A recent fire at Olson Engineering in Eldridge did substantial damage to the 27-year-old pins-and-bushings machining company. Two of the company's four buildings were gutted in a fire that took seven fire departments more than four hours to put out. Investigators still haven't released a cause for the fire. Eldridge Fire Chief Scott Haycraft contended in statements to the media that a platform truck much like those in Davenport and Riverdale - which took 20 to 25 minutes to respond - would have prevented a lot of damage. However, the Eldridge City Council has choked on the $1 million price tag - $600,000 for the truck and $400,000 for an addition to the current fire station to house it.

The Social Security Administration is warning of a scam in which elderly African Americans receive flyers informing them that as part of the Slave Reparations Act, the U.S. government is giving money to blacks born before 1928. The flyer instructs the recipient to send his or her Social Security number and other personal information to the address listed to receive a $5,000 payment. There is no such thing as a Slave Reparations Act, and no legitimate group is collecting Social Security numbers. If you have received a mailing on the Slave Reparations Act, call the Inspector General at (800)269-0271 or look at (http://www.ssa.gov/oig/guidelin.htm) for information on how to report fraud.

River Action has received a grant from the Kodak American Greenway Awards Program in Arlington, Virginia. The $2,000 grant will be used to help the RiverWay program develop riverfront trails along the Mississippi River in the Quad Cities. River Action is one of only 35 groups chosen nationwide to receive this award. It is administered by the Conservation Fund to provide grants of up to $2,500 for not-for-profit organizations and agencies to help develop new greenway projects.

IH Mississippi Valley Credit Union helped this Thanksgiving with a check for $2,601.01 for Bob Vogelbaugh's annual Thanksgiving dinner. Donations were accepted at all eight of the IH Mississippi Valley Credit Union branches. Bob Vogelbaugh has been serving Thanksgiving dinner in the Quad Cities to thousands of people so they don't have to spend the holiday alone.

The Family Museum of Arts and Science in Bettendorf will be sharing in a $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation to fund the development of four science-based traveling exhibits. The grant is being given to support a seven-museum collaboration known as TEAMS (Traveling Exhibits at Museums of Science), of which the Family Museum is a member. The Family Museum will be partnering with Discovery Center in Rockford, Illinois, to develop its exhibit, "The Science World of Sports."

The Better Business Bureau warns that while it is the season for charitable giving, it is also the season for scams. When an unfamiliar organization asks you to make a donation, ask for the organization's full name and address. For large donations, you should ask for a copy of organization's annual report, list of board members, and latest financial statement before giving. Don't be pressured into donating, and always check out charitable organizations through your local branch of the Better Business Bureau.

January 1 not only marks the start of the new year, it marks the date the state sales-tax rollback on gasoline in Illinois. The Illinois House failed to make a repeal of the gas sales tax permanent. By the way, Illinois has the sixth-highest gasoline tax in the nation. Governor George Ryan was the one who pretty much killed the bill, saying that a permanent repeal would cost the state $360 million it couldn't afford.

With all the attention given to the Supreme Court's decision in the Florida presidential-election case, another important decision by the court has been overlooked. A 6-3 ruling on an Indianapolis case means that police cannot use random roadblocks to search for drug-law violations. The majority opinion, which was written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, found that Indianapolis' use of drug-sniffing dogs to check all vehicles was an unreasonable and therefore unconstitutional search under the Fourth Amendment. The dissenting opinion was written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who said the random stops and searches by dogs were "only minimally intrusive upon the privacy of motorists. They should therefore be constitutional." He was joined in his dissention by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Law enforcement isn't doing well this year in the Supreme Court, with an earlier decision ruling police cannot stop and search someone based solely on an anonymous tip that the person was carrying a weapon. Also, the court ruled that border-patrol agents cannot search passengers' bags as part of a routine immigration search.

Iowa Next is a state-sponsored, semi-glossy, teen-centered magazine designed to entice Iowa teenagers to stay in the state. Iowa Workforce Development contributed $100,000 in federal money to print the publication, which is being distributed in high schools throughout Iowa. About 120,000 copies have been given out so far, with the latest issue containing articles on ACT testing and preparing for interviews. There is a Web copy of the magazine available at (http://www.iowanext.com). The magazine is Governor Vilsack's latest idea to keep youth in Iowa.

MetroLINK has received a Governor's Award for Workforce Development for its U-tran Vanpool Program, which was developed after MetroLINK was asked by the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) to apply for funding to expand the vanpool to include DHS clients. With the funding, MetroLINK bought five additional vans. The program is used by employees to travel to and from work in the bi-state area.

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