Powell, WY


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The Powell-rooted Heart Mountain Volunteer Medical Clinic is branching out this week as it opens a sister clinic in Cody.

Starting tonight (Thursday), patients in need will be able to receive quality medical care at the Cody branch of the volunteer clinic.

Based on a model that's thriving in Powell, the Cody volunteer clinic will treat residents whose income is below federal poverty guidelines and are underinsured or lack health-care insurance.

Both clinics fill a vital role in our communities by caring for neighbors, friends, coworkers and family members throughout the entire Big Horn Basin. Without the local volunteer clinics, hundreds of residents would go forgo disease-management care and wellness education. Those services help reduce costly emergency care and hospital stays.

The Powell volunteer clinic celebrated its second birthday last month, and under the umbrella of Heart Mountain Volunteer Medical Clinic, Cody's branch has a promising future.

The free clinic's opening comes at a unique time for longtime rivals Cody and Powell. Paying for medical facilities in the two cities has become a political issue this month as Park County voters will decide in Tuesday's primary election whether to fund a $14.2 million tax for Cody's West Park Hospital.

Many Powell voters have voiced opposition to the 1-cent sales tax, saying a Cody project shouldn't be funded through a countywide sales tax. Supporters of the measure respond that it's not about Cody versus Powell — it's about a hospital in need.

Whether the tax passes or fails on Tuesday, we hope the issue doesn't deepen the divide between the two communities.

The new Cody volunteer clinic exemplifies the spirit of the Heart Mountain Volunteer Medical Clinic — neighbors caring for neighbors.

The clinic is the fruit of Powell and Cody medical professionals and various volunteers partnering for the common good by helping Park County residents who need it most.

A week from today (Tuesday), voters statewide will queue up at the polls, casting decisive votes in a pivotal primary election.

Much is at stake in this year's primary.

Locally, Park County voters will decide whether to reinstate a specific purpose 1-cent tax, this time for major renovations to Cody's West Park Hospital. In recent years, voters approved a 1-cent sales tax for a new Park County Jail (2002) and the Powell pool, Meeteetse pool and Park County Library projects (2006). Unlike previous years, voters must consider the 1-cent tax in the primary ballot rather than November's general election.

Whether Park County residents and tourists will pay an extra penny on purchases for the next 31 months — nearly three years — hinges on what voters say next Tuesday.

The West Park tax proposal has provoked praise, criticism and continual debate since it was first publicly presented in January. Seven months' worth of information, campaigning and controversy all comes to a head next week, making it crucial to show up and vote on this important ballot item.

Though public officials are not elected until November's general election, many races likely will be decided in the primary. Only one of four main GOP gubernatorial candidates will advance to the November ballot.

For certain races — such as the Powell area House District 25 legislative race — no Democratic candidates filed. A dozen GOP candidates are facing off for three available seats on the Park County Commission, and only one Democrat is running.

So in some cases, the Republican candidates who advance in next week's primary could very well be our next leaders.

To help inform voters about this year's candidates and their positions on important issues, the Tribune has published an online primary election guide. The edition, available at, provides an overview of candidates in city, county and statewide races.

Voters only have a week to decide which way to vote, and in the days ahead, there's a wealth of resources to help you make informed decisions.

Get to know candidates and issues this week — and be sure to show up and cast your vote on Tuesday, Aug. 17.

Dialogue, education necessary

More Wyoming teenagers are becoming mothers.

From 2000 to 2007, the state's teenage birth rate rose by an alarming 21 percent, according to a report released last week.

The Cowboy State bucked the national declining trend, according to the 2010 Kids Count report — the nation's teen birth rate dropped by 10 percent in that same seven-year period while Wyoming's rate rose. The state ranks 37th in the nation for teen birth rates.

The worrisome statewide spike in births among young women ages 15 to 19 highlights the need for more attention to the issue.

“We are not doing an adequate job of educating our young people about reproductive health and the consequences of poor decision making,” Wyoming Kids Count Director Marc Homer told the Casper Star-Tribune.

Clearly, Wyoming is lacking.

Whether it starts at home or in the classroom, parents and educators alike need to consider how to best curb Wyoming's rising number of teen pregnancies.

Through open dialogue about sex, education and resources, teens could be better equipped to make wiser decisions so they don't become parents before they're ready.

The issue isn't receiving much attention in current campaigns. In the weeks leading up to the Aug. 17 primary election, candidates have the opportunity to step forward and address Wyoming's high number of teenage pregnancies and other youth-related issues.

Those issues affect Wyoming families as well as the state's overall social and financial health.

Weatherford closure illustrates economic needs

The end of Weatherford's operation in Powell, announced in May, came closer to reality this week.

More than a dozen semis arrived on Alan Road Monday and Tuesday to haul away equipment once operated by more than 40 people in Powell. Those jobs, as well as many, if not most, of the people who held them, will be lost to the Powell community.

The departure of Weatherford, which the company blamed on the economic conditions in the energy industry brought on by the worldwide financial and economic turmoil, is a reminder that Park County, like the state of Wyoming in general, are heavily dependent on one industry: energy production. That industry tends to be volatile, and, as we all know, produces a “boom and bust” economy.

The decision by Weatherford, a Swiss-based company, to close the Powell operation probably was made in Houston, the company's U.S. headquarters. That should remind us that, despite our vaunted Wyoming independence, many elements of our economy are in the hands of stockholders and business executives far away from Powell, and we have little or no control over them.

Still, Powell's economic development efforts must continue trying to attract such businesses to the community.

Fostering the creation or expansion of home-grown businesses is important and should be a big part of the effort to grow the community's economy, but businesses such as Weatherford are a vital element of a healthy economy.

Powell's economic development efforts have slowed in recent months, and they need to be revitalized. Doing so will require an ongoing effort by both individuals and the community. It will require funding, and it will require commitment.

It won't be easy, but Powell has recovered from events such as this before.

We think Powell can do it again.

Visitors to the Park County Fair will see many sights — animals, carnival rides and top-notch entertainment — but recycling receptacles are noticeably absent.

Instead, attendees are faced with two options: hauling their recyclables out with them or taking the easier approach and just tossing them in the trash.

The fair is one of Park County's largest annual events. According to Fair Manager Steve Scott, more than 35,000 people go through the gates each year — and that's not counting concessionaires, entertainers, carnival workers, young fair participants and their parents and others who take part in various events, such as pig wrestling and the demolition derby.

Picture a behemoth pile of 35,000 plastic bottles and aluminum cans headed to the soon-to-close Powell landfill. It's not a pretty picture. But if each person through the fair gates consumes just one bottled drink over the course of the week, it's an unfortunate reality.

In this day and age, with the heightened conscience about the planet's health — not to mention the ever-looming landfill issues faced in Park County — residents need to demand more.

Recycling simply is no longer an option, but a duty.

Many things in Park County harken back to the good old days — including the old-fashioned county fair — but unnecessarily piling refuse in the landfill is inexcusable.

It's high time for the entire county — municipalities, post offices, hospitals, businesses and residents — to look at ways to increase recycling accessibility.

Reconsider the I-80 toll

Earlier this month, a Wyoming roadway was closed partially after its pavement deteriorated so quickly that it necessitated emergency repairs.

Though the deteriorating pavement — on a section of Interstate 80 between Rawlins and Laramie — is far removed from Powell's road system, highways in our area may soon face similar plights.

With worsening highway conditions statewide, Wyoming Department of Transportation crews are struggling to keep up.

“The bottom line is that state roadways are deteriorating at a faster rate than we have the ability to fix based on current revenue,” said WYDOT District Engineer Jay Gould, in a recent press release.

He cautioned that Wyoming residents will see more situations where roads are closed for emergency repairs, especially on heavily-traveled interstates.

More than 6,800 miles of roadways wind through Wyoming. Each stretch requires regular maintenance, but funding for upkeep is scarce. In the last budget session, the Legislature reduced the department's money for highway construction by $150 million from the previous biennium.

Those funding woes are compounded by the expiration of the Federal Aid Highway Program in September 2009. Federal highway funding currently is being distributed under continuing resolutions, which limit the department's ability to do long-term planning.

Wyoming's current situation — dwindling budgets and deteriorating roadways — signals the need for a new approach to fund highway maintenance.

State leaders should reconsider a toll for I-80.

The frequented interstate sees around 13,000 vehicles daily, with heavy trucks accounting for half of that traffic. The wear and tear of a single heavy truck is equivalent to that of 400 cars, according to WYDOT.

Over the next 30 years, maintenance for Wyoming's 400 mile-stretch of I-80 is estimated to cost $6.4 billion. Yes, that's a staggering figure — in fact, it exceeds the total of revenue projected to be available for maintaining Wyoming's entire highway system, according to an I-80 tolling study.

Though the recent tolling study conveyed the steep costs Wyoming faces in maintaining I-80, state legislators voted against the tolling concept earlier this year. The tolling issue may remain dormant for now, but the cost of fixing deteriorating highways certainly is not.

State legislators, and Wyoming's next governor, must consider how to keep the state's roadways safe and well maintained — even if it means imposing a toll for I-80.

It's time for the state to rethink student assessment

NCS Pearson, the company that administers Wyoming's student assessment — the Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming Students, or PAWS — is running a public apology for technical glitches that rendered many students' test scores unusable this year.

Due to the widespread nature of the test problems, the state has requested that some scores be thrown out. And, according to an Associated Press report, the state Department of Education estimates the problems cost the state about $9.5 million in damages.

In addition, the colossal waste of teacher and student time can't be ignored. In an attempt to meet mandates in the No Child Left Behind Act, instructors spend months teaching to statewide assessment tests. Students feel the pressure to perform, and valuable class time is spent preparing for and taking the PAWS test.

NCS Pearson certainly owes the education department, teachers, students and parents an apology, as well as financial restitution, for its ineptitude — but it's time for the state to question its relationship with the company and to move forward in evaluating and rethinking its assessment process.

The State Superindent of Public Instruction oversees the Department of Education — the person who wins that race in the November elections should make a revamp of student assessment a top priority, and NCS Pearson should not figure into the equation.

With 28 days remaining until the Aug. 17 primary election, candidates will amplify campaign efforts in the coming weeks as voters make their final decisions.

The primary election promises to be telling in several races — four major gubernatorial candidates are vying for the GOP nomination, and a dozen Republican hopefuls are competing for three available seats on the Park County Commission. In the local House District 25 legislative race, three Republicans are seeking the seat, but no Democrats filed.

For certain races, it's quite likely that those who win in August will be our next elected officials.

Given the importance of next month's primary election, voters must be ready to make informed decisions — and the more they know about each candidate, the better prepared they are. Transparency is key in the weeks ahead.

It's encouraging to see some candidates take the lead.

Last week, GOP candidate Rita Meyer disclosed her campaign finance figures, detailing the $306,525 she has raised in her quest for the governor's office.

Wyoming Secretary of State Max Maxfield, who is seeking re-election, has been posting a steady stream of finance reports since January, months ahead of the filing date.

By Wyoming law, campaign finance reports must be filed by Aug. 10 — just a week ahead of the primary election.

That doesn't allow a lot time for media to report extensively on campaign finances, nor does it give voters very much time to digest the details. It's also likely that by Aug. 10, many voters will have made up their minds.

Money and politics make strange bedfellows, and you never know what a campaign finance report may reveal.

Voters and media have a responsibility to get to know candidates, and they can follow money trails easier when candidates are transparent and forthcoming.

As Meyer said in a release last week, “… Wyoming voters have the right to know who they are electing.

Transparency is about being accountable to the citizens of Wyoming.”

Meyer's and Maxfield's voluntary, early release of financial reports is commendable — and we challenge other candidates to follow suit.

Take the money or keep autonomy?

The announcement that federal money — $400,000 to $700,000 annually — may be available to fund the Heart Mountain Volunteer Medical Clinic poses some difficult questions for the clinic board, as well as community members.

The clinic, with a second branch soon to open in Cody, has survived thus far through generous community support and volunteer efforts, but with limited hours one evening a week.

The federal money would enable the clinic to operate on a full-time, 40-hour-per-week basis, but with the strings and red tape that accompany federal community health programs. But the “free” in free clinic would cease to exist — instead the organization would see needy patients on a sliding-fee basis.

The next few months will require an exhaustive look into the pros and cons of the proposal. The Heart Mountain Volunteer Medical Clinic Board is divided on how it views the offer, but as Dr. Nick Morris, who along with his wife, Madelyn, founded the clinic, asked, “...the ethical dilemma is, if they're going to give someone $400,000 to see eight times the number of patients, shouldn't we consider it?”

Prior to the proposed meeting with federal Community Health Program representatives in October, donors, community members, volunteers and — just as importantly, the patients receiving services at the clinic — need to voice their opinions to the board about how the clinic can best serve low-income and uninsured people in Park County and surrounding areas.

A federal community health program would have more resources and reach more people — but is the current free clinic model the best choice, with the clinic drawing its strength from continued community support?

Many controversies surround the new federal health-care legislation, so it comes as no surprise that the law's first element to take effect has businesses and consumers seeing red.

Under the health care bill, Americans who use tanning beds must now pay a 10-percent tax. The tanning tax took effect earlier this month and is expected to generate $2.7 billion over the next 10 years to help underwrite health-care reform costs.

While tanning businesses and their customers lament the new tax, it's certainly not the first time America has taxed harmful habits. Tobacco has been taxed since the Civil War, and in 2009 the government enacted the largest federal tobacco tax in American history.

And each time the tobacco tax increases, more people quit smoking, according to American Cancer Society research.

Likewise, the hope is that a tanning tax will help reduce the hours people spend baking underneath damaging ultraviolet light.

Exposure to ultraviolet rays — such as those in tanning beds — is shown to increase the risk of the sun-related skin cancer, melanoma.

“And those studies are all consistent — that regardless of the type of tanning bed that you're using, it increases your risk of developing melanoma,” dermatologist Allan Halpern said in an interview with National Public Radio.

Wyoming is becoming even stricter on tanning regulations. Starting this month, children and teens under 18 must have written parental consent to use an ultraviolet tanning bed.

The 2010 Legislature passed the measure, which Gov. Dave Freudenthal signed in March. It's a wise action for Wyoming, considering research shows melanoma risk increases for those who started using tanning beds before the age of 30.

Some residents feel burned by the new federal tanning tax and state's age requirements, but the long-term damage of ultraviolet-light exposure is more harmful than a new tax.

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