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Local Editorials

THUMBS UP: Food Basket changes a sound strategy for future success

THUMBS UP TO… an updated approach. Community Food Basket of Ottawa has done a lot of great work so far this year with the rollout of its mobile food pantry program, and now a new development is in the works. Last week Food Basket officials discussed upcoming changes to the physical layout of the pantry on West Madison Street. The idea is to convert from the one-size-fits all approach of pre-packing food boxes for distribution to a floor plan that more resembles a grocery store and therefore gives pantry clients significantly more choice regarding what good they get to take home.

Pantry officials said research demonstrates this approach is a much more effective way to get food to people who need help making ends meet. It takes into account cooking ability, food and allergy preferences and other factors. For example, a frozen turkey isn’t much use to a family who only really has time to use a microwave, and a giant jar of peanut butter could be deeply problematic for someone severely allergic to peanuts. This change should make the pantry more useful to its current clients and more appealing to those who have resisted seeking help, and we salute everyone whose contributions make the service possible.

THUMBS DOWN TO… negative trends. Those on the ground surely had informed speculation, but the numbers in last week’s U.S. Department of Agriculture crop outlook projections were still jarring. Illinois’ corn crop is projected to be down as much as 17% compared to 2018, while soybean production might fall off as much as 21%. Total acres planted are down, per-acre yield numbers are down. Illinois is even down compared to nationwide averages, which has corn falling 14% and beans dropping 19%.

To a degree this bad news was to be expected given the unusually high amount of rainfall during the planting season that preceded a July heat wave that stunted crop development. Folks like John Sullivan, director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, are signaling optimism in that there was a long time when farmers expected the USDA report to be worse and that nationwide the corn harvest might bump up from 81.7 million acres in 2018 to 82 million this season. We appreciate the perspective, but in Illinois especially this has been a brutal season for crop farmers, and we hope fortunes reverse as quickly as possible.

THUMBS UP TO… proper perspective. While it’s definitely good news that Streator city revenue is up this year compared to 2018, we appreciate how Financial Officer Wes Levy presented that information in a larger short- and long-term context. Through June, the city took in about $3.9 million, and was ahead of last year’s pace by $168,180. Spending is up only $20,383 compared to last year, but is down about $325,000 compared to 2017. Levy projected the year ended reserve balance will be roughly $1.9 million, which would be down from $2.1 million at the end of last year.

Levy credited the city for keeping things more or less in balance over the last several years while calmly predicting the increased difficulty in maintaining equilibrium going forward, notably how to meet public employee pension fund obligations. An audit coming in September should shed more light on the subject, but even at this juncture we can appreciate a period of stability and measured expectations. It’s not flashy news, but an important indicator the people in charge really are trying to be good stewards of the public trust. We can and will quibble over specific decisions and plans, but in the big picture it does seem everyone wants what’s best for Streator.

THUMBS DOWN TO… under-informed attenuation. Media reports last week indicated just how little thought might have gone into plans to reduce the federal prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Our friends at the Peoria Journal Star caught up with GOP U.S. Reps. Darin LaHood and Mike Bost, who spoke directly to President Trump earlier this month and urged him to reconsider plans to grant Blagojevich a release halfway into a 14-year term. Bost, who served on the Illinois House impeachment committee whose work led to the governor’s 2009 removal from office, said the conversation left him with the impression the president and White House chief of staff didn’t fully understand the scope of the ex-governor’s crimes.

We’re glad Bost and LaHood spoke up on behalf of Illinois Republicans to give a deeper perspective on how Blagojevich’s conduct and conviction are seen in the state. They took time to point out the reality that nearly every member of the House and Senate voted to oust Blagojevich even before his federal trial, meaning it was with broad bipartisan support a leading Democrat was basically drummed out of state politics. It would’ve been nice if the White House had collected this intelligence before going public with commutation plans, but at least now all those cards are on the president’s table.

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