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Editorials

EDITORIAL: In defense of Al Simpson

Former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson is currently under fire for his response to the leader of a women's organization regarding Social Security.

By describing Social Security in terms that were, shall we say, indelicate, Simpson offended a whole bunch of people who, predictably, have demanded that President Obama fire him as co-chairman of his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

Obama has said he will not do that, and consequently, has drawn fire himself.

This is not the first time that the senator's words have been criticized. He admits to having had to withdraw his foot from his mouth on many occasions, and his “colorful” language and metaphors could often be described as offensive.

But, while not defending the senator's choice of words, we think the sentiment he expressed is valid. In the interests of government fiscal responsibility, Social Security must be part of the discussion along with every other government expenditure.

We have a national debt because all of us make demands on the government to spend money while simultaneously demanding lower taxes. Fulfilling both demands is, of course, impossible. All of us, including Social Security recipients (one of whom is this writer), are part of the problem.

However crude or insulting some may find Sen. Simpson's remarks, he should be commended for having the courage to raise the issue. That willingness to offend special interests is probably the reason why President Obama appointed him to help lead the Fiscal Responsibility Commission in the first place.

We may not entirely agree with Sen. Simpson's position or his way of expressing himself, but we hope President Obama sticks to his guns and keeps the senator on the commission.

EDITORIAL: Spay/neuter your pets

It's a horrible situation Powell residents never expected to occur in our own backyard: 157 cats seized from a local home.

On Thursday morning, dozens of felines were removed from a rural Powell house and transported to the Park County Fairgrounds. From here, many of the cats were taken to animal shelters in larger communities, where they await adoption.

While the recent case of cat hoarding is extreme and difficult to comprehend, it also highlights the importance of spaying and neutering cats and dogs.

Cats and dogs in need of homes are nothing new in Powell.

Strays, unwanted pets and abandoned animals often find themselves in the local City of Powell/Moyer Animal Shelter, where they wait for someone to adopt them. As a no-kill shelter, the local organization houses felines and canines for as long as it takes — sometimes, animals have waited a year or longer to be adopted. Once, a dog waited three years before it finally found a home.

Currently, the shelter harbors about 15 cats and a dozen dogs.

If more residents spayed and neutered their pets, fewer unwanted animals would end up in the animal shelter.

All adult animals awaiting adoption in the shelter are spayed or neutered, said Elfriede Milburn, president of Caring for Powell Animals. If a kitten or puppy is adopted, its new owners are given a certificate to have it spayed or neutered at a discounted price.

The Humane Society of the United States estimates that 6 to 8 million cats and dogs will end up in animal shelters across the nation this year. Unfortunately, many shelters are unable to keep animals long term, and an estimated 4 million cats and dogs are put down each year in America.

It's clearly a national problem, but the solution can start locally. To help prevent animal over-population, spay or neuter your cats and dogs. Rabbits aren't the only animals that multiply like rabbits.

EDITORIAL: PVHC at critical crossroads

As autumn approaches, major changes await Powell Valley Healthcare.

In the coming months, the organization must replace its chief executive officer as well as its chief financial officer. In addition, five seats of seven on the Powell Hospital District Board of Trustees are up for election in November.

This week has served as a telling indicator of the changes that are to come.

On Monday night, it was announced that Steve Ramsey, chief financial officer, will retire after 25-plus years in the position. On Tuesday night, the community gathered to bid farewell to Rod Barton, chief executive officer, who is leaving PVHC early next month to take a position in Idaho.

Barton has said the timing of his resignation and Ramsey's retirement is coincidental.

Also on Monday, the filing period for election to seats on the board closed. One candidate, Larry Parker, filed for a two-year term. Only three other candidates filed for the other four, four-year seats — meaning the fourth seat hinges on a successful write-in campaign or a board appointment following November's general election.

With only three candidates running for four seats, it appears that those who filed by Monday will be elected to the board automatically. Yet come November, voters still need to carefully consider each candidate's experience and qualifications before aimlessly casting a vote.

Those who serve on the hospital board must be ready to help steer the organization through difficult financial, administrative and personnel decisions.

We encourage qualified individuals with the desire to serve the hospital and community to consider running as write-in candidates.

Amid impending turnover and changes, strong leadership for Powell Valley Healthcare's future is vital.

School opened in Powell Monday, and as always, the new year was greeted with a variety of emotions as the kids reported.

Some new kindergartners arrived with grins on their faces while others reflected apprehension. A few tears were shed by moms as they entrusted their youngsters to a teacher for the first time. Among the kids returning to school, there were shouts and squeals of delight as friends who hadn't seen each other all summer reconnected. Dashes across the playground into group hugs were common sights.

Soon the kids were back in their classrooms, ready to take on the next challenges.

Wyoming's school kids are fortunate. In many states, schools have had to cut budgets, reducing faculty and even shutting down schools. More crowded class sizes and fewer opportunities are the result for the kids in those states.

In Wyoming, there haven't been many cutbacks, but that doesn't mean there won't be some in the future. The state is just beginning the process of recalibrating its school funding model, and that will determine funding levels for the next five years.

Funding isn't the only factor in the success of a school, though. Just as important is the level of support a school receives from parents and the community at large, and it is in that area that Powell's students are particularly fortunate.

Parental support of the Powell schools, especially the elementary schools, has been exceptional over the years, and community groups such as the Powell School Foundation and the Powell Athletic Roundtable provide tremendous support as well.

Powell businesses provide job experiences for high school students, and community members are frequently in the classroom to pass their knowledge and wisdom along or simply to help out.

Those contributions are a big reason why Powell schools are some of the best in Wyoming.

Take advantage of those good schools, and have a good year, kids.

On Tuesday, local voters verified what has been said around the community for the past eight months: Powell doesn't want to pay for Cody's hospital.

West Park Hospital's proposed $14.2 million tax failed to garner Powell's support, with voters casting ballots decidedly against the measure.

Overall, voters countywide, including a majority of Cody voters, nixed the proposal with just 2,872 (32.3 percent) in favor of the specific purpose tax and 6,026 (67.7 percent) against it, according to unofficial results.

The tax measure's defeat does not mean the project is unnecessary. We believe West Park Hospital's needs are genuine and that its emergency room must be renovated to bring it to code and ensure patient privacy.

However, Tuesday's results do indicate that a countywide 1-cent, specific purpose tax is not the best way to address those renovation needs.

For starters, the project did not get off on the best foot. In January, West Park leaders first approached the Cody City Council with the proposal — and a $38.7 million price tag.

Though that amount was later reduced to $14.2 million, the initial shock of a nearly $40 million tax proposal lingered in many voters' minds, tainting some residents' perception of the overall modernization project.

Original proposals also combined the hospital tax proposal with $10 million for a landfill tax proposal already on the table, further muddling early impressions.

An ongoing qualm for many Powell voters was the fact that West Park Hospital has a tax district in place and could raise the funding through property taxes. If West Park leaders successfully pursued that route, only residents in the hospital's tax district would pay for it.

That appears to be the best Plan B now that the 1-cent tax has failed, but there may be other ways to fund the necessary renovations.

We hope that West Park finds a way to fund its modernization project and encourage its board to find creative ways to engage community members in a future funding proposal.

EDITORIAL: Vote today

Primary election is even more important than usual

Today is primary day in Wyoming.

By the end of the day, Republicans and Democrats will have chosen their candidates for the major offices at the state and county levels, and we all will know what our choices will be, come November.

Every election day is accompanied by editorials of the importance of voting, and the Tribune certainly isn't going to break that tradition, especially this year in light of the crowded fields in a couple of races.

Statewide, most of the attention is on the Republican race for governor. With seven candidates running, the eventual nominee is certain to win the votes of a minority of Republican voters. While only four of the candidates seem to have a reasonable chance of winning, votes won by the other three may play a critical role in deciding who wins, because the final tally probably will be close.

Closer to home, 11 Republicans are contending for three nominations to the Park County Commission. As with the governor's race, the three nominees are likely to have won the support of a minority of the voters, and the margin of victory is likely to be thin.

Finally, there's the proposed 1-cent specific purpose tax to finance upgrading of West Park Hospital in Cody. That tax may pass or fail on the basis of how much support it receives in Powell.

In short, it's the kind of election where every vote truly will count, and yours might be the vote that makes the difference.

We urge everyone to cast their vote today.

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 www.powelltribune.com, 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.

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