have been under intense pressure from oil and gas companies to scrap the rules. They say the cost of the methane capturing technologies would crush smaller firms, and that the bigger operations that create the most methane are trapping the gas already.
The warnings of economically crushing costs conflicted with Bureau of Land Management findings that the average small business with an oil or gas operation on federal property would see its profit margin reduced by two-tenths of 1% as a result of the rules.
While many prominent Republicans continue to rail against the methane restrictions, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, several conservative lawmakers have grown uncomfortable with the effort to kill the rule.
Some of these lawmakers come from states that already have strong restrictions on methane emissions in place. They are contending with pollution from drilling operations in neighboring states with more lenient policies drifting over their borders, undermining the efforts to clean the air.
The court ruling Wednesday was just the latest legal setback for the administration in its effort to weaken federal environmental rules. Approval of a big coal mine expansion in Montana and a major gas pipeline in Florida were blocked in court recently because the administration refuses to calculate their climate impacts and the associated economic costs. The courts also found illegal an effort by the administration to delay new federal rules requiring oil companies to pay the government higher royalties.
“The courts are once again — for at least the fourth time — telling the Trump administration that it cannot simply ignore environmental laws and regulations that are already on the books,” said an email from Kate Kelly, public lands director at the Center for American Progress, a liberal advocacy group. “The administration’s ‘stay and delay’ tactics, through which it is allowing industries to bypass pollution controls and dodge royalty payments, are patently illegal.”
Solar power was the fastest-growing source of global energy last year, overtaking growth from all other forms, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). The spurt is largely attributed to lower prices and changing government policies encouraging a shift away from traditional power sources, such as coal. China, for example, has played an important role in renewable energy's prominence, accounting for almost half of all new solar panels installed worldwide.
Many experts are heralding a "new era" in solar photovoltaics (PV), anticipating that solar PV capacity growth will be higher than any other renewable technology up until 2022. In fact, the IEA has admitted it had underestimated how fast green energy was growing, noting that many countries are set for a solar boom in the coming years. India's renewable energy capacity is expected to double by 2022, overtaking the EU.
However, the IEA has said that despite these encouraging figures, there are uncertainties ahead. Donald Trump's pledge to revive coal has put the country's position as the second fastest-growing renewables market in jeopardy, especially if the US International Trade Commission were to impose tariffs on imports of Chinese solar panels. However the forecast for now, according to the IEA, remains bright.
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
BELVIDERE — Farmer Cheryl Sturges received a letter this summer offering $1,000 an acre for 20 years if she permitted Cypress Creek Renewables to put solar panels where crops normally would grow.
While Sturges had no problems refusing, she soon learned at least one neighbor had accepted the company’s deal.
Sturges and about 20 others are mounting a defense to ensure Boone County officials attach a long list of conditions to whatever rules they create for Cypress Creek and other companies that would build solar farms in the county.
“This is definitely an industrial use,” Sturges said. “It definitely is not a farm. That’s where our concern is. What happens if it goes belly up? Who’s going to take care of it? They’re creating jobs. They’re also taking away from the agrarian job market. I’m not totally opposed to it. But this is primary farm ground.”
She has provided the Boone County Planning, Zoning and Building Committee with two pages of concerns and requests that any new solar ordinance mandate the following:
• a decommissioning plan;
• solar panels must not contain hazardous materials; and
• “reasonable” setbacks that include buffering, landscaping and even fencing.
Cypress Creek is supposed to appear at the committee’s October meeting.
The company has been sending letters to Illinois farmers throughout the region. It has been working with Boone County so it can build two more solar farms, the first for Boone County — along Reeds Crossing Road between Genoa and Spring Center roads, and off of Illinois 173, east of Capron.
“If anything is done here, it needs to be workable with the citizens of the community as well as with the farmers,” said Denny Ellingson, the PZB committee’s chairman.
According to Hilary Rottmann, Boone County land use planner, the solar farms would be considered energy facilities generating 1 megawatt or greater. A megawatt is equal to one million watts.
She presented PZB committee members with a spreadsheet earlier this month that detailed how other communities have handled solar proposals. Some ordinances included landscaping buffers, noise buffers and fences.
For example, Kankakee County’s ordinance has decommission requirements including “removal of all development, restoration to condition prior to development, time frame of completion, (guarantee of) financial resources available to fully decommission site, (and) updat(ing) plan every three years.”
“It ultimately goes to the board,” County Administrator Ken Terrinoni said. “It’s very complex. It’s going to take a lot of time” to draft a solar ordinance.
County leaders have said they could attach conditions to any special-use permits considered for Cypress Creek if the solar ordinance takes time to finalize.
“We’re getting a lot of concerned citizens, but we’re not really getting a lot of protest,” Ellingson said.
Boone County has gone through controversial rules governing renewable energy farms before. Chicago-based Mainstream Renewable Power killed its wind turbine plans indefinitely in 2016, saying a more restrictive county ordinance made it too difficult to proceed.