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Editorials

News of the city of Powell's decision to purchase the $6.5 million Powellink bond was met with mixed reactions last week.

Some are critical of the city's choice to invest its enterprise reserves in the bond, while others applaud city leaders for what they see as a fiscally responsible action.

Part of the skepticism comes from the city's change in course. Originally, the bond was to be held by a private investor, and the city was to obtain ownership in about 20 years. During development plans several years ago, Powell citizens also were assured that no public money would go toward the fiber-optic network.

In an agreement expected to be finalized this week, the city will invest $6.5 million from its enterprise reserves toward the Powellink bond — owning the network early, opening it to other service providers sooner and, yes, using public money toward the investment.

The recent development certainly is a change of course, but by the numbers, it will provide more money for the city of Powell. As more subscribers sign up for Powellink, the city's rate of return will increase. Even if Powellink subscriptions stay at around 450 — the number TCT currently has — the city of Powell still will receive more than $11,000 per month on its investment.

The $6.5 million in reserves formerly was invested in the local government investment pool WYO-STAR, where in recent months, it drew an interest rate of only 0.8 percent or less. In May, the investment provided just $4,000 back to the city — about a third of what will be earned through the Powellink investment.

It's understandable that citizens are surprised and even upset by the recent decision, especially given that public funding will go toward what was marketed as a private venture.

Yet, strictly looking at the numbers, we also understand why the city decided to invest its enterprise reserve funds in Powellink rather than WYO-STAR or another investment with dismal rates of return.

As one of the few municipalities with a citywide fiber-optic network, use of the reserves in the bond is a unique investment option for Powell — and one that could help the city persevere financially in difficult economic times.

As kids embrace the first weeks of summer vacation, nutritious school lunches and snacks likely are the furthest things from their minds. Local educators, however, already are planning for healthy snacks next year.

When local students return to their classrooms and cafeterias in August, it will be easier for them to eat their fruits and veggies.

All four elementary schools in Powell's district — Parkside, Westside, Southside and Clark — received fresh fruit and vegetable grants for the next school year.

The USDA program provides grant money for schools to make fresh fruit and vegetables available to all children outside regular meal times.

This aim to improve children's diets and overall health is a welcome initiative, especially given that childhood obesity has reached alarming levels in recent years.

Nearly 20 percent of American children ages 6-11 are obese, according to the 2007-08 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. By comparison, between 1976 and 1980, the obesity rate among 6- to 11-year-olds was just 6.5 percent.

Children who struggle with weight issues are more likely to struggle with health problems, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. It's also difficult for obese children to shed weight as they reach adolescence and adulthood.

By providing fresh fruit and vegetables for students during the school day, children will have healthy alternatives to sugary, unhealthy snacks — and, hopefully, develop an appreciation for apples, oranges, carrots and the like at a young age.

With the USDA grant money in place, it will be up to kids — as well as their parents and educators — to make sure they actually eat the fresh fruit and vegetables provided next school year.

Most people were snug in their beds when fire broke out at Treasure Valley Seed late Sunday evening — others were enjoying the long Memorial Day weekend with family and friends.

That may well have been the case for Powell volunteer firemen as well — until they were summoned to the inferno at the bean mill.

For the men of the Powell Volunteer Fire Department, and for their families and friends, it was nothing new. Week in and week out, day and night, the volunteers of the department abandon personal and professional activities — even sleep — at a moment's notice to ensure the safety of the community.

In the case of this weekend's fire, Powell firemen did an admirable job of quarterbacking an effort that involved Cody fire crews, MDU personnel, city employees and local businesses. Their quick response and their knowledge of how to fight the flames prevented what could have been a much bigger disaster.

Members of the fire department deserve to be commended for their commitment to community service and for the sacrifices they make on an almost daily basis.

Summer's arrival brings more motorcyclists to Wyoming's roads. With warm temperatures and longer days, some residents will opt to leave their cars in the garage and hit the road on their motorcycles.

Wyoming drivers sharing the highway with bikers need to be cautious and aware of motorcyclists' presence. Too often, distracted drivers fail to notice an oncoming motorcyclist.

Last year, 13 people died in motorcycle crashes in Wyoming, according to the state's Department of Transportation.

Just this spring, a few vehicles have collided with motorcyclists in the Powell area. Recently, a motorcyclist in Ralston was injured after a driver didn't see him and turned into his path. Thankfully, the man riding the Harley-Davidson survived the wreck.

These crashes reiterate the need for drivers to take an extra moment to look twice for motorcyclists, especially at intersections.

For motorcyclists and drivers on the same roadways, safety is a two-way street.

All motorcyclists should wear helmets, even if Wyoming law doesn't require them to.

Wearing helmets saved 1,829 motorcyclists' lives in 2008, according to estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It's simple — helmets save lives.

Northwest Wyoming's highways lead to spectacular summer sights — but motorcyclists and drivers alike must be cautious when sharing roadways to ensure everyone arrives safely at their destinations.

The Northwest College community — administration, staff, faculty and students — recently has endured several long months of turmoil.

A longtime staff member was fired, recruiting letters from President Prestwich — on college letterhead — created an uproar by targeting only LDS students, and two faculty members' contracts were not renewed.

The events pitted faculty and administration against each other in a power struggle of epic proportions. The NWC Board of Trustees hired a mediator to attempt to resolve the conflict, and the mediation process will begin this fall.

Since the mediator was hired, six student athletes were suspended for violating the athletic code of ethics, two of the college's vice presidents have resigned and several faculty members have retired or resigned.

According to NWC Human Resources Director Heather Kobbe, this year's turnover rate for the 82-member faculty is around 10 percent — including four resignations, three retirements and a single involuntary termination. Similarly, the 11.5 percent turnover for staff members included 12 resignations, four retirements and one involuntary termination.

At first blush, it may appear that staff and faculty are jumping ship due to the recent state of affairs. But, in reality, it's a pretty average rate of attrition. People retire, relocate or seek other job opportunities all the time — it's just part of the working world.

What is now unknown is what the NWC community's next step will be: Will the feuding groups continue to “stir the pot” and create more upheaval? Or will the parties declare a truce — albeit a tenuous one — and agree to move forward toward the common goal of creating the best possible educational opportunities and college environment for NWC students?

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.”

The last several months have been exceedingly painful for those involved, but Northwest College isn't dead — and the possible restructuring of the administration, new blood in the faculty and administration ranks and fresh faces on the college staff may well make NWC stronger than ever. It could be viewed as a rebirth of sorts.

It's now up to the parties involved to choose to be part of a solution, instead of perpetuating the problems.

On Monday, Powell was dealt one of its harshest economic blows of the recession. Weatherford International, a company with established roots in the community, announced it was closing its Powell manufacturing facility by October — ultimately affecting about 40 employees.

For dozens of families in Powell, the recession suddenly became very personal.

This loss isn't limited to Weatherford employees. The closure of the manufacturing facility — and reduction of higher-paying jobs in the area — will impact local trucking companies, lumberyards, supply stores and other businesses.

Adding to dreary economic conditions, some sugar beet growers still reeling from last year's devastating loss recently began replanting a portion of this year's crop after inclement weather struck local fields. Though not as crippling as last October's frost at harvest time, the unwelcome cold snap was a discouraging way to start the new season.

Amidst recent downturns, local leaders are hoping to rejuvenate Powell's economy with a restructured development plan.

A study conducted by National Community Development Services recommending restructuring of the Powell Valley Economic Development Alliance was presented to leaders this week.

One of the recommendations was that the local group pursue a regional alliance by approaching Forward Cody, our neighboring city's economic development organization. But first, a reorganized board for the Powell Valley Economic Development Alliance must be formed. Paul Prestwich has accepted the role of sparking that reorganization.

We hope business and community leaders, as well as others in Powell, respond to this initiative and join together to develop a strong economic development plan.

Though it's difficult to see Powell's economy take hits, it is encouraging that an economic development effort is in the works. A strong plan could position Powell for a brighter economic future.

In a region where wolves never were welcome, management of the species continues to hit a nerve among many residents.

Fifteen years after wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park, locals continue to wear their hearts on their sleeves — or, as the case may be, their vehicles' bumpers. Trucks branded with anti-wolf slogans are common sights, with mantras like “Smoke a pack a day” or “Welcome to Wyoming; Take a wolf and leave.”

Residents and political leaders voiced ongoing frustration Saturday during a Wolf Impact Rally in Cody, again calling for wolves to be taken off the endangered species list.

Delisting wolves in Wyoming would allow the animals to be hunted as they are in Idaho and Montana. Wolves remain protected in Wyoming after the federal government rejected the state's Wolf Management Plan, mainly because the plan calls for wolves to be shot on sight in much of the Cowboy State.

Though the predator status has been contested since the plan was drafted in 2007, many Wyoming leaders remain unwilling to budge.

GOP gubernatorial candidates reiterated their support for the plan during the wolf rally.

House Speaker Colin Simpson, R-Cody, wrote on his campaign website that he “firmly believe(s) that the ‘predator' status outside of the designated ‘trophy game' area is appropriate and reasonable.”

In a letter, State Auditor Rita Meyer called the plan “a well-thought out, balanced approach that meets the needs of Wyoming residents.”

What Wyoming needs is a governor who will revisit the current Wolf Management Plan and consider a compromise on the proposed predator status.

For the past three years, state leaders have pushed Wyoming's Wolf Management Plan, only to become embattled in ongoing legal disputes.

Wyoming's plan needs to be revised, especially its proposed predator zone.

Without revisions to the current plan, we fear that wolves will remain on the endangered species list for years to come. With certain revisions, it's possible controlled wolf hunts could begin in Wyoming, as they have in Idaho and Montana.

Those most concerned about wolves' effects on livestock and dwindling elk populations should agree that controlled wolf hunting is better than none at all.

Last week's Powell Aquatic Center opening was, for many community members, a much-anticipated event.

The center will offer fitness and recreation opportunities for swimmers young and old — and the facility replaces the dilapidated (and soon to be demolished) natatorium as the venue for school and club swim team practices and competitions, as well as recreation district lessons.

All positive things for a community — but a dark cloud looms on the horizon.

Revenue for the aquatic center is estimated at $217,475 for the first year, while operating costs could top $700,000.

City officials say the overage collected on the capital facilities tax that funded pool construction will keep the facility afloat for this year — but a projected $500,000 budget shortfall in subsequent years is a serious problem.

The $2 million operations and maintenance endowment put in the bank by the cap tax won't generate the revenue necessary to run the facility — especially with recent interest rates at dismally low levels.

It's time for city officials, councilmen, community members and other organizations to engage in some serious planning for the future operation and maintenance of the pool.

When taxpayers, in 2006, passed the capital facilities tax to pay for a new pool in Powell, they became stakeholders in the center's success. Usage drives revenue — taxpayers now need to support the facility they wanted by using the pool and buying memberships.

The city, too, must promote traffic at the aquatic center by marketing the facility — both to community members and to neighboring towns. Membership incentives, such as the charter memberships offered by the Cody Rec Center when it opened, may be necessary.

The school district and the recreation department also need to pay their fair share for use of the aquatic center.

Without the new pool, a generation of Powell kids could have been deprived of both recreational and competitive swimming opportunities.

Finally, the City Council, which has been a strong proponent of the facility since long before the ground-breaking, must think aggressively and creatively about ways to make the center fiscally solvent.

While the tax overage has, in effect, bought a year-long reprieve — and has given city officials and pool employees a year of data-gathering, it's time to begin serious planning to make sure the aquatic center remains a plus for the community well into the future.

Failure to do so will put city coffers in serious jeopardy.

In the months since Congress approved hotly-contested health care reform legislation, Wyomingites have grappled with how to respond to the federal law.

Gov. Dave Freudenthal has said Wyoming would not join other states in a lawsuit opposing the law. But gubernatorial candidates have said they believe the Cowboy State should challenge President Obama's health care reform.

Three GOP candidates represented at a rally at the state Capitol Friday said they think Wyoming should oppose the federal law by joining 20 other states in litigation.

The rally's organizer, M. Lee Hasenauer of Cheyenne, is petitioning to urge state lawmakers to hold a special legislative session this summer to address federal health-care reform.

But a special session is unnecessary, considering Wyoming lawmakers have plenty of time to respond to the new health care reform. It will be years before most provisions in the new law take effect.

Gathering legislators for a special session is expensive — a 20-day session would cost an estimated $500,000. If lawmakers then proceeded with litigation, state taxpayers would foot the bill.

Whether Wyoming spends its money on legal battles isn't going to change how the Supreme Court's decision impacts the state. Any Supreme Court ruling on the health-care lawsuit will affect all states — regardless of their role in the suit.

“I think Congress is wrong, but what I think doesn't matter. The people who matter are the nine people on the United States Supreme Court. I think it'll get litigated vigorously. I do not think we add to it,” Freudenthal said in March.

Wyoming's next governor likely will disagree. And when state legislators convene for their regular session in January, they may decide to seek legal action against the federal health-care reform.

Though Cowboy State lawmakers could still join the multi-state lawsuit, it seems like an unnecessary move and a waste of money when the litigation's outcome will affect Wyoming anyway.

In the months since Congress approved hotly-contested health care reform legislation, Wyomingites have grappled with how to respond to the federal law.

Gov. Dave Freudenthal has said Wyoming would not join other states in a lawsuit opposing the law. But gubernatorial candidates have said they believe the Cowboy State should challenge President Obama's health care reform.

Three GOP candidates represented at a rally at the state Capitol Friday said they think Wyoming should oppose the federal law by joining 20 other states in litigation.

The rally's organizer, M. Lee Hasenauer of Cheyenne, is petitioning to urge state lawmakers to hold a special legislative session this summer to address federal health-care reform.

But a special session is unnecessary, considering Wyoming lawmakers have plenty of time to respond to the new health care reform. It will be years before most provisions in the new law take effect.

Gathering legislators for a special session is expensive — a 20-day session would cost an estimated $500,000. If lawmakers then proceeded with litigation, state taxpayers would foot the bill.

Whether Wyoming spends its money on legal battles isn't going to change how the Supreme Court's decision impacts the state. Any Supreme Court ruling on the health-care lawsuit will affect all states — regardless of their role in the suit.

“I think Congress is wrong, but what I think doesn't matter. The people who matter are the nine people on the United States Supreme Court. I think it'll get litigated vigorously. I do not think we add to it,” Freudenthal said in March.

Wyoming's next governor likely will disagree. And when state legislators convene for their regular session in January, they may decide to seek legal action against the federal health-care reform.

Though Cowboy State lawmakers could still join the multi-state lawsuit, it seems like an unnecessary move and a waste of money when the litigation's outcome will affect Wyoming anyway.

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