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Thursday, June 3, 2004 08:16 pm

A great place to live

Springfield and Sangamon County aren’t just great places to visit; they’re also great places to live. The capital city and the nearly two dozen smaller communities located in and around the city make up a county that offers many attractive reasons for you to make the Land of Lincoln your home. In addition to being the center of state government, the area has a rich and diverse business market, lower-than-average cost-of-living index, and excellent community-oriented neighborhoods. Many people who live here can attest that both Springfield and Sangamon County offer a quality of life that blends the best of urban and rural environments.
With a population of approximately 113,000, the city of Springfield comprises more than half of the estimated 205,527 people (as of 2005) living in the Springfield metro area, which includes both Sangamon and Menard counties. Within a 50-mile radius of the Springfield community lives a population of more than 550,000. In addition, more than 1 million visitors and tourists come here each year. Springfield is located in the central part of the state, at the intersection of Interstates 55 and 72. Its close proximity to other large cities in the state and even neighboring states makes it attractive. Chicago is 200 miles northeast of Springfield, St. Louis is 100 miles to the southwest, and Indianapolis is 195
miles east.

COST OF LIVING There’s good news for those who want to live the American dream of buying a nice home at a reasonable price: Springfield has been rated the second most affordable housing market in America and ranked one of the top 10 least-expensive places to live. Despite the fact the cost of living here is lower than the national average and housing is relatively inexpensive, many options — including new construction in flourishing subdivisions, renovated downtown apartment spaces, and majestic and charming homes in historic neighborhoods — are available. The per capita income in the Springfield metro area is slightly more than $37,000, close to the national average. The median household effective buying income is $50,521 (adjusted to 2005 dollars). Although the income is not as high as that of larger metro areas, the cost of living is moderate, with the median sales price of an existing single-family home around $107,400 (2005 dollars). Springfield is ranked the fourth most affordable metro area in the United States, making it an ideal place in which to enjoy a comfortable life and raise a family.
JOB MARKET Springfield has a diversified economic base, balanced between the public and private sectors. Although state government is the area’s largest employer, with 17,000 workers, it’s not the only game in town. Springfield’s focus has long been viewed solely as the center for state government, but the capital city has developed into a profitable business arena, with a variety of small and large companies making an international impact on the global market. The city supports products for export throughout the world, ranging from cake mixes and livestock feed to space-age electronics, and serves as headquarters for 12 nationally known insurance companies and more than 165 state, regional, and national associations. Home to three major hospitals and a world-renowned heart-surgery institute, the community is also recognized as a leader in the health-care industry. The top five employers in Sangamon County are the state of Illinois, Memorial Health System (5,200), the Illinois National Guard (2,700), St. John’s Hospital (2,566), and the Springfield Public Schools (2,019). Rounding out the top 10, in order, are the city of Springfield, the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, the Horace Mann Cos., the University of Illinois at Springfield, and AT&T. The top five private manufacturers in Sangamon County are Copley Press (newspaper publishing), DICKEY-john Corp. (electronic instruments), E.L. Pruitt Company (sheet-metal ventilation equipment and pipe fabrication), Honeywell/Hobbs Corp. (switches and shifters), and Nudo Products Inc. (laminated finished products).
The weather in Springfield is like that in much of the Midwest — it changes frequently. The average temperatures ranges from 70 to 80 degrees in the summer months and 30 to 40 degrees in the winter months and swings from about 16 degrees in the winter to 87 degrees in the summer. The overall average annual temperature is 53 degrees. You can enjoy four distinct seasons in Springfield without extended periods of extreme cold or heat. The location of Sangamon County, midway between the Continental Divide and the Atlantic Ocean, offers a typical continental climate with cold, rather dry winters and warm, humid summers. The dog days of summer and cold winter days are offset by mild temperatures and beautiful conditions in the spring and fall.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT Sangamon County is governed by a 29-member board whose members are elected from single-member districts. Each County Board member serves a four-year term, with approximately half of the board elected in alternating two-year periods.
The county also has nine elected offices, seven departments, and six agencies or offices related to the county by special county tax levy or budgeting through the County Board. Most Sangamon County government offices are located in the Sangamon County Building, 200 S. Ninth St. The sheriff’s department is located at No. 1 Sheriff’s Plaza, behind the County Building, linked by a walk-through an entrance on Adams between Ninth and 10th streets. The city of Springfield is governed by a mayor and a 10-member City Council. The mayor and members of the council serve four-year terms. Unlike county elections, city elections are nonpartisan.
VOTER ELIGIBILITY To register to vote, you must be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years of age, and a resident of the precinct for 30 days before the next election. You may register in various places, including driver’s-license facilities; the Departments of Public Aid, Public Health, and Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities; or in person at the Sangamon County Election Office, 200 S. Ninth St., Room 105, of the County Building. Office hours are 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri. Two forms of identification are required, and you must show proof of your name and current address. More information on upcoming elections and mail-in registration forms are available at the election office or by calling 217-753-6740. You may also contact your county central-committee party headquarters to obtain the name of a deputy registrar in your community. The Democratic County Headquarters is located at 118 S. Fourth St. (217-544-0808), and the Republican County Headquarters is located at 412 E. Lawrence (217-528-6267). For further information or assistance, you may want to contact the Illinois State Board of Elections, also located in Springfield (217-782-4141). Additional information may be found on the Web site of the State Board of Elections: www.elections.state.il.us.
AREA COMMUNITIES Springfield may be the largest, but it certainly isn’t the only city in Sangamon County. About two dozen distinct communities are located here, ranging from tiny towns such as New Berlin and Cantrall to rapidly growing towns such as Chatham, Rochester, Riverton, and Sherman. Several communities, such as Leland Grove and Jerome, even appear to be in the middle of Springfield, but each has a unique personality and appealing reasons for you to call it home.

FINDING A HOME If you’re visiting the sites in downtown Springfield, you don’t have to go far to connect with (almost) everything you want to know about housing in Springfield. The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, located at 3 Old State Capitol Plaza, on the south side of the Old State Capitol Mall, has a free homebuyer’s packet waiting for you. Inside are a large street map of Springfield and the surrounding area and guides to homes to buy and apartments to rent. Hot spots — fast-growing upscale developments worth visiting — include Tara Hills, off Bruns Lane on the west side of town, and Panther Creek, between Springfield and Chatham. Real-estate professionals consider Springfield a buyer’s market. Pete Steward is president of the Capital Area Association of Realtors, comprising about 700 members. The average home sale price in 2006 was $99,000, a 1 percent decrease from the 2005 figure. The association does not recommend particular neighborhoods. Visit the association’s Web site, www.seehouses.com, to find everything you want to know about buying or building a house. You may want to find an apartment where you can get to know the lay of the land before buying a home. If that’s true, Apartment Mart of Springfield is for you. Visit www.apartmentmartofspringfield.com  to learn more. Many neighborhood associations have Web sites you may want to visit to get a feel for the houses and people in specific parts of the city. Visit www.springfield.il.us/oped/neighborhoods.htm to learn more. Perhaps living in Springfield’s metro area, famous for its 10-minute rush hours, is not for you. If so, visit GSCC’s guide to relocating countywide at www.gscc.org/relocation.htm. There you will find a veritable cornucopia of facts and figures about Sangamon County communities beyond the capital city. 

GETTING UTILITY SERVICE The task of setting up local utilities is a relatively painless procedure. All you need are a few forms of identification, the right contact information, and a little patience. · For water and electric: To initiate service, you must appear in person at the customer-service office of City Water, Light & Power, located in Room 101 of the Municipal Center West, at the corner of Seventh and Monroe streets. Known locally as CWLP, Springfield’s municipally owned and operated utility company supplies the urban area and nine surrounding communities and public water districts with water from Lake Springfield, a 6.6-square-mile manmade lake. Springfield’s water rates are among the lowest in Illinois.
When you go to the office, you must provide two forms of identification, including a state-issued photo ID such as a driver’s license. A $50 service deposit may be required of residential and business applicants who are renting property and have not had at least 12 consecutive months of CWLP service. If you are renting, a signed copy of your lease is required. If you have proof that you own the home, or if you are renting and have a letter of credit from another utility company showing that you’ve been a good customer for a least a year, CWLP will waive the $50 deposit. The office is open 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri. For more information, call 217-789-2030 or visit the utility company’s Web site, www.cwlp.com. To save time when you come to the customer-service office to apply for new service, download and print a copy of an application for new service, fill it out, and bring it with you.
· For natural gas: If your new residence is located inside the Springfield city limits, the application process begins with a call to Ameren at 888-672-5252 (toll-free) or 217-753-5513. If you have no bad credit with the company, service may be started as early as the next day. You will receive an application form in the mail that you can sign and return along with copies of your driver’s license and Social Security card. If your credit is bad or nonexistent, you will have to provide an extra ID, such as a voter-registration card. In some parts of this region, Ameren may also be your electric provider.
· For telephone service: Local phone service in Springfield is provided by SBC, McLeod USA, and AT&T. Although you can establish service with a single phone call, it may take more time than you would expect. First check the company’s Web site so you’ll know which packages and options you want. Don’t forget to ask about local toll calls if you make a large number of calls to nearby communities. Call SBC (800-244-4444), McLeod USA (800-333-4059), or AT&T (800-222-0300) to learn your options. · For cable television: In many areas of Springfield, you may be unable to view the three major networks without some form of cable TV. Insight Communications offers a range of plans and products, including HDTV. Visit the Web site, www.insight.com, before calling to determine which options you want, or call 217-788-5656. Greene County Cable Television provides a variety of plans for the areas of Williamsville, Sherman, Riverton, Athens, and Petersburg. Call 217-793-8939 or 800-274-5789 for more information. · For trash pickup and curbside recycling: The city does not provide garbage pickup, but several private disposal services operate in Springfield and Sangamon County. Residential pickup rates, which currently start at $11 per month, are regulated by the city. You may want to ask your real-estate agent, neighbors, or friends for information to help you determine which haulers serve your neighborhood, or look in the Yellow Pages under “Garbage and Rubbish Removal.”
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