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Local agencies plead for budget action

Geoffrey Ritter
Carbondale Times

Representatives of area organizations with their livelihoods on the line gathered Tuesday in Carbondale to send a united message: It’s time for Illinois leaders to pass a budget and, in the words of one, “do their duty as sworn public servants.”

“It’s getting to be an old story,” said Randy Osborn, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Carbondale. “There’s no shortage of evidence that this situation is causing possibly irreversible damage to people throughout the state of Illinois.”

Osborn and others spoke at the Carbondale Civic Center Tuesday, the day before Gov. Bruce Rauner’s State of the State Address, to implore Rauner and lawmakers to reach a deal and end a budget impasse that has stretched on since last July. The event was organized by the Responsible Budget Coalition, a group of more than 200 organizations concerned about state budget and tax issues.

In the wake of the impasse, many said, their organizations have been forced to cut services and slash jobs, and the lack of any further movement in Springfield has them wondering if the problem will manifest into a crisis with no viable solution.

“With each week that passes, we are being forced to lay off staff and limit services,” said Miriam Link-Mullison, director of the Jackson County Health Department. “We won’t have the strong public health system we need to protect our families.”

Rauner and legislators remain stalled on a budget, with Democratic leaders signaling the need for an income tax increase to fund the state’s increasing liabilities. Rauner has refused to sign any budget that doesn’t include some of his proposed reforms, including measures aimed at weakening collective bargaining rights and workers’ compensation.

While some programs, including schools, have been funded and other services have continued to receive money via court orders, social services, higher education and other groups have found themselves in an increasingly precarious position. Now, some observers are signaling that a budget compromise might not even be possible until after this fall’s election — almost 18 months after the impasse began.

Brandi Husch, the student trustee at John A. Logan College, stressed that the financial troubles inflicted on the college as a result of the budget issue inevitably will trickle down to other area businesses.

“The budget impasse currently is and will continue to impact the economy of the entire state,” Husch said.

Carbondale Mayor Mike Henry said the impasse has become inexcusable, adding that it is no longer a simple partisan disagreement.

“It’s just unconscionable for this state to be doing what it’s doing,” Henry said. “It’s just horrible. This needs to get taken care of. This isn’t Republican or Democrat. They’re both in it. There’s enough guilt to go around.”

Also speaking at Tuesday’s event were Jesslyn Jobe, Healthy Families coordinator for Shawnee Health Service; and Shanikka Love and Jennifer Basten, two mothers in the Healthy Families program.

Town hall focuses on city’s potential

Geoffrey Ritter
Weekend Times

Dozens of Carbondale citizens came together last week for a wide-ranging exchange of ideas on how to make the city a more attractive venue for entertainment and cultural events, and their conversation is expected to continue in coming weeks.

Interim City Manager Gary Williams played host to the “Unifying Our Community” town hall meeting Jan. 20 at the Carbondale Civic Center, and he said the discussion will continue with a second meeting Feb. 22 at which the ideas tossed out this week will be put into sharper focus.

Williams said a new leadership team in Carbondale, from the mayor and city council to top administrators at SIU, has committed itself to working together to re-enliven Carbondale’s cultural scene.

“Collectively, all of us are really focused and committed to change,” Williams said. “We don’t want to do what’s been done in the past. We want to do things a little differently.”

Mayor Mike Henry expressed similar sentiments during his opening remarks.

“We want to look at art shows,” Henry said. “We want to look at anything you can come up with that would be a positive thing for Carbondale. We want things youth-oriented. We want things oriented for us gray-hairs. We just want to have some good, safe, responsible fun.”

Many spoke during the course of the meeting, offering ideas ranging from improved parks and possible outdoor film screenings to an annual town festival and more art featured throughout the city.

Representatives of many civic organizations — among them the Carbondale Park District, Carbondale Main Street, Carbondale Tourism, the Boys and Girls Club of Carbondale and others — also offered brief pitches of what their groups have contributed and would like to further contribute to the city’s cultural life.

For example, Gary Kolb, president of Carbondale Community Arts, said his organization would like to see its new facility at 304 W. Walnut St. become a hub for art events and activities.

“This new space we have is fabulous,” Kolb said. “We’re actively looking for ideas and actively looking for people who want to partner with us on what they want to see done.”

Much discussion was inspired by last October’s downtown concert featuring Jason Isbell, which many in attendance agreed seemed to represent something new for Carbondale. 

“I had friends in from out of town,” noted Diana Brawley Sussman, director of the Carbondale Public Library. “It really made people feel like Carbondale was cool, Carbondale was alive. It speaks to the soul of Carbondale, and it really brings some magic to this town.”

Williams also said the overwhelmingly positive reaction to that event has civic leaders mulling how to duplicate its success.

“We got so much great feedback and comments,” Williams said. “There just seemed to be a really good energy in Carbondale. We wanted to capitalize on that. A lot of the comments we were getting were, why aren’t we having more of this?”

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