Moving forward, Urbana continues to struggle with financial constraints

_Editors note: This article is part of The Daily Illini’s year in review edition. These articles are meant to round-up the most important news of the academic year, Fall 2010 through Spring 2011._

Several members of the Urbana City Council said their biggest challenge of the past year was dealing with the recession.

Charlie Smyth, Ward 1, said Urbana has so far dealt with the budget crunch by using the city’s reserve fund and cutting staff — but the reserves are almost gone.

“There’s only so much staff you can cut before you have an effect on city services, so we’re basically at the bottom,” Smyth said.

Smyth also blamed the Republican Party in Washington for cutbacks in federal funding.

“The programs that are being cut affect the poorest of the poor,” Smyth said. “The Republican Party basically is trying, from my point of view, to make the poor poorer.”

Diane Marlin, Ward 7, agreed that the city has struggled with revenue in the past year. She pointed to the Olympian Drive construction project as an area where the council has been able to leverage its funds well, paying a little over $1 million for a project bringing $20 million to the city.

Another major issue the Urbana City Council has faced this year is the state’s decision to switch from the Health Alliance health maintenance organization to Blue Cross Blue Shield.

The council voted earlier this year to create a non-binding resolution condemning the state’s decision. Health Alliance is an Urbana-based company that insures many Urbana residents, including University employees. As the Blue Cross Blue Shield plan stands currently, the closest primary care physician to Urbana is in Springfield.

“The decision is so jaw-droppingly stupid that it boggles the mind,” said Eric Jakobsson, Ward 2.

Jakobsson also said he would carry recall petitions to remove the governor from office if the decision went through, saying he would see it as a sign of the governor being unfit to stay in office.

The council has spent much of the year discussing the issue of homelessness in Urbana, too, after a study commissioned jointly by Champaign County and the cities of Champaign and Urbana revealed that homelessness in Urbana has increased in the past two years.

“I continue to be concerned about homelessness, especially homeless children,” Smyth said. “If you don’t have a home around, it’s hard to get an education. How well can they learn if they’re worried about where they’re sleeping and how much they have to eat?”There has been much discussion over the proposed construction on Olympian Drive and Lincoln Avenue this past year, with Champaign County and the cities of Champaign and Urbana having to work together to move the project forward.

Smyth said he hopes Urbana and Champaign will cooperate more often.

“One thing they (city council) can do better is work more closely with Champaign on issues that would help those who have the least in our communities,” Smyth said.